Misconceptions among Christian musicians (Part 1) By BigDan McDon
I was told a story recently of an internationally celebrated Christian musician whose name I will withhold. I was told that he turned down an invitation to minister at an event organized by an internationally known church for a very unique reason. I have never heard of such a reason given before in the little time I have spent in music. In fact I was initially proud of the reason considering it as bold and daring but looking into the whole matter critically, I began to find issues with it. Now, I have only heard from one of the parties on the matter but considering the other party, I am confident that there is a high probability that this story is a fact. From what I was told, the artiste said that if there was going to be a red carpet at the event then he wouldn’t come because it was obviously going to be a jamboree.
The reason given by this artiste was considered harsh and uncalled for by the church folks; personally I would have felt insulted. Unfortunately, that’s how many Christian musicians feel after making contact with some other Christian musicians. I have seen a trend in the body of Christ where Christian musicians look down on each other, one classifying the other as unrighteous, unholy and unserious simply because they all have different orientations on certain words, expressions and mannerisms. It is this disdain among us that I intend to deal with in this piece.
The 21st century church has succeeded in interpreting certain words and expressions wrongly thereby making these words sound evil and unholy and consequently making those who use and practice these expressions look ungodly and unrighteous. With this article, I intend to zero in on the misinterpretations that occur in music circles, especially Christian music circles. Another purpose for this write-up is to deal with this strife among Christian musicians (church musicians and Christian itinerary musicians). After discussing these expressions it will become apparent that our attempt at portraying holiness is simply replacing spirituality with religion, having the form of godliness rather than actually being the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus; a fit that cannot be attained by human effort.
Overtime I have heard musicians condemn the use of this word. I have in fact condemned the art of performance in the days when I had limited knowledge in the field of music. Today, the church describes performance as singing, dancing or acting a God based piece without the semblance of spirituality in the performer’s expression or demeanor. It is due to this definition that praise/worship leaders say things like “let us be in the mood of worship” and some say prayers like, “….oh Lord don’t let us perform, let us minister and touch lives”. I remember myself making prayer points like this but looking back, I find it so hilarious. We will discuss the concept of ministry and ministration later but let me make it clear at this point that performance is simply the art of doing that same thing you did during your rehearsal but this time on a stage, in from of people and with minimal mistakes.
In a sincere but misguided bid to sound holy and yielded, musicians have painted performance as evil and without God. Let me shock you by saying that preaching a sermon and even the working of miracles are referred to as performances. Yes, miracles can be rehearsed; Ex 4:2 records Moses and the Almighty God rehearsed a miracle in preparation of a performance before Pharaoh. People of God, performance is neither a bad act nor a bad word. Do not consider people who use the word ‘perform’ as carnal simply because other carnal people have damaged the art. The fact that I try to deliver excellently on stage doesn’t mean I am doing it without the help of God.
Some time back, in 2014 I was chatting with a fellow musician and we began to talk about his career as a drummer. He told me he had to leave his former church where he functioned as a drummer because of their music. I told him I wasn’t happy with him because I don’t believe people should base their choice of church on music. As we talked however, I found out that his reason was solid. He functioned in the choir as the drummer but he wasn’t growing as a drummer. In fact the choir was dragging him down. They refused to rehears properly simply because they believed that all they had to do was learn the song and let God handle the rest on Sunday. Their choice of song was not based on lyrics or divine instruction but was based on simplicity. They didn’t want to stress themselves by learning how to modulate or swap parts. They just wanted simple crowd moving songs that they could sing with ease and have the congregation join them in tears or dancing.
It is sad that so called musicians today are too lazy to work out their music. Music is born out of creativity and creating something worthwhile is never easy. Artistry has been thrown away in some churches today, that’s why you often hear stuff like “please don’t mind my voice, just listen to the lyrics”, or “it’s not about the music oh Lord, let them be touched by the spirit”. My dear Man of God, if the music is that irrelevant, why not just preach straight away (even spoken word requires artistry). Musicians today are comfortable with mediocrity because that’s what the market is asking for. Artistes now recycle beats and progressions, change the lyrics, write two weak lines, and release it as a single; do that 5 times and you have yourself an album. Nobody wants to work anymore. We have come to an era now where almost everybody is hiding under the canopy of short choruses and chants. Because people like Ada, Godswill Otuonye, William McDowell, Frank Edwards and some others have written exceptional and powerful short songs, everybody thinks it’s a short cut to activating the power of God during ministrations. My people do not be deceived, “the fastest route to success is understanding that there is no shortcut to success.”
The first record of the spirit of God being released upon a man in the scriptures is in Ex 31:1-5 and even God had to admit that the man was very skillful in his art. Please my dear musician, always strive to be at the top of your game, and always try to deliver excellence. Being very Good at what you do doesn’t make you any less spiritual.
Back in the days, moving a congregation to tears was quite easy. All you had to do was cast 4 people in a drama, have two of them put on white garments and serious faces, have another person put on a black garment and a malignant face, then have the fourth person looking sad while “book of Life” by Pastor Nath plays in the background. Before the bridge of the song, the church would be flooded with the tears of the congregation and by the end of the song; the altar would be filled with repentant souls even without an altar call.
