The Power of Pastors in Gospel Music by Juliet Fletcher

It’s a point I have raised quite a few times in articles within this column for Keep The Faith magazine: the influence and impact of church leaders upon the gospel music scene – certainly over the past fifteen to twenty years.

To start with, I’m not quite sure which way round it all happened: was it that people changed and the pastors realised they had to change OR was it that the pastors changed (with a new, fresh, insightful outlook) and then the people began to change?

There are trendsetting church leaders, for sure. Some are obvious – like Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo. Most times I hear commentators pinpointing a moment of change, 9 out of 10 times the first example will be Kingsway International Christian Centre. Pastor Matthew’s practical approach – using media to say “We Are Here – Look At Us” – was transformational, particularly to African and Caribbean churches. The way we began to be viewed (and viewed ourselves), almost at every level in cultural and socio-political life, is an expression of the bigger picture I see in the ‘Power of Pastors in Gospel Music’.

Local Pastor Power

The real defining influence that makes itself known week in week out is what pastors are doing in their local church or fellowship meetings. Observe how they engage with the creative people. Some pastors are themselves creative, and help in releasing individuals ‘to be’ in and beyond the church doors.

A real example of this came to my attention from relatively new artist, Sarah Téibo. Sarah is a praise & worship leader at Glory House in Plaistow, East London, where Pastor Nathan Curtis is the Associate Pastor. Her story: “I was leading worship one Sunday, and afterwards Pastor Nathan came up to me and said he’d been listening to my sound for some time, and expressed that my sound was not for the church per se, but that I should be singing in jazz clubs. It truly helped me, and from that moment, with pastoral endorsement, I gained the confidence to release my music ministry into what it’s becoming now.”

Further support followed when her church invited her to be a special guest minister where, in her own right, she gave a musical presentation. Then the church gave her a very generous honorarium – just as if she were an external guest coming in. This made it clear that her weekly ministry – freely given (without pay) – was distinctly different to her gift ministry and talent as a musical artist.

Sarah added: “Lots of times music ministers are held back because the pastor sees the talent as being retained in the church. I do think it helped that Pastor Nathan is musical (he is a songwriter/composer). He gave me practical help and tips while I recorded my first album – and was a good sounding board.”

Pro-active Pastor Power

Pastors who are musical are a real bonus. However, I’m also seeing pro-active pastors, who are not musical in that sense, but are supporting artists through financial investment, enabling artists to produce albums and stage events around music and creative efforts.

In recent times I have noticed Senior Pastor Peter Nembhard of The ARC – a church fellowship based in Forest Gate, London. After a number of conversations, where he asked me penetrating questions about gospel music, and seeing him at various concerts and other music events, I learnt that an event recognising the years of contribution to gospel music by popular and respected DJ, Dave P (founder of UGN Radio), had been staged with his approval following a suggestion by a member of his church. I thought, this is someone who seems to have a passion for our scene and the people in it. So I sought a comment from him.

But, saints of God (sorry I have to use my church-ified voice), I was not prepared for the answers he gave to my question, What do you think about the ‘Power of Pastors in Gospel Music’? Without hesitation, Pastor Peter said:

“In order for the Church to reach this generation, we have to learn to accommodate the people in arts and music. And if we fail them, we fail this generation. We won’t reach this generation without the arts.”

Well, of course that answer blew me away into a happy land of imagination: what if, across the nation at regional and local levels, whole posses of pastors consciously joined to strategically engage us who are creative in a supernova way? You see, we know pastors are involved in reaching people through TV ministries, by online and satellite, teaching and providing entertainment for Christians. That needs to continue, because it’s necessary for the coming together and maturity of the body of Christ to see the natural and spiritual picture of ourselves through these initiatives. But what if we turned our eyes upon the field around our villages, towns and cities? Can we impact better at ground level?

Pastor Peter let me know that he put the finance where his faith is: “I believe in investing financially, particularly in those who are obviously talented, but who don’t have much of a chance.” He was very modest in identifying names, but saw it as a way of encouraging others. “We have done so for lots of different artists, who were finding it difficult to get their albums and other things off the ground: hip-hop rap artists, like Tunde, Leke, Presha J.” He’s witnessed it making a difference not only with artists but also with the people they seek to reach through their music.

Better Pastor Power in Gospel Music

Here are my concluding thoughts:

  1. There are more pastors than we think, who are assisting consistently behind the scenes. And, even though we don’t always know who, when, how and what, they are making a difference to artists. Muyiwa, Guvna B and Noel Robinson are just a few of those I’ve heard talk first hand about the support they received from pastors at the start of their ministry/career.
  2. On the other hand, there are not enough pastors who are contributing effectively. We need an increase of pastors working hand-in-hand with those of us who run full-time businesses or practise our artistic discipline/skills.
  3. Since pastors have a financial base from which to sow into creative initiatives, we could do better by opening up discussion to increase greater understanding between pastors and creatives.
  4. But also, it would be good to talk about creating a UK funding base for certain types of creative investments in gospel music specifically. This has worked very well in the area of film entertainment for the US filmmakers, the Kendrick Brothers. Their box office hit, The War Room, was both spiritually and financially supported by churches and by ministers in leadership. Look how many of us enjoyed that film, which is having an impact right across the world in the lives of people who probably did not engage in prayer before, BUT saw how talking to God about real-time issues can be affected by a REAL relationship with Him.
  5. If you are a pastor or church leader reading this, and are impacted by any aspect of this commentary, please get in touch. Let us support you as a ‘Pastor with Power in Gospel Music’.

Note: On Friday 5th August 2016, Sarah Téibo is being backed by her church, Glory House, headlining her concert with her own special guest: US artist Lisa McClendon. Entry is free with registration.

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