Evidences of the creative arts are obvious on both the Johnson University Tennessee and the Johnson Matthew Broaddus University Florida campuses. A visit to the 4th floor halls of the Eubanks Activities Center (EAC) at JUTN reveals the work of the communication students with movie posters, film props, and equipment in various locations; musicians performing in the recording studio; or potential journalists or screenwriters busy writing scripts or news stories. Others may be editing a video or designing a website or peering through the eyepiece of a camera. In the Alumni Memorial Chapel (Tennessee) or the Brough Music Wing (Florida), sounds of students practicing the guitar, playing the piano, learning and teaching music, rehearsing for an upcoming concert or tour give evidence of dedication and hard work.
Worship, music, and communication are not new to Johnson University, but the recent restructure of the academic area has led to the creation of the School of Communication & Creative Arts. In the time since Johnson transitioned to university status, the School of Creative Arts has become the home for artistic and creative expression by focusing on worship planning and leadership, developing musical talent, and training in communication media. Johnson has long encouraged students to use their God-given creative abilities in whatever ways the Lord calls them; this restructure validates their calling. So—whether leading worship for a congregation, holding the line of faith in a production studio, creating videos or skits for Christ in Youth, using reporting skills to expose human trafficking violations in Cambodia, or recording an inspirational worship album—students have the means to develop their talents and to follow their calling.
WORSHIP AND MUSIC
Both of the Johnson University campuses have a long tradition of teaching worship and music. The College Choir at Johnson University Florida has been active since the early days of the School. That choir combined with the Christian Choral Society in the early 2000s to provide the JUFL students with a more significant choral experience and to provide community members an opportunity to sing in a choir. This group performs the Night of Noel on the Florida campus and in area churches to kick off the Christmas season. It also participates in the Candlelight Processional Service at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center. JUFL also sponsors New Creation, an auditioned travel vocal ensemble. In an effort to reach the Kissimmee community, the Florida faculty launched the Community Music School in August 1999. The School offers an affordable quality college-preparatory program in music to community members and provides teaching opportunities for qualified JUFL music students. Lessons are offered in piano, voice, guitar, violin, clarinet, and other instruments.
Music and worship are part of a longstanding tradition on the JUTN campus as well. During the past 20 years, the JUTN choir has transitioned from a traditional choir to a gospel choir and finally into an engaging and balanced tour choir, presenting an eclectic blend of classical, traditional, gospel, and modern worship music. During the same period, the tour choir has sung in 263 different churches in 16 states. They have made five appearances at the H.T. Hackney Corporation Spring Expo, two appearances at the International Conference on Missions, as well as appearances in Keith & Kristyn Getty—Hymns for the Christian Life Tour, the Anita Bryant Theater, the Tennessee ACDA Conference Fall Festival, and numerous alumni rallies, homecomings, Christmas programs, workshops, and service days. The JUTN music department also has campus and bell choirs which perform regularly on campus, in the Festival of Christmas Joy, and at other special events.
COMMUNICATION AND MEDIA
Johnson University Tennessee has offered a communication/technology-related program for more than 30 years. In the past, the communication program has supported University media needs and has trained students to work in church media, video production, television production, audio production, and radio. However, the program continues to shift to a communication program which focuses less on technology and more on impacting people and culture through the communication arts. As students are guided towards strategic vocations that are framed by the Great Commission, they have opportunities to study filmmaking, journalism, audio production, as well as preparing for a vocation in church media ministry. New programs are slated to launch in the next few years; they include programs in public relations, documentary fi lm production, screenwriting, and acting for the stage and screen.
STRATEGIC PURPOSE FOR THESCHOOL OF CREATIVE ARTS
It can be easy to oversimplify the importance that worship and music play in our lives. At a surface level, it could be easy to question the need for communication, media, and arts programs at a Great Commission university.
But, as I tell my students on the first day of class, my iPhone is sadly more relevant in culture than the church. So, as we spiral towards a world that looks a lot like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and as we are faced with a population that averages nine hours a day per person with media exposure, we have to ask the question: How do we approach kingdom work in a world where life plays out on a screen and where the world’s distorted version of art and beauty is foremost in the minds of people? How do we react to the prevalence of media, music, and pop culture in this world? I think the answer is simple; to paraphrase Paul, we have to be in the virtual world, not of it. As we work with our students in the School of Creative Arts, we encourage approaching the arts in three ways.
First, we encourage students to be the best they can be at their art. Christians cannot settle for producing a cheap knockoff of popular culture; rather, they have to be the best at what they do in order to have a legitimate voice in the world of arts and entertainment. Someone has to create the nine-plus hours a day of media to which we are all exposed. Let it be those who can impact the culture for the glory of God!
Second, we encourage students to be culture changers. Our students have the potential to use their creative endeavors to impact culture for Christ. This is a natural fit for many of our music students who come to Johnson for the expressed purpose of leading worship; we encourage these students to develop a heart for leading others in worship in a way that truly impacts the worship culture of the church. Paul said in Romans 12:1, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” We are called to live a life of worship. In this same way, we challenge our communication students to think of the mass audience they can reach and to seek God’s path for shaping the world.
Third, we encourage students to approach the arts from a critical perspective, one which is summed up in Philippians 4:8, “...whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable for if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” The reality is that we live in a culture where many Christians do not evaluate the media they consume though the lens of faith. Their iPods, DVRs, and Redbox lists do not look much different than the lists of the lost we are supposed to be seeking. So the School of Creative Arts asks students to consider not only how they reach the lost through their art, but also whether the art to which they are exposed is pleasing worship to the Lord.
God created us to live in a world of wonderfully created beauty and expression. Genesis 1:3 records one of God’s first acts of creation—the creation of light, something so beautiful that it is actually a reflection of God. In the record of Creation, we find a biblical mandate to be creative. In the Gospels, we find a mandate to seek the lost and to worship purposefully with our lives. We believe that students in the School of Creative Arts are presented with opportunities to seek the lost on a mass scale, to create beautiful art, to serve the Lord in strategic vocations, and to live lives of intentional worship to Christ.
Dr. Broaddus serves as the dean of the School of Creative Arts, assessment coordinator for the School of Creative Arts, and professor of communication for Johnson University. He holds an A.A. in News Writing from Tulsa Community College, a B.A. in Journalism and Broadcasting, with an emphasis in public relations, from Oklahoma State University, an M.S. in Knowledge Management from the University of Oklahoma, and a Ph.D. in Communication and Information from the University of Tennessee. Dr. Broaddus has more than 20 years of professional and academic experience in the field of writing, journalism, and communication. He and his wife Amanda have been married for 15 years and have three sons, Micah, Caleb, and Levi.