Gospel music: Living with the tension between ministry and entertainment part 2 by Juliet Fletcher

In the last issue of KTF, I was able to share with you the personal experiences of those who identified themselves as gospel artists performing in the world of entertainment. They were impacted by this phenomenon “tension between ministry and entertainment”. Most reported it as a difficult and painful experience because of the criticism received from within the Church community. Some had to fight hard to find the road to restoration, confidence and self-worth.

I’ve spoken to more church leaders, to help me build a scriptural foundation of understanding, and also included references to those who are confessing Christians, but who express their creativity without the ‘gospel’ tag in the world of entertainment. They see their skill, talent and abilities as an art form by which they do a job of work and earn a living, but they’ll still be in church on that Sabbath/Sunday morning!

Here we have it, then: two types of Christian artists: One that goes out with the ‘gospel artist’ tag, and the other that goes out with no upfront label, but is known and happy to be identified as a Christian.

Why Take Notice Of The Tension?

We take notice of this tension, because we can see real lives affected by it in a way that either makes them ineffective (not reach their true potential) or disaffected (disgruntled, dissatisfied and resentful) of the Church’s response. The worst is when someone leaves The Way altogether – an unnecessary step, when a remedial solution is possible.

The remainder of this piece is devoted to help both types of artists and those who criticise what they do.

INTERPRETING MINISTRY AND ENTERTAINMENT

Ministry equals serving. We all do ministry because we are servants of JESUS, our Lord. I like Noel Robinson’s take on this: “I’m a worshipper, who happens to be…” which he quotes as the basis of Kingdom Worship Movement. Therefore, if you are an accountant in the week and a choir member at weekends, on both occasions you are doing ministry.

Check out the etymology (the origin of words) for ‘entertainment’:

‘Entertain’ comes from the juxtaposition of French entre, which comes from Latin Inter – both words meaning ‘together’, or ‘among’, and Latin tenere, which means ‘to hold’. So, literally, entertain means to ‘hold or support together’. Entertainment is a form of activity that holds the attention and interest of an audience, or gives pleasure and delight (Source: Online Etymology Dictionary).

Combine this understanding with my conversation with Pastor Gareth Sherwood of City Gates (Ilford). He told me that, during a Sunday sermon, he asked the congregation: “Tell me, how many of you came to church this morning?” A good number raised their hands. “So, if you came to church, what happens to the church when you leave?” There was an acknowledging silence. “The church comes into a building but goes out to ‘be church’ wherever you go,” he explained. JESUS said: “The Kingdom is within, and this is what we carry everywhere we go.”

This should get us excited. Arts & Entertainment is one of the most influential spheres of the world. It seeks to hold captive the minds of people away from God and godly things; ‘ministry’ is serving and ‘entertainment’ is holding someone’s attention. Here we come with our contribution, our ‘seed of righteousness’ to plant among all the considered gunk: if, as a minister/performer I can hold your attention to give you the Gospel of Jesus or an inspirational message, that is a powerful opportunity. That is me being the Church, and bringing Kingdom values into the world.

Lawrence Rowe is an actor and performing artist. Currently he stars in the cast of Motown: The Musical in London’s West End. He plays: lead singer, The Temptations; Dennis Edwards, The Miracles; Bobby Rogers, Head A&R at Motown, and Mickey Stevenson, one of the Commodores. He’s a member of New Testament Church Of God, under the pastoral care of Bishop Eric Brown. From childhood, Lawrence has been passionate about singing, and cut his teeth in various choirs – from his local church through to LCGC. Since winning the role, he performs nightly to thousands in live theatre. I asked him a few direct questions that can help us understand why, as a Christian, he is comfortable working in the entertainment environment.

JF: How do you honestly feel, working in entertainment?

LR: I’m actually passionately loving it and feel very privileged. Whatever your professional work, you’re gonna face challenges. To me, it’s no different from working in health or education. It’s what you do and how you manage yourself.

JF: What is the response of your colleagues who know about your Christian faith?

LR: Those who know me know where I stand. And those who come into contact with me, I am encouraged just to be the best me. I talk with anyone. That is a gift God has given me, and so I’m always seeking to be a positive contributor to conversations. In this biz, it’s easy to experience disappointments, depression and other negative forces. I’m glad to let my life reflect the way I cope with situations, and others see that.

JF: What about all the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll?

