UrbanFaith had the opportunity to sit down with artist Otis Kemp to talk about how he is able honor God while sharing His musical gifts. His hit single “The Reason” has gone viral and his music is being played all across the Southern United States. But his impact on his community and his journey to success have been anything but overnight. Otis Kemp shared a few key nuggets of authentic wisdom for people trying to be a blessing while being blessed.
Our Gifts Should Honor God
You want to share your gift. You want to share the message that God has given you. The music that I represent is lifemusic. I don’t look at a particular genre, like gospel or anything, because anybody can say they are gospel and live like whatever. I believe lifemusic is a testimony of who you are. When you when you see me, you should see some residue or some characteristics of the one Savior.
What Inspires You to Share Your Gift
I mean, to be honest [The Reason] was a song God gave me a couple of years ago, and it was at a dark time in my life. I began to prophesy over my life. I began to declare things that I was taught [since I was] a little boy. The God that my father taught me about [is why I live the way I do] even though at the time I didn’t understand what he was instilling in me. I’m a preacher’s kid and my family prayed.
You know, the Bible says you train up a child in the way they should go, and when they get older, they won’t depart from it. That is a true scripture. I’m evidence of that. I wanted to share with people when I say the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jabez [in my song] I’m talking the one and only true God. I’m talking about the God that you can actually talk to that you can have a relationship with. This ain’t no fake. It’s a real thing that he saved me. Like, I come from the streets. I’m from Miami, Florida, it’s rough. And down here, only the strong survive. God snatched me out of the darkness, snatched me out of the enemy’s camp, and brought me to his side.
How Can You Use Your Gift to Bless Others?
I would say the first thing that they should do is build a relationship with the Most High. I know it sounds cliche, but it’s not. I’m a living testimony. I got kicked out of every school in Miami and South Florida. And now I own three private schools within two and a half years. [It doesn’t] take 30 years; God judges you and he positions you by your heart. If your heart posture is correct, whatever passion you have, he will lead and guide you into all truth. The word of God is true.
If you want success, the only success you will have is with the Lord and in His Kingdom. Anything else is going to tear you down, going to destroy you, going to suck you dry. You become successful when it’s benefiting other people. Everything you do [with your gifts] should benefit someone else. That’s how you know it is from the Most High God. Jesus never did anything for Himself. Everything He did was for someone else. Now [He has] the highest name in the heavens, on earth, and under the earth. When you begin to lay down your life for the kingdom, your desires, your passion, or whatever it is, you can find out what God has already planned out for you. When you follow with Him you will have success. It’s just going to come with obedience.
Steve White is a man with an inspiring life and an incredible legacy. He began his journey as the child of a single mother from the housing projects with obstacles set in the way of his success. And yet as a man of faith who embraced his “why,” he overcame the difficulties and is now one of the most successful Black leaders in the nation as the President of Comcast.
When you adhere to Steve’s seven pathways discussed in the book, you are standing by your why with an uncompromising mindset. And you are doing it with a winning and impactful approach that can help you lead a more fulfilling and purposeful life, while helping you guide others and leave a lasting legacy.
Over the past 30 years, sociologists and economists have conducted several studies that consistently show a positive relationship between religiosity and academic success. These studies show that more religious students earn better grades and complete more schooling than less religious peers. But researchers debate what these findings really mean, and whether the seeming effect of religiosity on students’ performance is really about religion, or a result of other underlying factors.
My latest research underscores that religion has a powerful but mixed impact. Intensely religious teens – who some researchers call “abiders” – are more likely than average to earn higher GPAs and complete more college education. By religious intensity, I refer to whether people see religion as very important, attend religious services at least once a week, pray at least once a day, and believe in God with absolute certainty. Theological belief on its own is not enough to influence how children behave – they also need to be part of a religious community. Adolescents who see an academic benefit both believe and belong.
On average though, abiders who have excellent grades tend to attend less selective colleges than their less religious peers with similar GPAs and from comparable socioeconomic backgrounds.
The takeaway from these findings is not meant to encourage people to become more religious or to promote religion in schools. Rather, they point to a particular set of mindsets and habits that help abiders succeed – and qualities that schools reward in their students.
People of any religion can demonstrate religious intensity. But the research in my book “God, Grades, and Graduation: Religion’s Surprising Impact on Academic Success” centers on Christian denominations because they are the most prevalent in the U.S., with about 63% of Americans identifying as Christian. Also, surveys about religion tend to reflect a Christian-centric view, such as by emphasizing prayer and faith over other kinds of religious observance. Therefore, Christian respondents are more likely to appear as highly religious, simply based on the wording of the questions.
In my book, I examined whether intensely religious teens had different academic outcomes, focusing on three measures: secondary school GPA; likelihood of completing college; and college selectivity.
First, I analyzed survey data collected by the National Study of Youth and Religion, which followed 3,290 teens from 2003 to 2012. After grouping participants by religious intensity and analyzing their grades, I found that on average, abiders had about a 10 percentage-point advantage.
For example, among working-class teens, 21% of abiders reported earning A’s, compared with 9% of nonabiders. Abiders were more likely to earn better grades even after accounting for various other background factors, including race, gender, geographic region and family structure.
Scholars like sociologist Christian Smith have theorized that increased religiosity deters young people from risky behaviors, connects them to more adults and provides them more leadership opportunities. However, I found that including survey measures for these aspects of teens’ lives did not fully explain why abiders were earning better GPAs.
To better understand, I went back to the National Study of Youth and Religion, or NSYR, and analyzed 10 years of interviews with over 200 teens, all of whom had been assigned individual IDs to link their survey and interview responses.
