Gospel Music: Industry or Ministry?

(DAVID KURIA) Is Gospel music ministry, or is it industry? That’s a conversation I try my best to steer clear of. My feeling is that serves only to distract Christians from the work they have been called to. Yet in the recent past I have been involved in numerous conversations that have made me realize that not only is it worth addressing, beneath the surface may lay even bigger issues. Here goes nothing…

First up I must say I believe this debate rings loudest in two camps. The first is from right-wing Christian fundamentalists, who are upset that musicians have in a sense “taken their eyes off the ball” and are only ‘using’ Gospel music for personal gain. Is there a smidgeon of truth to this? Unfortunately, yes! I’ve personally interacted with artists whose motives I question. Their values, beliefs and convictions don’t seem informed by the Gospel – only their lyrics. Yet to base a whole discussion around them is not only to become judge and jury, but also to toss the baby out with the bathwater.

The second camp is usually a skeptical secular world (especially its media). They are suspicious of well-to-do Christians, and hold the convoluted view that any believer who buys shoes from anywhere other than Toi Market is stealing the offering. Modesty and minimal wealth: that should be the credo of every Christian, or so they claim. Yet one look at the old beat-up dusty suit of their village preacher and they are convinced they will never convert. How could they, ‘Christianity equals poverty!’

So forgive me if I don’t jump up and down when these two camps are at it. Still I think it’s a legitimate question that demands conversation.

Is Gospel Music Ministry? ABSOLUTELY! No doubt. The word of God, when spoken, sung, or even rapped, has undeniable inherent power. Whether it’s an accordion playing chap at your local bus-stop, a holy hip-hop head with a maroon mo-hawk and pants sagging so low they may as well take them off, or a worship concert by the likes of the very gifted Israel Houghton, the Gospel is the one message whose power is hardly reliant on the messenger. (See Hebrews 4:12-13).

Is it industry? ABSOLUTELY! Are there people who are making a living off of it? That’s a no-brainer! Artists. Artists’ managers. Audio producers. Video producers. Sound engineers. Graphic designers. CD and DVD duplicators. Music store salesmen. Hype-men. Heaven help us…even lawyers!

I’m yet to hear the story of K.R.A refusing your taxes because you made your money from providing smoke machines for Jesus Night! So yes, Gospel music is an industry.

Yet I don’t think answering that question is that black and white. Important loose ends must be tied up before we place a neat little bow around this argument. At the heart of this debate is a much larger issue; an issue I believe, every Christian must contend with.

You see the challenge the Christian who is a musician faces is not unique to artists. The Christian who is a banker faces the same challenge. So does the Christian who is an entrepreneur, a nurse, a kiosk operator, an architect, a carpenter. That challenge is one of priorities. Does Gospel take precedence over industry and money? Is having impact for the kingdom a bigger motivator than making loads of cash?

I believe God has not placed anyone in their job or profession for the sole reason of making money. Surely a God who owns everything and does not need any money must have bigger goals. He must have a bigger mission for you than just a good job, or a fat cheque…

So is there a place to be critical of Gospel artists? Without a doubt! They must be held accountable because by their own admission, their key responsibility is to be carriers of the cross. When selfish ambition or personal gain clouds their judgement and messes up their priorities, ultimately the cause of the Kingdom suffers, and questions must be asked.

Yet we must be cautious before pointing an accusatory finger. As you turn your head to glance at them, be careful the log in your eye doesn’t collide with the speck in theirs. Artists best shape up and realise that God will hold them accountable for the use of their skills and resources. Understand this – the standard is no less for you and I.

NB: This blog has been edited. For the full blog and others by the author, click here.