LR: You know, it’s really not an issue for me. It’s not even on my mind. I’m not drawn in any shape or form by any of those things. I’ve been involved in the entertainment business for years now. It’s my job. I do my work, enjoy my friends, and go home at the end of it. If you uphold a life and lifestyle standard – that speaks volumes to those around you.

JF: Are you supported, or do you feel isolated?

LR: I am and do feel supported, because I keep in touch with my pastor and I have set up my own network around me. It makes a huge difference. You must have your head screwed on, know what you stand for, and let the fruit of the Spirit work in you.

JF: Do you believe someone needs to be ‘called’ to work in entertainment?

LR: Some people say they have been called. I have friends who’ve worked in the music industry, touring for years. They were drawn into it. Sometimes there are conflicts: you look at the money and look at the storyline and, if it doesn’t fit where you can walk in Christ, that’s where a personal choice is made. Great productions, like The Lion King [the highest grossing stage play in the world, seen by over 13 million people] has incredible storylines that have a powerful parallel with biblical principles.  I have friends who act in character roles that are rough, but they do the job and go back to regular life. If it’s gonna drag you down then, honestly, I can say, for me, that’s not right. You must know God for yourself.

JF: What does it feel like performing in ‘Motown’?

LR: Every night I walk out on stage there are actually 1,200 people here who, through the Motown story, learn how a set of people responded to racism, politics, adversity and personal disappointments. I don’t take it lightly. I’m able to share light with them. The whole audience is caught up in what we perform. Every song speaks a message.

Professional and personal friends have been very encouraging and kind to me about my performance, saying that I stand out or they can feel the energy I bring. That’s amazing, and I find it very consoling to my career choice. But, to be honest, I don’t sing the songs the same way: every night I perform for the new audience that is there, and aim to bring that something ‘extra’ for them. It is significant that 50 years on, the songs are just as relevant. The beauty of live theatre and this production is that you see the response in people’s eyes and the feelings. In whatever way they came in, they become as one and leave as one.

The Lord is a Gift-giver, and you want to display the best He has given, in the best place and the best level.

I was very heartened by Lawrence’s testimony. Hope you are, too.

Bayo Ademiju, Senior Pastor for Oasis of Love Christian Centre (Leytonstone), said to me: “Everything today is about relationships and how people relate. If we only have one opportunity to speak into people’s lives, and they say you can on this platform called Entertainment, I’m gonna take that. We can’t save anyone. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. The fruit of salvation, for The Lord knows them that are His (2 Timothy 2:19). Just by being there we will be an influence.”

My last artist witness is Jake Isaac. Jake’s musical mark began with the significant praise and worship youth movement, iEqualsChange (iEC), and wrote the popular song ‘As We Seek Your Face’. Now signed to Elton John’s Rocket Records, he has moved centre and front as a prolific singer/songwriter, making a positive foray into the very heart of the pop industry. From a sound Christian background (his father is Rev Canon Les Isaac MBE, lead founder of Street Pastors and Ascension Trust), Jake’s music and manner are holding their own before a listening audience of millions. Pastor Ade Omooba, of the National Church Leaders Forum (NCLF), has the final word: “Influence is more important than popularity.”

 THE ‘HOW MUCH IN THE POT?’ MEASUREMENT

I’ve now developed a POT measurement, which you can adjust and use to help guide your decision-making.

PURPOSE

What is your purpose? Are there clear, experienced indicators in your life story that show/link to this juncture of your life? Does the Purpose match your Passion? Have you had godly individuals who have seen and bear witness to your Purpose? Does your talent match or live up to your Purpose? Will the Purpose mainly help others or primarily just you? Could the Purpose lead you away from God and righteousness (right living)?

OPPORTUNITIES

Does the Opportunity align with your Purpose? Will the Opportunity compromise or complement your Purpose? Have you sought the Lord about the Opportunity? Will many hear the Gospel or inspirational message you carry? Is money the greater motivator for accepting the Opportunity? (It’s a Yes or No question. Be honest.) Are you emotionally, morally and spiritually prepared? Do you have supporting or an experienced network of individuals? Will it move you and others forward, backward or retain your current position?

THEOLOGY

Will your relationship with God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) that you enjoy be enhanced or threatened? Have you an unction or inner sense of peace with God, as you meditate and think on your Purpose and Opportunities?

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