What Are We About?

This is a bit of a convoluted thought process, but trust me, it leads to a worthy topic.  I saw over the weekend where David Staton announced on Facebook that he is releasing a new solo single that is actually a duet with TaRanda Greene.  I’ve always liked Staton’s edgy voice, and paired with an elite talent like Greene, I was thinking about how that duo could market against some of the best singers, be they sacred or secular.  That got me thinking about the recent interview of Ernie Haase by AbsolutelyGospel, and specifically this quote from Ernie:

I don’t think I’m any different in my zeal to create something. I look on CBS, the American Idol, Dancing with the Stars. I see the production, the quality of the music and the musicianship and I think, ‘I love my music and my Lord and I think He’s just as worthy as any of that stuff I’m seeing on TV’ why can’t our music, that I love so much why can’t it have the same kind of quality. So in my zeal to present the music that I love so much, that we all love so much; I think people have seen me as someone that has been all about the flash, but it’s never been about the flash; it’s been about presenting it to the broader world because it’s worthy. So I can understand why people would say that and all I can say is that maybe I went past the solution a time or two; I don’t know but my zeal has always been, I praise God for this music and this art form that we call southern gospel quartet singing and I’m just looking at it and saying it’s worthy as anybody else to have the presentation. Whether this market can sustain, whether people are willing to come out and watch and be a part of that kind of philosophy remains to be seen. I think that’s where people have misunderstood me; it’s just been a zeal for professionalism.

Of course that quote led into a discussion the age old “ministry vs. entertainment” debate.  At this point, a thought occurred to me.  Could some of this be a difference in perspectives that is tied to an artist’s individual focus or mission?  Southern Gospel music is unlike secular music genres in that there is a spiritual or “ministry” component built in to the music itself.  I know that I typically focus on the music, but the importance of the spiritual side of our genre can never be overstated.

With that point, I see two areas of focus for artists in this genre.  Let me say this right off of the bat: these two areas are NOT mutually exclusive, and in fact most successful artists will have elements of both sides.  However, the answer to the question posed in the post title will either be: 1) reaching the lost or 2) edifying the saints.  Neither one of these is more important than the other, as both can easily be supported with scripture, but the answer to the question of “What are we about?” can have far reaching implications on the music and “entertainment” side of SG.

Artists that see their primary goal as “reaching the lost” likely look at their music as a means of fulfilling the Great Commission given in Matthew 28.  This focus lends itself to being more progressive musically, expanding the styles to fit the current musical trends of the day, both in sacred and secular music.  For as Paul says in 1 Cor. 9:19 and following:

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law;21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.23 I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.

By attempting to “keep up with the Joneses” in music and presentation, as Ernie alluded to above, artists are “becoming all things to all men” to try and reach a broader audience with the message of the gospel found in the songs of our genre.

Conversely, artists that view their mission as the edification of the saints would tend to be artists who find their niche and plant themselves there.  While their “niche” may have a more progressive sound, they typically find what works for them and stay there.  They know their audience and give their audience exactly what they want.  They find their purpose in the command of Christ in John 13:34 to “love one another, even as I have loved you.”  They are focused on fulfilling Paul’s words in 1 Thess. 5:11 to “encourage one another and build up one another, even as you are also doing” and in Colossians 3:16 to “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Again, these two missions are not mutually exclusive, and it can be argued that successful artists will have a balance of both.  However, the way an artist answers this question can absolutely color the perception of where that artist stands on the “ministry vs. entertainment” debate.  It would be very easy to assume that groups who are being “all things to all people” to reach the lost are more on the side of entertainment.  They may be seen as fluff or shallow, or as a “reed bending whichever way the wind blows.”  However, their commitment to fulfilling the command to “Go ye therefore..” may be as solid as a rock.  At the same time, an artist who is focused on edifying the saints and “pleasing their crowd”, since they stick with where they fit, can be seen as less “entertainment” focused and more “ministry minded.”    That doesn’t mean they don’t care about the “entertainment” aspect of their music, in fact they may take great care in making sure that their concerts are entertaining, because entertainment causes us to feel better, and in entertaining their crowd, they are in fact fulfilling their mission of edifying the church.

Both of these approaches are solid, and both are needed.  Both find their source in scripture, so next time you (or me) start to jump on a bandwagon on the tired old “ministry/entertainment” debate concerning a specific artist, be aware that your perception may be colored by the overall mission and focus of the artist.

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About Wes Burke
I'm a .NET developer and Southern Gospel music fan. Married with a wonderful family.

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