By Amber Lacy, Special Contributor
CONWAY, S.C.—The Rev. Scott Johnson believes part of being authentic in ministry is the ability to integrate one’s talent into worship, even artistically.
“If God gives us talents, then we’re responsible for leveraging them for the kingdom,” said Mr. Johnson, who pastors Union United Methodist Church in Conway.
Since he became a pastor in 2000, Mr. Johnson has been conveying the message of creativity in the church. As a musician, he leads some worship services using his own original music. His seven-member band, My Dear Demas, released its debut album, Love Still Wins, in 2010. Their second album, As Sparrows Fall, was released in September.
In addition to his own music, Mr. Johnson integrates other artistic elements into worship services, such as writing, drama and dancing. In the children’s ministry, a member break dances to dub step music. Mr. Johnson says the dancer helps keep children engaged during the service.
Similar to the Bible’s David, Mary, Zechariah, Simeon and John the Baptist, who used the arts to express their love for God, Mr. Johnson believes members of the church should do whatever the Holy Spirit moves them to do, “unashamedly doing what they do,” he said.
“Music is a vehicle to relate to people, a vehicle to communicate ideas,” Mr. Johnson said.
He believes music can not only unify people, but also separate them—therefore, music, and the arts in general, should never be minimalized to the secular, but always used to glorify God.
A graduate of Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in 2006, Mr. Johnson began experimenting with music in the sixth grade. Raised in a family of musicians, he plays guitar, bass, piano, drums and percussion. He also writes songs and does vocals.
Platform for influence
To Mr. Johnson, there is a purpose behind integrating the universal language of music into his ministry.
“Music points to God and is from God because it transcends words,” he told the South Carolina UM Advocate in 2010, just after his first album was released.
Indeed, his band, My Dear Demas, is named after an associate of Paul who left him to pursue the advantages of the world. Mr. Johnson wanted to use the name “Demas” to express his love for God over worldly things.
“Perhaps if we had a letter written to Demas to study, we could understand more about Demas and his struggles. Perhaps Paul wrote Demas a letter calling him back. Perhaps he let him go. We just don’t know,” Mr. Johnson said.
The band tries to set an example for people in the church to benefit mission through their own creative expression. In partnership with the United Methodist Committee on Relief, proceeds from the band’s debut album went to Union UMC’s yearly mission to help raise money for constructing wells and latrines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
My Dear Demas continued to raise funds with their second album. A Kickstarter.com campaign was launched to raise money needed to create the album, and band members set a goal of raising $5,000 in 30 days. The band reached its goal after just six days.
“My Dear Demas is [our] platform for Christian influence,” Mr. Johnson said.
In August, the band expanded into publishing with My Dear Demas LLC. Band members use digital media to help promote the music, and the band’s website, www.mydeardemas.com, not only has links to purchase the music, but song lyrics, music videos and a store to purchase T-shirts and other items. Many of the proceeds help mission efforts.
From his band’s success to his church’s unique worship service, Mr. Johnson expresses his love for God through multiple outlets, and he hopes this expression will resonate with the masses—many of them unchurched. Integrating creativity and the arts into worship and mission is only the beginning, he said.
Ms. Lacy is a senior at UMC-affiliated Columbia College and an editorial intern for the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, where this story first appeared.