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.

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  1. » On becoming a Legend on 18 Jan 2007 at 1:34 am

    […] With most of the leading Southern Gospel bloggers discussing the same topic (here, here, and here), I thought it might not be a bad idea for at least one of us to give you something else to think about. […]


  1. Joshua Cottrell wrote:

    “contrite sinner’s prayer” What is that supposed to mean?

  2. Tom wrote:


    I’ve read your post three times now, and each time that I start to think I’ve figured out what you’re saying, you loop me around and I’m hopelessly confused again.

    Correct me if I’m mistaken, but it almost seems to me as though you equate the term “ministry” with some sort of hyper-evangelical “altar call” technique functioning as the focal point / climax of a concert setting. I keep re-reading your post, but that still seems to be your definition of “ministry.”

    Now that’s not to say that there aren’t some sg groups out there who DO mean that by their use of the term “ministry.” I quickly get tired of those occasions where I go to a concert and the artist feels compelled to close that way, although I’ve visited enough Baptist churches to realize that this is some sort of perfunctory ritual that is routine in certain segments of Christianity. And to the extent that there are artists out there who think that way, they do need to get slapped around (and you do a good job of taking care of that for us).

    Maybe giving “altar calls” can be considered one acceptable component of what “ministry” is, but hopefully that narrow band of activity does not exhaust the scope of what “ministry” is. If that’s all there is to “ministry,” then I’m not quite sure why the priest at the Episcopal church I occasionally visit is called a “minister,” since I’ll bet my last dollar he’s never given an “altar call.” If I learned anything in seminary, it’s that “ministry” encompasses such a broad spectrum of activity that it may well just include every single thing I do (including typing this note).

    Without doubt the term “ministry” encompasses “encouraging the saints,” an activity you’ve mentioned; but then I go back and read again what you wrote, and it almost seems to me that you’re defining “encouraging the saints” out of the purvey of what you understand to be “ministry”–a term I almost think you’re reserving for hyper-evangelistic conversion techniques. Indeed, wouldn’t (as you put it) “being ‘just’ a good entertainer and ‘only’ bringing a little joy into regular people’s lives” also be a central function of “ministry”?

    Now you can set me straight on what you meant, because I’m sure I misunderstood something somewhere. I think I agree with most of what you say here, especially about the folly of an artist having such a narrow focus that he/she thinks a concert is all about closing with an “altar call” and trying to convert the one non-Christian who’s there, but then I’m not sure if I really understood what you said at all.


  3. ST wrote:

    Please do not think I’m endorsing all of the following men in this statistic I heard on Christian Talk Radio. Here’s what was said. When you mention names like T. D. Jakes, James Dobson, Charles Stanley, Joel Olsten, and a list of other main stream media preachers, only 1/3 of Americans know who you are speaking of.

    Now, these are ministries in main stream television “ministry”(which could be discounted in some cases here.) However, only 1/3 of Americans know who they are. Who are they preaching to then? Church people! They are not “winning the world for Jesus.” They are preaching to church people.

    Furthermore, if they are on T.V. every week and christian radio everyday, then how many Americans know your top-notch most popular Southern Gospel Group.

    There’s nothing wrong with having a ministry that blesses the church and the christian. But, when these groups think they are “winning the world for Jesus,” - the truth is THEY ARE NOT. As a matter of fact the Bible tells us that people will turn away from the gospel in the last days.

    My biggest problem is with these self-appointed Super Star Gospel Singers who think they are the reason the world is turning to Jesus. The truth is they are not winning the world Jesus, and furthermore, God doesn’t need them to accomplish his perfect plan.

    What we need to do is just humblely be faithful in what God wants us to do and let God do the saving and number counting. I’m personally sick of entertainers because their not real. I’d rather just see ministry minded humble people who are faithful to God and faithful to do what He wants without the flash and “STAR IN MY OWN MIND” sydrome.

  4. CG wrote:

    contrite = repentant, regretful, humbled

    This message has been brought to you courtesy of Webster’s New World Thesaurus.

  5. CVH wrote:

    Good intentions and wishful thinking aside, I really wonder why artists and groups think they’re “winning the lost” by their work. Or that there’s anything wrong with the fact that perhaps they’re not, at least not as much as they would like to think.

    As you point out, SG audiences are blue and white-collar middle America who gladly put a few bucks in an offering plate or buy an artist-circle ticket with high expectations. Oh, and that 3 ‘fer 30 special? I’ll take two, one for me and one for Aunt Blabby who couldn’t be here tonight. Sure, an occasional
    “sinner” may be invited or stumble into a gospel concert but they’re not the target market anymore than they are the intended buyers of gospel CDs or listeners to Christian radio.

    The gospel may have no demographic but everything we touch seems to.
    I don’t think there’s anything particularly surprising or bad about how things are today because America is a consumer culture and we consume gospel music just like we consume Wheaties and grilled Stuft burritos from Taco Bell. Oh, one could argue from a purist’s viewpoint that things shouldn’t be so commercial and market-oriented. But for better or worse, that’s how it is.

    It’s ironic that Jesus said, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me”. Truly He could have benefitted from a better marketing campaign, a catchy logo, some cool ringtones and focus-group analysis. After all, if you measured the number of converts He had after 3 years of ministry…

    Groups truly concerned about evangelism could sell the bus and get out from that $600 a tank diesel bill, minister in the streets and in missions, and give their product away. Of course that means we wouldn’t have NQC or fan awards (Best Mixed Group With The Most Certified Converts, First Quarter
    ‘07 Award goes to…”?) And how much fun would that be?

  6. gjg wrote:

    Really perfect!t

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