Learning to See: Or What Drawing Class Taught Me About Ministry

Credit: Robert Neumann / Thinkstock

In the first ever drawing class that I took in college, the first thing my professor allowed us to draw was boxes, on the floor, all laid parallel to one another. Take a roomful of Drawing 1 students, and you have a mixed bag of kids looking for an easy A, kids who actually want to learn art, and then the kids who are “artists” because they like the whole “dark and brooding” image that some people have about artists. It was fun to watch some of the more image-conscious first-year students squirm at having to do something so dull. There are several purposes for this exercise.

First, it helps the students learn some basic rules about perspective, distance, scale, and how objects exist in space. Like learning scales in music, or learning how to dribble in basketball, these are fundamentals which come to bear in everything that anyone creates in a work of art.

Second, it helps students learn to use their eyes. No matter the reasons that people took Drawing 1, if they had not learned some of these foundational lessons prior to the class, then everyone drew the boxes incorrectly. More interesting, is that everyone would draw them incorrectly the same way. The edges on the far top edge and the bottom edge always, always, would break away from one another rather than converge towards one another as they went back into the distance.

It has stayed with me all these years how similarly incorrect everyone’s perceptions would be in those first weeks of drawing classes. The problem is that people immediately begin drawing what they think a box on the ground looks like, rather than actually looking at what is in front of them and drawing that.

They are responding to what they think they see, not to what they are actually looking at.

The metaphor is not very subtle, is it?

How often do we do the same thing?

More often than not, our failure to learn how to see people results in us drawing them incorrectly. We end up with a warped and twisted view of reality – a reality that does not actually exist in the first place. As Christians – in fact, as people – it is important that we learn how to see. Now more than ever, we must take the time to look at the people around us and see them as they are, not how we expect them to be.

When I begin a new piece of artwork, an implicit decision is made: this subject is worthy of creative response. If it is worthy of my response, then it deserves the respect for me to learn it inside and out so that I might see it for what it is.

If there is a ministry, a group of people, or a single person who we find worthy of the effort to bring them the Gospel, then they must be accorded the respect to meet them on their own terms, in their own world, and gather an accurate picture of what their world is and how they live and breathe within it.

As ministers, whether in the pulpit, in worship, or in the mission field, we must learn to see so that we can engage those whom we serve. We cannot possibly meet the needs of people whom we have failed to understand. We cannot proclaim the Word to people, we cannot lead people in worship, we cannot bring healing and hope to people, if we have not bothered to learn how they exist in the world they inhabit.

It is only in that understanding that we can be free to respond in new and creative ways to help bring joy to people in sorrow; hope to people in despair; or light to people in darkness. Every great artist who breaks with tradition does so having taken time to learn the rules inside and out, to study the world and sharpen his eyes, so that when he sits down to create a new piece, he knows exactly what he is responding to, and how best to imbue it with new life.

If we are ever to use our talents to bring life into the world, then we must take a lesson from Drawing 1; Every wonderful creation begins with learning how to see.


  1. Thanks Joel. Your analogy holds very true and I am still fighting the battle of what one knows( or thinks one knows ) and what one actually sees. Take care .
    PS. How does the new one play?