Many abiders made comments about constantly working to emulate and please God, which led them to try to be conscientious and cooperative. This aligns with previous research showing that religiousness is positively correlated with these traits.
Next, I wanted to know more about students’ college outcomes, starting with where they enrolled. I did this by matching the NSYR data to the National Student Clearinghouse to get detailed information about how many semesters of college respondents had completed, and where.
On average, abiders were more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees than nonabiders, since success in high school sets them up for success in college – as also shown by my analyses of siblings. The bump varies by socioeconomic status, but among working-class and middle-class teens, abiders are more than 1 ½ to 2 times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than nonabiders.
Another dimension of academic success is the quality of the college one graduates from, which is commonly measured by selectivity. The more selective the institutions from which students graduate, the more likely they are to pursue graduate degrees and to secure high paying jobs.
On average, abiders who earned A’s graduated from slightly less selective colleges: schools whose incoming freshman class had an average SAT score of 1135, compared with 1176 at nonabiders’.
My analysis of the interview data revealed that many abiders, especially girls from middle-upper-class families, were less likely to consider selective colleges. In interviews, religious teens over and over mention life goals of parenthood, altruism and serving God – priorities that I argue make them less intent on attending as highly selective a college as they could. This aligns with previous research showing that conservative Protestant women attend colleges that less selective than other women do because they do not tend to view college’s main purpose as career advancement.
Grades without God
Being a good rule follower yields better report cards – but so can other dispositions.
My research also shows that teens who say that God does not exist earn grades that are not statistically different from abiders’ grades. Atheist teens make up a very small proportion of the NSYR sample: 3%, similar to the low rates of American adults who say they don’t believe in God.
In fact, there is a strong stigma attached to atheism. The kinds of teens who are willing to go against the grain by taking an unpopular religious view are also the kinds of teens who are curious and self-driven. NSYR interviews revealed that rather than being motivated to please God by being well behaved, atheists tend to be intrinsically motivated to pursue knowledge, think critically and be open to new experiences. These dispositions are also linked with better academic performance. And unlike abiders, atheists tend to be overrepresented in the most elite universities.
Success is a relevant but slippery topic for Christian young adults. A good number graduate from high school or college and join the workforce with a fresh enthusiasm about life. They find out, however, that the world is different than what than what they expected. Things they considered concrete might seem anything but, including how to measure accomplishments and achievements. Added to this is the idea that a massive amount of advice is available about success and what it is. Very often, the advice is given by people who have already reached the pinnacle of prosperity and spoken like the journey is merely following three simple steps. There is, however, no need to panic. Instead of finding simple steps, there are three truths a Christian young adult can use to find success. By keeping these in mind, the journey may be less daunting, but also it can be educational and be very enjoyable.
Truth #1: No Standard Definition of Success
The first truth is to throw out the cultural idea of a standard definition of success, which may be a challenge because the notion is planted in our psyche from an early age. We are told about millionaires and presidents but not crossing guards and home care nurses. Society lauds students who get full scholarships to 20 colleges but not the student who is the first person to be accepted into college. No one size fits all because no one size fits all people, especially with Christians. Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV) states, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Ephesians 2:10 reflects this theme. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” If our lives are His plan, then He determines success. He sets the standard. He has already decided our good works, and all we have to do is find out His plan and follow along. This may be a hard habit to break, but as you continue to submit to the idea that the determination of what is “good works” is not yours, then it will be easier. Success by definition is accomplishing one’s goals. The goal doesn’t matter. The achievement of the goal does. If God directs our lives and we achieve the good works He has prepared for us, that is the highest level attainment. It doesn’t always bring money or fame. If these things are the only way a person evaluates their accomplishments, it will lead to disappointment and dissatisfaction.
Truth #2: God Tailors Your Success to You
The second truth is to realize that God tailors your success to how He made you. Many people believe that attainment is becoming an executive with a corner office, but in their hearts, they would much rather work with their hands. Or the government worker that would prefer to work in a food bank. Or a hair salon. This cognitive dissonance is akin to wearing shoes that don’t fit. Yes, they are shoes, but they may be someone else’s. Finding the right fit comes down to listening to God and watching for patterns. Hearing God is not impossible. As a matter of fact, God very much wants to guide His children to the good works He has prepared for them. The Bible is full of passages in which God promises to guide us. Psalm 32:8 (NKJV) holds God’s promise — “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.” This model of guidance points back to the truth that God knows what a fruitful and meaningful is for you and wants to lead you there.
Truth #3: You Can Be Successful Outside Your Job
A third truth is to recognize that a job is not the only place in which a person can be successful. There is much emphasis put on having a career filled with awards and advancement. Picking the right career, right degree and right mentor, all these things are framed as the crucial steps for advancement. But what about those areas of life outside of work? Remember, success is about accomplishing the goals and can impact every area of life. One could be a good father or a caring daughter. One could find fulfillment in being a good friend or a faithful intercessor. Many find achievement in weight-loss and sobriety. By removing the constriction of an occupation, accomplishing the goals enrich a whole life and can be measured in broader terms. Instead of a hard goal like being a millionaire, a goal can be being a better friend or saving more money. God directs our achievements, and He determines the terms. He wants us to prosper in accomplishing His will. By living by these truths, letting go of the idea that there is only one route to achievement, understanding that God determines the good works in life even beyond our careers, the picture of success can become more evident. There isn’t one definition or destination. Success can, however, be reached by following God’s direction.
Malcolm Gladwell's bestselling books challenge the way we think about ordinary things.
I spent a great part of my recent vacation to Mexico absorbed in Malcolm Gladwell’s latest bestseller, Outliers: The Story of Success (Little Brown, $27.99). Anyone who’s interested in what it means to be successful needs to read this book. (more…)