by Robert Earl Houston
DISCLAIMER: I need to begin this post by saying that I am speaking from a position as a not only a Pastor, but a musician/choir director/minister of music since I was 17 years old. I was raised in a gospel music environment provided by New Hope and Morning Star Missionary Baptist Churches in Portland, Oregon and sat at the feet of gifted people – Bill Jackson, Marci Jackson, Glenda Jackson, Naomi Houston (mom), Carolyn Allmon, Saul Kelley, Sr., Lorene Wilder, Dorothy Davis, Gilber Gill, Darlene Warren, Norman Wooding, Calvin Lowery, Michael Stone, and many others from our church and community. Further, I have maintained my gospel music training at every church I have served at – going from apprentice musician to a senior musician.
As I sit here, I believe that Gospel Music is in trouble. I’m not talking about the plethora of workshops and organizations – I mean the art and craft of gospel music. It’s becoming like some preaching – watered down, fad-like and off center.
Recently, someone sent me a video (and it’s one among many) of where a minister took the secular song, “Blurred Lines” and replaced the words with the Christian standard “Jesus is on the mainline.” Several in the audience were “whooping it up” and it was hard to distinguish, in my eye, between worship and twerking by some of the participants.
Gospel music is deadly serious to me. We have a generation of musicians and songwriters (mostly male) and in some cases, some of these same musicians and songwriters attend nor support anybody’s church. Groups are forming every day that have no problem leaving the sanctuary of their home church to “perform” somewhere else, especially if it’s a paid performance.
The trademark of Gospel Music has always been relational to three things:
a. The powerful story of Jesus Christ.
b. The powerful witness of God the Father.
c. The powerful abilities of the Holy Spirit.
However, much of gospel music is written by one-hit wonders, who mix songs in the basement using drum tracks, and creating words that neither glorify God or invite others to praise our God or, fore mostly, are biblically correct.
I don’t mean any harm . . .
I don’t need a little more Jesus – I have the complete package at my conversion.
I’m not looking to go back to Eden – that state will never be realized again.
Pharrell Williams’ song, “Happy” is “turning up” in praise and worship settings across the country – but if you can’t tell me simply that Jesus is the one who makes me happy within the confines of lyrics, then, to me, it’s not appropriate for a worship setting. Worship is not about us, it’s all about Him.
Although it gets a lot of verbal abuse, for those of us who have attended the New Music Seminar and Mass Choir conferences at Gospel Music Workshop of America, we appreciate the “standard” that has been used to select music that is to be presented. A song may appear and after hearing it, it’s never heard again – because those delegates want to take home music that edifies, encourages, and reaches the soul.
I’ve had the pleasure to work with and be in the number of choristers with people like Virgie Carrington Dewitty, Bishop Kenneth C. Ulmer, V. Michael McKay, Donnie McClurkin, Margaret Douroux, Dr. Patrick Bradley, Dello Thedford, Walter Scrutchings, Damian D. Price, Oscar Williams, Malcolm Williams, William Barks-Dale, Terry Davis, Rodney Teal, ESQ, Rodena Preston-Williams, Steven Roberts, Helen Stephens, Shirley M.K. Berkeley, Eddie A. Robinson, Dr. Erral Wayne Evans, Bishop Richard “Mr. Clean” White, Teresa Aton, Kevin B. James, Carrie Lasley, Oscar Dismuke, Varanise Booker, Lan Wilson, Gregory Troy, Christopher Watkins, Anita Stevens-Watkins, Wendell Craig Woods, Professor Craig Hayes, Ronald J. Materre, and a plethora of others who write, re-arrange or present good, solid church music. Unfortunately, most of the stuff you hear on Christian radio will never be heard in a church because it’s fury no sound, beats without a rhythm, and a song without lyrics.
I love most forms of Christian music. I love the hymns of the church – and my church is right now going through 70 hymns in 70 Sundays because I don’t want my congregation to lose that link to our heritage. I love traditional gospel music, quartet music (my father and my father in the ministry were both quartet singers), anthems, shake-note singing, powerful traditional songs, and some (not all) contemporary music. My eyes will still swell up if a musician gets on the organ and with just one or two fingers start to line out “The Old Rugged Cross.” And yet, I can “Shabach” with you and I can “take you to church” with one of James Cleveland’s catalogue songs.
I pray that just like we say “Keep Christ in Christmas” that we won’t have to modify that mantra one day and say “Keep Christ in Gospel Music.” However, I’m afraid that time is fast approaching.
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