I am currently in a season in my life where I long to see the power of the Christian hip hop community manifest itself in something other than a CD or mix tape. I wonder if the Holy Spirit is really at work in us or are we just lyrically and musically talented? I keep thinking to myself, if the power of the Spirit has given us victory on the mic, then shouldn’t we see that same power off the mic as well? We are not in the Old Testament times where God the Spirit came on people for a quick task and then jetted; these are New Testament times where the Spirit permanently indwells his people to be a continual recourse for empowered service. We are told to keep being filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18) so we know that our spiritual energies can be depleted, but the idea is that we do not have to wait for God to zap us again, we just have to refuel.
I have always thought to myself that a true healer or miracle worker does not only heal in some big arena when it’s show time, but a true healer and miracle worker demonstrates this power from God off camera, and in the real world. He could go into a hospital and clear it out, and walk on the street and touch the vast number of sick people. Something is fishy when the only time their “powers” are at work is when they are putting on some well-televised, well-planned event. Well, as Christian rappers, we can become just as lopsided; just as staged. We can become showman, who minister with passion and fire at a show, but, have either no motivation or no energy to labor just as passionately off stage.
A vision that I have always had for Cross Movement was that we would hit the road hard to awaken our nation’s Christian hip-hop reserves to the idea of boldly representing Jesus Christ as a full-time mission. By God’s grace, to some degree we have done that and we have loved all of the perks that have come with that aspect. The challenge for us has been, when we are not on the road—continuing to minister? We formed a nonprofit organization so that we could facilitate other ministry efforts that were not necessarily “mic-oriented.” However, the drive and ability to do the “other things” has been greatly challenged by a number of internal and personal things as well as some external things. Admittedly, we have not been the force off the stage that I had hoped we’d be. For many reasons our onstage performance has far outweighed our offstage service. Some of you are probably gloating right now, saying, “I knew it, they’re not on the streets like me and my friends.” Well, you probably are on the streets because you have no choice. You don’t have to balance the limelight or being on the road with offstage ministry, because you have little or no limelight and you have a very limited traveling schedule. However, I still think we have not done a good job balancing these two and so I was moved to encourage us to get back on point. Internally we have to see this as necessary, especially as leaders in the Christian hip-hop community, and we have to want to lead by example.
There are other things that frustrate the desire to get something crackin’ offstage, and that is the appetites of the church. First, we can’t seem to move beyond “the concert.” Speaking for the African American slice of the hip-hop generation, I find that it’s getting to the point where rappers and preachers are the only two ministry platforms that can draw a crowd. Prayer meetings can’t draw a crowd, evangelism can’t draw a crowd, and mentoring opportunities don’t draw a crowd. We either flock to the mic or flock to hear those who’ve got the mic. Not many Christians of the hip-hop persuasion make it beyond the concert. For those of us who make a token appearance every now-and-then, we don’t bring our A-game. The best of our energies show up when we are on the mic, in the studio, or in a concert-crowd, while our left-overs show up sporadically in a church service, at a prayer meeting, or at some obscure service project. Peep it and weep–at the concert—thousands; in the classroom—hundreds; on the corner—tens. This goes for the Christian hip hop leaders as well, because we get to the point where we just don’t have enough of ourselves left to hit the classroom or the corner.
If we are not careful, we will allow our popularity and our prominence to replace our responsibility to do the small/hidden necessities of every Christian. We will preach but not study. We will rap but not evangelize. We will move the crowd, but not rally with the community of faith. We will be served, but not serve. It’s real subtle—we will unknowingly and unwillingly become a shell of what we seem to be during that hour on stage. We will have the right spill, but not be an incarnate example of the things that we are passionately communicating. And we will not intentionally be a fraud, but in hindsight we will look back and have to admit that we are almost none of the stuff that we say that a disciple should be.
We would tell a disciple that they should be sharing their faith as a way of life—but we either can’t or don’t. We would tell a disciple that he/she should regularly gather with a mature community of believers—but we either can’t or don’t. We would tell a disciple that he/she should be involved in laboring along side of a group of God’s people—but we either can’t or don’t. We would tell a disciple that he/she should be individually and corporately faithful, prayerful, studious—but we either can’t or don’t. Sooner or later, we have to lead our generation by example, and I believe that our Christian hip-hop leaders must model the other aspects of Christianity for those who have become fans/disciples.
