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Kanye west's Gospel music era:A Mirror, Message or a mess

Updated: Oct 27, 2019

Jesus is King!!! Who is Kanye West today? And, what is Kanye West doing? Is he a modern day cult leader, religious pimp, self-righteous sinner, a pop culture music genius or an ambassador for Jesus Christ? Kanye West has been having Sunday Services for months in open parks and church sanctuaries, singing praises unto God, with unique rhythms and vocal blends..These services have captivated the attention of celebrities, the unchurched, churched and regular down home people, who simply enjoy the open freedom to worship God with friends and strangers, as one unified voice. Many individuals who have gravitated to his services find themselves liberated from the bureaucracy of church politics. These Sunday Service attendees enjoy freedom from judgmental church goers who label and mislabel them as sinners and outcasts.The open air services of Kanye West draws thousands of people who are fascinated by the souls and sounds of pure gospel music that renders a joyful sounds unto the Lord. People who attend these non church Kanye West services are usually dressed in casual attire, lifting up their untrained and trained voices, with unrestrained physical, social and emotional expressions in a great religious experience.

It was earlier this year when Kanye West changed the landscape of how his music would be performed at the Coachella Festival. He asked festival organizers for a dome to be built in the middle of the festival grounds. When Kanye and Coachella officials finally reached an agreement, Kanye eventually offered a religious Easter Service. Since Easter of 2019, Kanye West has been hosting non-denominational weekly Sunday Services in domes, parks and churches across the world.

As a Pastor, community leader, radio talk show host and college professor, I get a chance to hear traditional and progressive views on the topic of Kanye West's Sunday services. When speaking with traditionalists, they are more suspicious, judgmental and somewhat intimidated by Kanye's Sunday services. They question his motives and wait in suspense to what the outcome will ultimately reveal. Not only do they question whether or not his faith in Jesus Christ is real, but resist any idea of Kanye being associated with Christianity and salvation. Although labeled a sinner by traditionalists, the progressive view readily see themselves in Kanye West - a sinner, saved by grace. Does this Scripture passage sound familiar? Pop culture seems shocked by these recent moves of Kanye West to infiltrate the world with music of faith. But as we all know, for years, Kanye West has been unpredictable. This is no different. Don't you remember when he abruptly graced the stage when Taylor Swift won a music award over Beyonce? Kanye West was very vocal about that. The progressive, post modern view, accepts Kanye's new turn to faith with his music, respecting him as a musical genius and revolutionist to pop culture. Progressives believe that Kanye West is just as vocal as he has always been.

I have read comments from the media, believers and the world in general as they struggle to interpret why Kanye has endeavored on such a mission. As many grapple to discover the truth of the matter, I simply raise questions for all to contemplate. What is the church to learn from what Kanye West is doing? What is the music industry to learn? Here are a few more questions I raise:

1. Are Kanye West's Sunday services causing problems? If so, to who and how?

2. Does Kanye West's Sunday Services mirror what the church should be doing - evangelism and outreach to the non church or unchurched?

3. . Are his services an answer to dissatisfied people of faith, who have been hurt or shamed by the church?

4. . Should gospel artist rethink their strategy and lyrics for "trying to reach the world" with their Gospel music?

5. . Is the power struggle between the sacred and the secular more over the popularization and influence of Kanye West's new music phenomenon?

6. .Can this just be a teaching moment for the church and the gospel music industry at large?

For me, I've always been a proponent of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20. When I was coming up in the church, I witnessed the powerful effects of outdoor tent meetings and church worship services. Over the years, I've seen evangelism and outreach evolve from passing out salvation tracts to hip hop Christian artists spreading the Christian message. For years as a Gospel Music executive, I've witnessed the onset of artists like, Kirk Franklin and Donald Lawrence disrupt the gospel music industry, with their new interpretation of top charting gospel songs from favorite past time R & B tracks. When Donald Lawrence presented the gospel sound of Stephanie Mills, it somewhat changed the trajectory of the choral sound in the marketplace. I remember sitting in meetings with other gospel music executives discussing the legitimacy of a gospel song, based on whether it included the name of Jesus in it or not. Do you remember the jazz sounds of Yolanda Adams and Ben Tankard? I remember when Mary Mary paved the way for urban radio stations to play gospel songs. It shook up the gospel music industry, because Mary Mary did not have to depend on gospel radio stations for airplay.