Sadly, in this day and time, before you can pull any emotion from the congregation other than boredom or criticism, you would have to employ certain special effects with real tears and real props. I don’t know whether it’s because our generation is hardened or that we are too attached to sights and sounds. Whatever the reason may be, an artiste must go the extra mile to drive his point home. Presently, there are people who condemn the use of special effects during concerts and in churches claiming that it undermines the power of God. They may have a point oh; certain Christian concert organizers work without the understanding that God can move amongst His people independent of special effects. However we must not totally write-off special effects in that they trigger the mind into yielding to the spirit. In scripture we have seen divinity manifest silently without bravado but we have also seen divinity appear in thunder, lightning, fire and smoke; those are special effects. If God is not unholy for using them, you are not unholy for using them. If God doesn’t consider them evil, we should stop calling them evil.
Appearance and Presentation;
In simple Naija expression, I call this Packaging and it’s quite straight forward. We are yet to find out what the right dress code for a Christian artiste is so till we do that, let us dress according to our art. Let the artiste who suites up on stage not condemn the artiste in ripped skinny jeans. That you are in a suit does not mean those who are in t-shirts on stage are not as righteous and serious minded as you. Personally I do not like skinny jeans and I do not like seeing people in ripped cloths, the sight just conflicts with my orientation and background but I dare not condemn them or hate them. Actually, I find myself loving their music more than the suited guys; yes, they minister powerfully to me with their music. We used to think Kirk Franklin was crazy till we realized that there was greater craze than his in Tye Tribbett. These are people who bless lives continually with their music and are now considered Generals in the music scene. Like I said earlier, the dress code for Christian musicians wasn’t written in scripture so let artistes dress according to their art. However, we as saints are expected to be a shining light for the world. If your dressing on stage causes more trouble than your art can solve, please review your dressing. Our mandate is to preach the Gospel not to create controversy. Like I always say, “if you have to explain your art to people, there’s something wrong with it”, so also if you have to defend your dress code to people, then there’s probably something wrong with it.
Also on the subject of Packaging, I have come to understand that certain people have a problem with the word ‘Concert’. They feel it is a carnal expression and should not be used for highly spiritual events like theirs. In fact, I have heard people say things like “this is not a concert, if you came for a concert I am sorry to disappoint you” and “the spirit of the Lord is powerful in this place, this is no more a concert, God is moving”. These statements are usually made out of emotional excitement and are neither factual nor true. A musical concert simply refers to the arrangement and delivery of music involving musical instruments and/or singers. Where then do people get these ideas? I know you want the move of God in your event, that doesn’t mean it is not a concert. Calling your event a concert neither makes it unholy nor does it limit the move of God. Having an evident move of God through impartation is highly recommended but it doesn’t mean your event isn’t a concert.
Music is entertainment, if that is true then we can say that gospel music is entertainment, consequently, music ministry is based on entertainment. In mathematics we would simply say
If X =Y,
And Y = Z,
Therefore X = Z.
Sorry, I just had to use this transitivity logic to prove it.
If this is true why then do church musicians say things like “I’m not an entertainer, I’m a minister”? Like I said, we will deal with this issue of ‘ministry’ and ‘ministers’ but first lets deal with this wrong interpretation of entertainment. As long as you work with rhythm, melodies and rhyme, you are a musician and since music is to entertain you are an entertainer whether you like it or not, whether you agree or not, denying it is like denying the existence of gravity, it is inevitable. Denouncing entertainment is as musician does not make you holy; you may sound godly but it doesn’t make you godly. If you are not an entertainer, why then do you employ music? Why not let go of the music and be a preacher? You can’t hold on to the tools of a farmer, us those tools in the farm, carry those tools with you for everybody to see and even walk with other farmers who use those same tools and then claim that you aren’t a farmer. We can easily say that that person has identity issues.
I think the problem is that a lot of people have associated entertainment with carnality so much so that Christian musicians are afraid to refer to themselves as entertainers. The truth is that within your musical entertainment God finds a medium to touch lives. Music is powerful and in comparison to other mediums of ministration, music gives way for the move of God in profound dimensions. The secret is as much in the spiritual ‘yieldedness’ of the musician as it is in the receptiveness of the audience. A prominent Nigerian musician who is widely referred to as the father of gospel music as we know it in Nigeria made this same statement and I could hardly believe it because i thought he was of the school of thought that entertainment is not of God. Musical entertainment has always been a tool in the hand of God since the days of David and King Saul; let no man despise your musical entertainment.
In Conclusion; this is only the first part of the article and I know you are already struggling with your mindset to unlearn certain misguided but sincere beliefs you have acquired over the years. Don’t fight it, that’s just pride pushing you. The other part will deal with some other areas of misconceptions and will draw the curtain on this subject.
Alas the purpose of this write-up should not be forgotten. I am not just writing short notes on these concepts in order to define and explain them in a show of intelligence. My desire is that we get better at what we do as soon as possible because the effort invested on the other side is yielding immensely. We must abandon our show of holiness and disdain for one another and focus on the assignment before us so as to deliver excellence thereby leaving the people of this world with no excuse to damage their soul with vile music. If the church does not deliver better alternatives to sights and sounds the world brings, then we have no business complaining.
I bring greetings from the PROJECT SALT, God bless the preaching and teaching of his word through music in every corner of the globe, Amen!
Other Works Published:
• My Burdens; a Poem
• The Theology of Gospel Music
• The Upcoming Stunt
• Secrets of Sights and Sounds
• Wait for Healing