I keep thinking and wondering what it would look like to see the same power that is at work in us on stage, flexing in full effect off the stage. The only dilemma is, “who wants to get off the stage?” After all, that is where both our spiritual gifts and natural motivations converge. We can become so intoxicated with this one aspect of service that we do not want to venture into arenas that are more sobering, challenging, and less likely to produce immediate personal payoff. I KNOW THIS FROM EXPERIENCE.
Some people are doing all they can, and others are doing all they like to do. I believe that the Christian hip-hop community which includes more than Christian hip-hop artists can be a community that becomes known for broadcasting an array of expressions of Holy Ghost power. We need more that rap and rappers. We need more than simply the four elements of hip-hop. It pains me to see Christian hip-hop artists who seem to have a passion and commitment for rap that does not exist for basic Christian fundamentals. They record until the wee-hours of the morning, fly great distances, sign hundreds of autographs, make crowds say, “hooo!” but rarely if ever spend serious time in a theological learning context, attend a prayer meeting, go on a missions trip, join an evangelistic blitz, attend a bible study, or anything for the body of Christ besides take the stage or pulpit.
In ministry there seems to be at least two main types of ministers—those who primarily minister in the limelight, and those who minister in the recesses of virtual obscurity. There are those who minister to what becomes a fan base, and those who minister to the “market place.” One group ministers to people who idolize them, buy their products, and cheer them on; the others minister without many perks. They are forced to look forward to the payoff of souls and an eternal reward. If we stray from being the latter, we must beware. This is a wake up call to my people—those who do hip-hop art and those who consume it. We must move beyond CDs and concerts, to classes and corners.
The reason for this is the need. There was a time when the world was not ready to follow us into a class or to a corner. Neither the world, nor the church was paying us any mind. We were like David, in the back with the sheep while everybody else was around the dinner table. Society needed a ram’s horn strategy. In the past, to get the attention of a town or a community, a horn or trumpet was blown. Well, the horn has been blown. We have awakened a large contingent of people up to the fact that Christ is Lord of hip-hop and Lord of all. We have their attention, and many of them like us enough to come to our concerts, visit our websites, and buy our product. Don’t we have more to offer them? The current times call for us to become teachers and the students who hit the classroom where the mind can be renewed (Rm 12:2).
Who will teach? In addition to the pastors and teachers of the former generation who we desperately need, we need teachers from the Christian hip-hop population as well. Like the writer of Hebrews said of some of the Christians “by this time you ought to be teachers” (Heb 5:11). I know too many of us who have Bible degrees, or we’ve sat in churches for over a decade, our parents are pastors and ministers, we’ve been to conferences galore—yet we are not becoming the teachers. Spirit empowered rappers and non-rappers—we just need hip-hop missionaries who know Christ and the culture enough to educate the hip-hop oriented society we live in. As for those that do rap, some of us who teach in our rap need to also teach without our rap. One reason for this is simply that there is more in us than just rap. Secondly, the world needs to see the same cats they idolize, pouring deep truths into them. Because of the times we are in, we have to supplement the rap with basic teaching because rap can’t do it all. In fact, sometimes rap is a hindrance because it keeps people in a “concert” state of mind. We run the risk of stunting their growth so that they never advance from a fan to a follower.
After the classroom, where our zeal is aligned with accurate biblical knowledge, we can be entrusted and spirit empowered to bum-rush the corners. Drug-dealers shouldn’t be the only ones who make the corner their headquarters. Street theologians and evangelists should also make the corners their mission field. We were designed for this. Paul spent much time in both the synagogue and the market place (the corner of his day). Can you imagine the impact that the Christian hip-hop community of missionary minded people would make on this world as we demonstrate affection for God’s classroom and the world’s corners? Even the secular world would appreciate our example. By God’s grace we would be more effective teachers, better students, peacemakers, role models, anti-drug and anti-violence advocates—all while still maintaining the hip-hop elements that don’t clash with our identity in Christ.
Our society needs role models – those who model a commitment to learning, leading, and serving. Life is bigger than us and our personal fetishes. Our CDs and concerts are appetizers. May we roll up our sleeves and lead people to the main course. Let’s take them from the concert to the classroom, to the corner.