For years I've witnessed all kinds of messengers of the Christian faith. I've seen great men and women walk with integrity, righteousness and genuineness as they would preach, sing and teach this great gospel. But I've also seen church leaders and Christian live a double life while parishioners sit there, turn their cheeks and remain silent, fully knowledgeable of misconduct and abuse of power that stems from Christian leaders. For the past five years, I've heard great preachers become false teachers and prophets looking unto psychics for fresh revelations. I've seen gospel singers and Christians (believers) alike live and misrepresent the Holy Scriptures to fulfill their own desires. It's always a good witness when I see prayer warriors laying before God, interceding and crying out for ALL. In my years as a believer, I've seen it all - the good, bad and the ugly. And now, here comes a Kanye West with Sunday services. What's all the chatter about? Who knows? Any way, check out these tenets of my blog:

Tenets of the Blog

THE CHURCH - When I refer to the church, I am making reference to believers and Christians alike. This includes the body of Christ - church leaders, church members, disciples of Christ, gospel/Christian artists and any true Christian of the faith. The Church must stay focused on its mission to spread the Gospel, to seek and to save those who are lost. The Church must live what it preaches, practicing the Christian faith in life and lifestyle. The Church must uphold its doctrines of faith and not misinterpret Scripture to fits its own will. The Church should reflect the Light, Righteousness and Holiness of God in the earth. The Church should promote and propel the mission and message of salvation to all. The moment the Church ceases to carry out its mission is the verymoment the Church ceases to be the Church.

TRANSFORMATION - Do we believe that people can change? Or, do we believe that people can begin to change? And if our answer is yes to any of these questions, do we pray for those who are on the journey of positive change? Either the church will believe that God can change a person or not. People sit in churches, knowing that pastors, singers, artists and other religious leaders live ungodly, unrighteous private lives that go contrary to Biblical teachings; but yet we still attend, support and follow these leaders. God can change anyone. Our role should be to pray, wish and hope that God will transform, change and save. God can change a prostitute into an evangelist. God changed me, from a liar, to a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Now, of course, there is the process of sanctification. Most would rather us the term "perfect." I prefer "sanctification." As disciples, we are "perfecting," meaning we are growing daily in our walk. Through the sanctification process, we are made holy through the works and power of Jesus Christ. We are washed and purified regularly through Jesus Christ. That helps us to sustain our transformative state. If you need me to elaborate more on sanctification, just leave me.a comment and I will be happy to do so. Also, here are a couple of questions to consider: Can God use "secular" people in "secular places?" Can God use "secular" people to do "sacred" things? When it comes to singing praises, what matters most - WHO we are singing about or WHOSE singing?

THE MESSAGE - Without doubt when you witness the Kanye West Sunday services, you will not question the message of his music - Jesus Christ. I can remember a few years ago sitting at the table with gospel heads about whether or not to include the name of Jesus in their music, for the sake of expanding their reach. In gospel or Christian music, the message should be about Christ-centered. Christ is the star and the central figure. Just as poets, spoken word artists, narrators, preachers and teachers are messengers, so are rappers messengers. Historically, rappers have delivered messages of the black struggle and hope, expressing their social, economical and political views. Now we see a rapper and creative musical genius, rapping and singing about Jesus. Does it matter if he is a licensed or ordained minister? All of us should be able to make a joyful noise unto the Lord. For the word declares, Let everything that hath breath, praise the Lord. One doesn't have to be "officially saved" to sing praises. Go ahead and watch a video clip of the Sunday Services. Tell me what you see. What I see are people gathered around with a song leader leading them in praise. Do we as Christians claim to own this religiosity, forbidding others to step on the Christian turf? Are the Kanye West Sunday services doing more evangelism than the church? Could it be that Kanye West is doing music evangelism, while Christian and gospel artists are doing mere entertainment? Are pastors focused on more "in-reach" than "outreach?"

