My Church Does Art

by Jessie Nilo

This week I’ve been filming a video series that I’m calling “5 Mistakes Churches Make with Artists.”

But before I release those….

I aim to clap – not a slow clap, but a real one – for my own pastor, for my own church.

I’m clapping for the heart-felt way they’ve embraced the arts for over two decades now, and counting.

Unbeknownst to me, way back in 1989, our original pastor wrote a vision statement that included a fine arts center for our city, right there in black and white.

You know what? That came true!

Back when I started an art ministry, 32-year-old Jessie had no idea that vision statement with the fine arts center existed. But I happily organized colorful murals with volunteers in 2002 and began pouring into our artists… supported by our pastor.

Thank you, Tri Robinson.

Thank you, Lord.

I’ve since come to learn that permission like this is rare in churches. But it shouldn’t be.

It’s wrong to say no.

Years later, when the time came for Tri to retire, his successor Trevor Estes became our pastor. And the arts remained.

Now, Trevor’s dad happens to be sculptor Dean Estes. But that’s not why.

“The value I’ve found after 15 years of having an art ministry at our church,” Pastor Trevor emphasizes, “is there are countless stories of how the arts have simply become part of what we do.

“One of them happened at the Odd Art Festival,” Trevor continues. “I met some artists at our church who’d moved here from out of state. In fact, they were drawn to our church because they are creatives.”

The setting was in 2019, out on the street in front of our church. Trevor noticed a couple sharing an art project, helping visitors process through grief by way of visual art.

“I watched firsthand as art helped people in pain,” Trevor says, “and I thought, ‘Wow, that could really help our church.’”

So he asked the new artists to collaborate with him at a Sunday service.

What? Who does that?? Oh yeah — my church does!

Trevor introduced the new artists to the congregation, and stepped back, allowing the artists to teach and lead the church. The congregation created their own Psalm using paint, wax, and paper.


Reading the Psalms, the artists invited great honesty about hardships and hard questions, rooting into the Lord in our troubles.

One of those artists is Danica Thurber, who is now the director of VineArts, the art ministry I founded back in 2004.

So I say thank you to my weird, wonderful church: they are my family, a true cross-section of humanity, even as I move outward to splash the colors of art ministry around the world.

Thank you, Trevor.

“I’m very grateful”—Trevor wants all of you to know —“and if you’re considering having an art ministry in your own church, I can’t encourage you enough how much value it will add to your church, and to your effectiveness in your community.”

To that I say: Preach.

To study and practice art ministry, enroll in Foundations of Art Ministry, my 6-month online school of art ministry.

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