The monestry discussion, Chapter 3,412
In a recent post, Danny Jones asks:
Does it matter what it’s called if God is using it to either encourage the saints or call the lost?
Well, yes. I think it does. Put on (or anywhere near) the spot (or simply within reach of a live microphone), most artists contend that they are having it both ways – with God’s blessing. Many truly believe this. Some may use it in order to make a silk purse of the sow’s ear that is workaday life for most gospel music professionals. But the practical reality is that gospel music primarily aims for and reaches “the saints,” sings to the faithful, and preaches to the choir. And no matter what they say, artists know this (at least the successful ones do) and build their business, ministry, monestry (whatever) around this fact.
If you really believe you’re about the bidness of converting and evangelizing the unchurched or redeeming an unsaved world, then you wouldn’t book 90% of your dates in churches full of, and play concerts promoted and overwhelmingly supported by, faithful evangelicals who like and listen to the music because it reinforces what they already believe. And instead of taking 15 minutes each night to pitch your product and tell the good folks in Estelleville, Virginia about the awesome 3-fer-$30 special you got goin on tonight on this limited supply (and if this limited supply runs out, we got some more out on the bus … yuk yuk yuk), you’d be singing 15 verses of “Just As I Am” and asking folks – with every head bowed and every eye closed – to just slip up yer hand if you don’t know Jesus here in this place tonight.
Yes, some unsuspecting or searching soul wanders in to a concert from time to time and has the conventional conversion experience - complete with the tearful repentence and the contrite sinner’s prayer and a stirring public profession of faith - and there are any number of concerts packaged with revival or conference events that result in quantifiable conversions. Doubtless, too, there are people who have Damascus road transformations in the days, weeks, or years after they attend a concert or hear a song on the radio or an album.
But these are the made-for-testimony-time exceptions, and not the rule. They are, that is, the experiential outliers, and it is disingenuous and falsely pietistic to claim that these less common occurrences are the only or even primary reason gospel music exists.
At its best, gospel music has the power to transform, yes, but on the more human, less biblically grand scale of things – moments can become little miracles of insight, a note or a phrase the opening to some discovery otherwise hidden from view, melodies the means to some small grace or token of beauty. I gather from the self-importance with which I’ve heard so many gospel artists remind their audiences of God’s divine call on their lives and the eternal significance of their ministries that it is something of a diminishment in their eyes to be just an entertainer. That to merely “encourage the saints” (or anybody else for that matter) belittles the nobility of their music.
Gospel music has never changed my life in a flash of divine transformation or a single moment of glorious regeneration. But it has certainly enriched things, made life better in small but important measures, time and time again. I tend a fairly modest but nonetheless essential space within myself where believing – much of the time I dare not even call it faith – is felt and values become action. Thus gospel music’s small graces and tokens of beauty are enough, because they are the kind of thing that makest the difference between living and merely existing.
People who truly understand how difficult the task and mighty the rewards of being “just” a good entertainer and “only” bringing a little joy into regular people’s lives rarely find it necessary to remind us of their weighty business with lost souls or to proclaim the heavenly mandate for their music. They seem to understand what so many of us have felt: that certain something about the best gospel-music experiences that’s always irreducible, inexplicable, and far, far beyond the paltry score-keeping of saved souls or the tawdry tallying of lives touched.Email this Post