Thursday, January 10, 2019

Souled Out vs. Sellout: For Profit or Purpose?

Last Saturday (January 5th), I attended Bishop T.D. Jakes’ annual leadership training at First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Upper Marlboro, MD. As an aspiring leader myself, I was excited to soak up every morsel of wisdom Bishop Jakes shared—and he left me with quite a bit to ponder, especially concerning recording artists, gospel artists in particular. The nugget I’m sharing in this post was specifically geared toward business(wo)men, but since I view the gospel music industry as both a lucrative business and a calling, I found it to be applicable in this context as well. Bishop Jakes framed his discussion with the analogy of a boat. He said (paraphrased), God didn’t just give you the “boat” (job, placement, etc.) as a way to make a living. He wants to use it as His platform. Maybe the “boat” is not about the fish, maybe it’s about moving Jesus.

Here’s my interpretation of that as a supporter of Kingdom music: Gospel artists, also referred to as psalmists and worship leaders, need not get caught up in how many “fish” they can catch just for likes and lit Instagram stories. The purpose of your boat is not fishing for attention, you’re fishing for lost souls. It’s your job to reel them in to Him.

Image source: Act Media

That analogy was lost on some people, so Bishop Jakes dissected it even further, this time using business lingo. He explained that God is an investor, and investors look to make profits. For clarification, he defined profit as “what is left when a transaction is over,” and then he asked the audience, “What is [God’s] return on you?...If God is a businessman, how does He protect His return on your life, and how do you make His investment profitable? What does it profit God to bless you? You can’t rip off your partner and expect to stay in business!” This really resonated with me because there’s a fine line between being souled out for Jesus and being a sellout...and there’s an even finer line between doing gospel music as a business venture and sharing the Gospel with God’s people. 

One of the things I’ve learned in supporting Kingdom artists (and secular artists, for that matter) is the danger of the swollen ego. If I meet an artist, especially a gospel artist, with a decent voice AND a decent heart (which, I might add, is a very rare combination), I pray that God will never let them realize the magnitude of the gift they possess—because once they realize how big the gift is, the ego inflates as well—sometimes so much so that the gift itself is swallowed up, and pride and entitlement take its place. The swollen ego is dangerous because when it becomes bigger than the gift, the glory begins to shift away from God and transfers to the vessel. The gift is God-given, the ego is man-driven. Slowly but surely, if it is not checked at the door, the artist loses focus and becomes fueled by awards and accolades and disregards Gods stamp of (dis)approval. The Bible says in James 1:17 (NIV) that, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” The gift can be perfect because it was bestowed to the vessel by a God who is perfect in all of His ways. It is possible for the gift to be completely unflawed; however, the vessel is riddled with imperfections. Why? Because it is physically impossible for us to be exactly like God. We were merely made in His image. If we could perform miracles for ourselves, we wouldn’t need Him!

Speaking of our need for God, the concept of gift-giving highlighted something for me: The same way humans have free will in life, we are given the freedom to govern our gifts. According to Google, the word gift, a noun, is defined as “a thing given willingly to someone without payment; a present.” God is not an Indian-giver. Very rarely does He give a gift and take it away, and once He gives it, He doesn’t tell us what to do with it...and if He does tell us how to use it and we choose not to listen, He doesn’t force our hands. When God gives us gifts, we can choose whether or not to use them. Of course, He would prefer that we use them for His glory, but even if we don’t, He can allow them to prosper, at least to a certain extent. How do you think secular artists become popular? EVERY good and perfect gift comes from the Father of lights...even if we don’t thank Him for it.

In John 12:32 (NIV), Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” We see how much of an impact (both positive and negative) secular music has made in mainstream society, media, and culture. Imagine how much of a difference would be made if everyone acknowledged the one true SOURCE of music (because whether your fave wants to admit it or not, they were, directly or indirectly, influenced by gospel music in some way, shape or form). And guess what else? Even if an artist chooses to never acknowledge God as the giver of his/her gift, when Jesus comes back for His people, “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11 NIV). Oh, and I’d be remiss if I left out one of my personal favorites, Matthew 10:33 (NIV), “But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” The creator always gets credit for His creation. The important question here is, are YOU giving credit where credit is due?

Watch Bishop Jakes’ full message below: