On this day we remember the death 50 years ago of Martin Luther King Jr.,
a husband, a father, a pastor, a drum major for justice.
Our world is better because of him.
The Nielsen company is most widely known as the company that measures television ratings, but it also wields its considerable research apparatus in the realm of popular music. Recently, its annual mid-year report made headlines around the blogosphere after it revealed that for the first time, more people listened to the combined genres of R&B and hip-hop than any other musical form, dethroning rock’s position at the top.
This shouldn’t be a huge surprise to anyone who’s been paying much attention, because hip-hop music and culture has been steadily moving closer and closer toward the center of American culture for decades now. Nineties rap icons Dr. Dre and Jay-Z have become multimedia moguls with their own product lines and exclusive platforms, and the house band for NBC’s flagship late-night TV show is legendary Philly hip-hop band The Roots, whose leading men Amir “Questlove” Thompson and Tarik “Black Thought” Trotter helped produce the biggest smash hit Broadway recording in decades.
Reluctant to Adapt
Hip-hop has long been a mainstream form of musical expression.
And since evangelical churches are known for adopting trends and idolizing the notion of relevance, it seems telling that, outside of a few counter examples, very few churches are intentionally embracing hip-hop as a form of worship music.
There are a variety of reasons for this. Chief among them is a centering of whiteness and white cultural norms. Even for people who do not hold any active racial animus in their conscious thoughts (and who would therefore resist the term racist as a self-descriptor), there are still both conscious and subconscious ways that the tastes, priorities and experiences of people of color are marginalized or overlooked in favor of a “mainstream” aesthetic that is often white and middle class. Therefore, most white megachurches have worship bands that sound more like U2 than they do Lecrae, even though in 2017 people tend to listen more to the latter than the former.
But white privilege doesn’t explain the reluctance that many Black churches and church leaders demonstrate in their interactions with hip-hop culture. While gospel music has undoubtedly been heavily influenced by hip-hop music and culture (through trailblazing artists like Kirk Franklin and Tye Tribbett), there are still plenty of Black congregations where the attitude communicated by both leaders and laity is that it’s not holy if it doesn’t have a choir or a Hammond B-3 organ. Though the cultural signifiers are different, there’s still a sense of cultural superiority and a reluctance to get outside of it.
Missing the Point
In my conversations with White pastors and worship leaders, there’s also an expressed sense of apprehension about engaging with hip-hop for fear of doing it wrong; those who do it poorly are rightly accused of disrespecting the artform, and those who do it too well open themselves to accusations of cultural appropriation. Often I hear from pastors who feel like it’s fine for a church to embrace hip-hop, but only if hip-hop is an authentic cultural value of their congregation. When I hear that, I feel like what they’re telling me is, “Sure, you should do hip-hop, because you’re Black and you grew up with it. But my church doesn’t have many Black people.”
This also misses the point somewhat, because what that Nielsen report tells us is that hip-hop music (and the culture surrounding it) is no longer just the domain of a minority subculture. It is a huge part of mainstream popular culture, and as it relates to contemporary music, it is the dominant culture. When Beyonce drops an album, it’s news. After 2016’s Lemonade, even middle-aged white comedians were conversant enough to make jokes about “Becky with the good hair.”
At this point, it seems like most churches end up in one of four quadrants. When it comes to hip-hop, they either:
- Ignore it
- Denounce it
- Tentatively embrace it
- Go all out in support of it
It’s been my experience that most churches take option No. 1, while some more reactionary churches end up in option No. 2 (mostly out of fear and ignorance). And the few churches I know of that take option No. 4 do so because they’re in multicultural urban contexts (like colleges, military bases or athlete fellowships) where hip-hop is lingua franca.
I think the best move is No. 3—a tentative embrace.
Alternatives and Solutions
Let me be clear: I’m not suggesting that every church needs to start incorporating trap beats, turntables and air horns into their worship services. It’s still important to maintain a sense of reverence and holiness.
However, what I think is true is that any pastor or church leader who is concerned about reaching people under 40 needs to have at least a basic grasp of certain aspects of hip-hop culture, and—more importantly—recognize that these artifacts are a major part of just how things are today. It could involve allowing the worship leader to experiment with using hip-hop beats as part of the instrumentation.
It might involve inviting local or regional (or, if you have the budget, national) hip-hop artists. It might be learning to incorporate certain hip-hop terms, slogans or mannerisms. (In one overwhelmingly white church, as a guest worship leader I led a call-and-response portion of a song where, instead of saying “amen,” the crowd was encouraged to chant “yes, yes, y’all.”)
Is this risky? Sure. Will there be times when it looks like God’s people are trying too hard to be cool? Probably. Will you make mistakes and offend people along the way? Almost certainly.
But the alternatives are also risky.
A lot of time what I hear from people in their protests of hip-hop is criticism of the rampant misogyny and consumerism, so they feel like their only option is to denounce it. But we also have a ton of consumerism and misogyny in the White House; that doesn’t mean we have to oppose the concept of the Executive Branch. The truth is, pastors should be able to help their people understand and reject the sinful elements in any culture, but you can only really do that well if you can also highlight the honorable elements. If pastors and other church leaders consistently fail in that process, they inadvertently deliver the message that they are out of touch and their judgment is not to be trusted.
And whether they fail consistently, or they just never even try in the first place, the net effect is the same—young people are driven away from the church. Spoiler alert: Jesus had something to say about people who cause others to stumble, and it’s not good.
