Opinion is colossally divided about what we have come to know as ‘gospel music’. There is a big concern that most of the new school kind of gospel music is not really about the gospel. Many argue that it’s about performance, showbiz, fame and money. The old timers, especially in church are particularly disturbed, they don’t understand the ‘perversion of the sacred’ that is going on. Even people who vaguely understand Christianity have an opinion on this.
But I think we need to take a step back and think about the definitions, which is where we got it wrong in my opinion.
In all other professions people go about their business without being labelled Christian, gospel or secular except in music. There are no gospel lawyers, gospel teachers, gospel doctors, secular engineers or secular writers. But we have gospel musicians. Why?
I believe a part of the problem with Christian music is the label ‘gospel musician/ artiste’.
And like most labels, they rarely define the subject without boxing and limiting it, mostly due to undefined underlying assumptions.
Stay with me as I expound on this.
Now, we have to agree that there is a genre of music called ‘gospel or Christian music’. This is music that has been written to express personal or communal belief regarding Christian life and faith.
But it’s important to note that not all musicians who profess to be Christians always sing ‘gospel music’. Simply put, not all music they write, and sing is about worship to God or dealing with a biblical subject.
The problem begins when we expect musicians who are Christians to only sing about Jesus and the bible. We expect them to only read the bible and be inspired to write songs straight from the heart of God. We don’t think that they go through heart breaks, broken relationships or lack. We don’t want them to have political opinions or positions on social issues. We don’t want them touch anything that isn’t sacred.
We want them to be perfect.
We elevate them to levels of apostles, holding them to a high standard as if they walked with Jesus physically on earth. They become our little angels and oh how they disappoint us when they fall short of our expectations, how we feel guilty when they ‘fail us’ by not living up to the standards that we have set for them.
My opinion is that the label ‘gospel musician’ is wrong. Just like I am a writer who is a Christian (not a Christian writer), the same should be for musicians. I don’t write only about Jesus or biblical issues. Sometimes I just tell stories of things going on around me. Why can’t we allow musicians who are Christians to sing about what goes on in their lives.
They feel love, they live in communities with social issues and they are affected by political decisions.
Many Christians think and talk about politics all the time, but they don’t want their favourite ‘gospel musician’ to go there.
This may sound odd, but most of what we do in the marketplace is secular work. Banking, teaching, engineering, medicine and virtually all businesses out there are worldly, they are not particularly ‘serving God’ or set up for the express purpose of discipling people and taking them to heaven.
When gospel musicians perform in corporate functions, they are not leading praise and worship, they are working.
What is expected of Christians in the market place is to exude godly values and bear good fruit.
In all professions, including music, Christians are not known because they come labelled ‘Christian’.
They are known because they live their daily lives and make decisions based on their faith and not by the trends of this world. They are known because they allow God to inspire the content of their art, they allow God to breathe life into the output of their labour, they give glory to God in good and bad times.
And that is worship, not slow songs, not an event or an experience, but an obedient (not emotional) response to God’s word (the truth) powered by the Holy Spirit.
Let musicians who say they are Christians express themselves, if they are truly Christians we shall know by their fruit (their output). Occasionally and for some mostly, they will give us music that we will all agree is ‘Christian’, and maybe even use in our ‘praise and worship’ sessions.
Back to our mythical expectations of ‘gospel musicians’.
Consider an 18-year-old who has just finished high school and has discovered over time that he has a talent in music. He is excited to get to the studio and record some songs he has been writing. He hooks up with some producer and a result is a fairly good song. He goes on to record a few other songs, gets good air play and soon he is a household name.
He is suddenly introduced to a world he knows little about. He is expected to act a certain way, not be seen in certain places and to speak the Christian lingo. And Christians expect him to suddenly rise to a certain level of faith.
He is expected to understand theology and mentor young people beyond music. He is elevated to a certain level and dared not to come down lest they label him backslidden or fake. He must have the right answers to all questions.
Remember he is just an 18-year-old trying to figure out life like his age-mates. All the kid knows how to do is sing. He has no authority in matters doctrine. He needs to be taught and mentored himself.
We have been guilty of raising people to our own imaginary levels and then judging them for not being good enough.
What that 18-year-old star needs is discipleship and mentorship, which is evidently lacking in the ‘music industry’.
And mentorship is a two-way sword. You must desire to be mentored and then you have to find someone willing to mentor you.
Music, like most artistic ventures are public domain trades that come with a good share of exposure and popularity. That tends to get into people’s heads. And the feeling of ‘having reached’ represses all desires of sitting under someone to be guided and led.
Good mentorship does not guarantee a more upright or moral person, but it places a person in a position of awareness. They know when to jump and when to squat.
But the prerequisite is mandatory, the mentee must desire to be mentored.
I remember watching some youth dance in church one Sunday. I could see some congregants shrugging in their chairs, the discomfort from the dance moves clearly registered in their body language.
And I remember asking myself a question, “what are these kids thinking about as they dance? Are there thoughts on the God they say they are worshiping? Or are they thinking of how nice they look out there?”
But like me, most of us get uncomfortable and we know what to do to help the young people, but we don’t. We mostly complain and walk away. Those who are mature bear the bigger responsibility of reaching out to the younger ones. To whom much is given, much is demanded.
Talent and content
God gives talent, man comes up with content. If man chooses to, then God can inspire his content. When a musician allows God to inspire his content, then the result is music that is wholesome and gives glory to God.
A song can have the word Jesus mentioned fifty times in it and still not be godly if it’s not inspired by the Holy Spirit. Just like some sermons that are theologically correct with all the right bible verses but lacking the power of the Holy Spirit.
Which brings me to a contentious point. I believe that not all musicians who are Christians can lead people in worship. It takes anointing to be able to minister to people in music and usher them into the presence of God. Which is an extremely important part of congregational worship, as important as preaching and teaching.
And you know several such ministers.
So next time you have a ‘gospel event’, its important to know the kind of musician you are inviting and for which purpose.
Music is simply a lyrical, melodious expression of what is in the heart. If the meditations of our hearts are godly, then godly music will be the result.
The real question is; if you were to sing a song straight from your heart today, what song would that be? Remember, out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.