UNIFORMITY - In many of his services, the choir is dressed in matching monochrome uniforms, alongside special guests and collaborators like Charlie Wilson, Cudi and others. Many choirs today have moved away from the dress of uniformity - choir robes and dresses. The fashion dress for many choirs today are tee shirts, jeans, dress down wear or multi-color attire. Since all music entities can wear what they wish, I guess it would be inappropriate for the "church" to criticize the sell, purchase and wear of Kanye Wests' sweatshirts and bottoms for a cost of two hundred plus dollars.When it comes to praise services today in churches, you will see praise team leaders and praise teams. Years ago, churches did devotional songs or used deacons to lead corporate worship. In those instances, emphasis was on congregational singing and sound. Everybody would join in freely to sing praises. The music was congregational friendly, singing with harmony and in unison. sounds like the Kanye West Sunday services to me. The Kanye West Sunday Service sound has brought back the type of sound that the church and even slaves use to have in the cotton fields - everybody singing in unison unto One God. As the church endeavors to be relevant and cutting edge, the sound of music is deparmentalized - segregated worship, celebrity praise team leaders, classism in worship and unintentional silencing of the congregational corporate sound. Singing Christian, gospel or church music is different from secular music. In the kingdom, we sing about God, for God and to reach all of God's people. We shouldd not be "narcissistic" singers, focusing only on ourselves. It's about God. We lift up His name and glorify Him in the earth. Does Kanye's Sunday services mirror the average Sunday service? Or, are they different?

In my years of being an executive in Gospel music, radio and marketing industry, I have seen gospel music evolve into many things. I've watched quartet music go from a mainstay music form of the black church to becoming the underdog. I've watched small groups changed into lead vocalists with background singers. I remember when choir and choral music became eliminated from mainstream gospel radio stations, which caused mainstream choirs to change their sound to a small group to get regular airplay. I've watched people run to join community and church choirs as a safe haven because their sound has become evaporated among the gatekeepers of radio airplay and gospel marketing. So they looked for windows of opportunities among other passionate choir singers to voice their songs. Haven't you noticed how gospel recording artists are now leading praise teams and church music ministries now? Why do you think this is happening? I've seen messengers of the faith rise and fall, crawl and disappear. I've seen preacher, politicians, prophets and religious leaders push for relevancy and righteousness in ministry and the marketplace. Some have succeeded, while others have failed. I've seen the media reveal the scandals and successes of the Christian faith.

Seems like today, Christianity is trying to find its identity in a world that is so diversified and emerged in pop culture. As I look and reflect upon all of this, I can't help but to wonder, who is God using today to impact and influence culture and the world with the gospel message of Jesus Christ. After all, the church has a clear mission in Matthew 28:19. In today's context, music is a great medium to reach people with the message. With music, one can reach all ages. I do not believe that Kanye West is a type of Christ. But what I do believe is that he is bringing "turbulent change" to gospel music and "good disruptions" to the church. In addition, I believe Kanye West is making a true paradigm shift upon black culture, church culture and pop culture at large. Musically, his Sunday Services and his new Jesus is King CD presents a new music revolution for gospel music. He bridges traditional songs with untraditional sounds with aspects of melodies and harmonies that infuses a texture, tone, color and rhythm that engages all generations. This multi-generational approach is captivating, stimulating and inspiring to countless of celebrities and common people, yet suspicious and uncertain to believers and the church.

I wrote this blog because of my desire for everyone to have a deeper life in Christ. Over the last decade, i have witnessed the decline of people who have deviated from the Christian faith. According to a recent Pew Research poll, many have left the Christian faith because they have lost faith in Christian leaders and laity. That concerns me. I desire that all people become transformed by Jesus Christ, and serve as followers of Jesus Christ. Any one or thing, who lifts up Christ, is a "witness" for Christ. Whether its Snoop Dogg, Kanye West, Tasha Cobbs, Jekalyn Carr, John P. Kee, the Clark Sisters or Anthony Brown & Group Therapy, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Creflo Dollar or Pastor Juandolyn Stokes, as long as Christ is lifted up, God will draw all men unto Him. (John 12:32). #jekalyncarr #tashacobbs #theClarkSisters #anthonybrown #kanyewestsundayservices #gospelmusic #christianmusic #evangelism #missions #thegospel #donaldlawrence #kirkfranklin #gospelmusic 3johnpkee #kanyewest #creflodollar #christianmusic #church #bishoptdjakes #pastorjuandolynstokes #juandolynstokes #jesusisking

It's just my thoughts! Never mind me....


Juandolyn Stokes

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