So this opportunity represents a clear way forward in engaging generations to come with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s hope that God raises up a generation of leaders who are up to the challenge.
Why are God’s people so surprised when they excel? This question particularly applies when it comes to excelling in jobs and careers. But, the truth is what God has for you is for you, and your career and occupation are no exception.
In fact, stories of excellence among God’s people, regardless of their past, dates all the way back to biblical times.
For example, Moses was a chief strategist of his generation. God equipped him with the strategy to deliver the children of Israel out to Mt. Sinai (Exodus 3).
Noah utilized his talents as a great architect by taking the measurements of the ark that God gave to him in prayer. He then went on to draw it, plan it out, and build it. It was a success because the ark was not destroyed in the flood and the lives of his family members were saved. (Genesis 6:13-22)
Joseph was an economist. He used his God-given gift of interpreting dreams and visions to predict what God was saying and created a financial plan for a nation that catapulted it to becoming a world power. (Genesis 41)
Deborah was a judge in the Supreme Court of her time and respected by many. Also, let it be known that the woman could sing and prophesy too! She was talented and did not apologize for it but used her gifts in excellence. (Judges 4-5)
Lydia was a fabric business mogul who sold “purple” which would have been very expensive at the time. She used her earnings to support the ministry of Paul, and her crib was big enough to invite guests to stay comfortably and she was able to host them after being baptized. Let it also be known that she was a radical worshipper! (Acts 16: 11-15)
Luke, the disciple of Jesus was a beloved physician/doctor! Yet, even with his status, he still served Jesus and obeyed His word. (Colossians 4:14)
Regardless of your field or industry, you have been called to excel in what God has given you. When visiting the dean’s office in school, you should not be surprised seeing your name on the High Honors list because you are called to be first and not last. If you are an attorney, you should not be surprised that you win the toughest cases and have a reputation of excellence.
As a child of God, He expects excellence. In fact, there is no greater compliment to God than when you are at the top of your game.
Do not apologize for excellence. It is a key tailor-made to open the door of greatness that will change your life. Decide today to be great, not just good but great, at whatever you do. Leave a positive mark wherever you go and watch God use you to bring a positive influence that will impact so many others.
The first memory I have of watching pornography is when I was 11 years old. It’s amazing that I didn’t even have the vocabulary to describe what I was witnessing, yet the innocence of my brain and body were gone in an instant.
I didn’t know it then, but my body and mind were awakened to a world of sexual stimulants that I was never made to endure. According to an article by the New York Times, 93% of boys and 62% of girls are exposed to online pornography during their adolescence. This is an issue that goes beyond the church walls.
Porn addiction is more than mere videos or online seductions. Pornography is defined as the “printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings.”
It can be easy to say, “Well, since I don’t watch these videos or go to these websites, I don’t have a problem.” Wrong. How many times have I written off the absurdly graphic sexual encounters described in various books as pure literature or even worse, entertainment? They are stimulants that create a very real reaction.
My sexual education came from an awkward 5th grade class, an even more awkward 8th grade health class, pornography, and friends who were sexually active. The only times I can remember hearing about sex in church were once in a Sunday School class where the teacher said she could tell just by looking who has had sex, and a few relationship/marriage talks.
As the good Christian girl, I pledged to stay abstinent until marriage. However, my seemingly perfect chastity was made murky by the secret I kept.
When I was 19, I had an encounter with God that changed my life. Long story short, I decided enough was enough and I had to give my life to Jesus—my entire life. I knew I would be different from that moment on. I mean, Jesus had my heart so all of my bad habits left immediately, right? Wrong.
A few months after that, I found myself in a room by myself watching porn. Although something had changed… I realized there was a pattern for why and when I watched porn.
Shame. Fear. Control.
There’s an amazing ministry called Restoring the Foundations. They are trained to identify and help mend different hurts one collects as a byproduct of being a human.
One of the things they examine is the cycle of shame, fear, and control. The cycle goes something like this: A person feels shame for something they’ve done, they’re afraid of being discovered, so they try to control the situation themselves.
The clearest example of this is Adam and Eve in Genesis. They ate the fruit they were told not to eat, they were ashamed, they were fearful of being discovered, so they tried to control the situation by fashioning for themselves makeshift clothes to cover their nakedness.
Shame, as opposed to guilt, attaches itself to a person’s identity. It’s the difference between saying “I made a mistake” and saying “I am a mistake.” This is how I approached pornography.
There would be a trigger, mainly an emotional trigger, something that made me feel lonely or afraid. Then, I would engage with porn. Afterwards, I was ashamed.
I wasn’t the good girl everyone thought I was. I tried to control the situation myself. I tried so hard to be perfect on the outside to veil the mess that was inside. I could only control the situation until another emotional trigger set the cycle off over and over again. This pattern also illuminated that porn was just the symptom of a bigger problem.
Where do we go from here?
- Learn your triggers. After I recognized the triggers that sent me running to the counterfeit embrace pornography offers, I could preempt my reaction to run to porn. Instead, I ran to God.
- Ask for help. This will never get old. The thing about shame is, it breeds in darkness. It festers in your deepest thoughts. It feeds off of the lies you believe about yourself. Identify safe people you can ask for help. You weren’t made to live life alone. Above all, ask God for help. The same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in you. That’s a pretty stacked deck.
- Accept the fact that you are loved. I elevated the shame I felt over the truth of God. According to Him, nothing can separate me from His love that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8). According to Him, I am chosen. According to Him, I am forgiven.
For more statistics and help with combating porn addiction, visit fightthenewdrug.org.