ATLANTA — In Paris, while on a short-term mission trip, God planted a seed in Kerry Jackson’s heart that ultimately would become Bezalel Church.
“For part of the two weeks we were in Paris I ministered to street artists. We discussed our art, and I was able to have some great spiritual conversations with them,” Jackson said. “When I got home I began praying for the missionaries and the artists we met, but I couldn’t shake the question, ‘Who is trying to reach the arts community with the gospel?’”
That question eventually grew into a calling, as he felt God asking, “Will you?”
So began the journey of Jackson and his wife Twyla to plant a church that not only would reach visual artists but actors, designers, photographers and all types of creative people. A visual artist himself, who works mostly in fine art painting and drawing and mixed media, Jackson understands the culture of creative types.
“I want to create an environment that welcomes those who’ve been labeled as ‘weird’ because of their artistic expression,” Jackson said. “I’d like to offer them a place to express and share their creativity while learning about the Creator.”
Bezalel Church, named for the artist chosen by God to lead a team of artisans to decorate the tabernacle in Exodus 31:1-6, is part of Jackson’s assignment as a church planting national missionary with the North American Mission Board (NAMB). He and Twyla, a NAMB Mission Service Corps (MSC) missionary, are working through the Georgia Baptist Convention and the Atlanta Association of Southern Baptists to develop a church-planting model for the affinity group of cultural creatives.
Reaching this affinity group has not been easy. Jackson compares sharing Christ with creatives to Jesus’ parable of the sower.
“We’ve encountered lots of hard, rocky and thorny soil,” he said. “We’ve come to realize that before you can plant a seed you need to prepare the soil. We feel like we’ve spent the last two years removing debris and plowing, and we’re finally beginning to see the seeds we’ve planted grow.”
The Jacksons began plowing the hard soil of Atlanta’s creative community by moving from their suburban home in Sugar Hill, Ga., into the city of Atlanta.
“We looked at cities all over the world to find a place where we could reach creatives,” Twyla said. “But God kept drawing us back here. We moved to midtown to be where the creative people are. We wanted to be able to touch this community on a daily basis.”
The Jacksons began serving the arts community by joining the Atlanta Artist Center, the city’s oldest arts organization.
“We’ve made some great connections through the Atlanta Artist Center,” Jackson said. “We brought in volunteers to help check in and hang art for shows. We’ve done yard work, and we’re bringing in a mission team this fall to replace the roof of their building. Our goal is to serve in love and help Atlanta artists be successful.
“We’ve broken down walls and dispelled a lot of misconceptions about Southern Baptists and Christians in general by making ourselves available to do the jobs nobody else wants to do.”
One of the jobs was sorting artificial flowers in an un-air conditioned storage room on a hot and humid Atlanta afternoon for the Alliance Theater.
“They needed help, and we explained that we had a group that wanted to do a community service project. So we brought in this group of mostly guys who worked so hard even though it was hot and they were working with flowers. The theater director said to me, ‘What did they do?’” Jackson laughed. “He thought they committed a crime.
“Because those guys served with such excellence we were able to say, ‘We’re not doing this because we have to. We’re here because we love Jesus, and we want you all to know that He loves you.’ The theater staff allowed us to pray with them before we left.”
While reaching out to Atlanta’s creative community, in a large sense the Jacksons and their core group — which also includes NAMB MSC missionary Adam Jachelski and his wife Sherri — are making personal connections and starting small group Bible studies that will be the foundation of Bezalel Church.
Bezalel has started three small groups throughout the city. The Jacksons worked through the Baptist Colligate Ministries of Georgia State and Emory universities to start small groups on campus and also hold a Bible study in their home. Jackson hopes to see their small groups multiply in the next year.
“Because the Atlanta arts community is so pocketed throughout the city, we see Bezalel Church as a series of small groups that come together for corporate worship,” he said. “We see a lot of creative people who have a desire and need for community but don’t know how to get it. We want our small groups to be a place where they can be transparent enough to connect.”
Bezalel Church held its first preview services during the week of Easter this year. On Palm Sunday the church held an exhibit titled “In Remembrance” featuring the work of Christian artists who were asked to interpret different elements of Passion Week.
“We had paintings depicting the crucifixion and resurrection. We had poetry, video, multimedia pieces and even an instillation piece that illustrated the effects of sin and God’s power to forgive,” Twyla said. “Each artist provided a statement to explain the work they had created.”
Their Passion Week events culminated with the first service of Bezalel Church on Good Friday. Meeting in the common area for the Tula Art Center, where Jackson’s studio is located, “The 94 people in attendance clearly saw and heard the Gospel communicated through song, painting and the preaching of God’s Word,” he said.
Another unique facet of Jackson’s ministry is creating live art in worship services. Through his art, he is able to tell God’s story of redeeming love in a contemporary way. The Jacksons and their core group hope to officially launch Bezalel Church by the end of the year.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Becher is editorial assistant of On Mission magazine.)