It’s always fun to meet someone who has a similar testimony.
My story in a nutshell is this: I loved all things hip-hop, and I did not love Jesus. God was merciful to me. He made me aware of my sin and my sin’s consequences. And, against that backdrop, it allowed me to see the cross in an entirely different light.
I have some close friends with the same story. As I have traveled to a few conferences and ministry training events, I’ve met people all throughout the U.S. (and Canada) whose stories involve these elements.
In these encounters, I’ve learned that not only do we have similar stories, but we also have similar questions. “Where does the born-again hip-hopper go to church?”
It’s a conversation that started with my cousin. We both grew up in traditionally black churches like the ones stereotyped in movies. Both of our conversions happened outside of the walls of the local church, but we knew that connecting to a local church was vital to our walk with Jesus.
The question was where? Could we find a church that was striving to follow the New Testament pattern of church life as well as understand our cultural context?
The conversation that started with my cousin eventually grew to include larger groups of people at these ministry training events and conferences. Those conversations created more questions than answers.
• What if there’s not a church or church plant in our community with a heart for the hip-hopper?
• What if we don’t line up theologically with the church in our cultural context?
• If I went to a church outside of my cultural context, could both sides lift up the cross higher than our cultural differences?
• If the church and church leadership were multicultural in Acts 11, why isn’t it now?
• What about the people in our cultural context that we want to evangelize and disciple?
• Who wants to shepherd us?
Blueprint Church pastor Dhati Lewis, who is also the older brother of rap artist Sho Baraka, addressed this topic during a breakout session at the Legacy Conference this summer.
“I started realizing the stories all around the country about (how) there’s a group of people that are now this new resurgence. Because of Christian hip-hop, the gospel was getting into the context, but people were now feeling isolated and lonely.
I heard too many times that, ‘Either I’m around people who get me culturally but don’t get my commitment to the gospel, or I’m around people who get the gospel but don’t get my context. It was like these worlds don’t seem like they are ever connecting. I feel like a term they use in missions, third-culture kids, where no one really gets me, and there’s this isolation and loneliness that takes place.’”
If only the answer was as clear as the problem.
The question on the table remains. Who wants to pastor us? Who is willing to disciple us without feeling the need proselytize us? Who is willing, as Epiphany Camden preacher Doug Logan says, to own the lostness of the city? Who is willing to walk a congregation through cultural and generational differences through the lens of the gospel? My prayer is that there are a group of pastors in cyberspace reading this with their hands up, saying, “I do!”
That’s one side of the coin. The other side is our responsibility as church members.
This is a work in progress for me. I feel like Propaganda, “I Ain’t got an Answer.” At least not a full answer, yet.
It’s like putting together a puzzle with lots of theological and experiential pieces. Each time I connect two pieces, the picture gets a little clearer. But I am far from having the whole thing connected.
Here’s what I know to be true so far:
• Being a Bedside Baptist is not the answer. Charles Spurgeon preached long before Cross Movement ever thought of putting out a CD, but his advice is still timely for the hip-hopper. Spurgeon’s advice to people was to find the church nearest to the scripture, and cast your lot with them. It’s OK to wrestle through this issue. Just don’t wrestle from the comfort of your bed each Sunday.
• A high view of the local church helps. This isn’t an easy nut to crack. In fact, sometimes it may feel easier to leave the nut uncracked. But when we read that Jesus purchased the church with His very own blood, that fact alone should make our affection for the church grow. Wrestling through this issue is difficult but worth it.
• Study the church and culture through the lens of the gospel. Educating yourself on the subject helps. Dr. Tony Evans’ book, Oneness Embraced, Dr. John Piper’s book Bloodlines, and anything by cultural missiologist Harvey Conn may help you walk through the process. Musically, Steven the Levite’s latest project, The Last Missionary, is worth its weight in gold for those wrestling with this topic.
• Live in the tension. I need to be willing to lay down my rights. Paul tells the church in Corinth that he’d “rather endure anything than put an obstacle in the way of gospel of Christ.” That may mean eating food from another culture – that I may or may not care for - instead of me demanding jerk chicken and rice when we eat together after the fellowship time. It may mean attending a local church fellowship where the worship style wouldn’t be my first preference.
At the same time, Paul tells the church in Rome not to “let what you know is good being spoken of as evil.” The same gospel that tells me to lay down my rights also tells me that are times to defend freedoms. Ambassador’s old song, “My Clothes, My Hair,” is a good example of him addressing the fact that we put up cultural barriers between people and the gospel. He was right to address this, and we’d be right to follow him there. It’s important to distinguish between willingly laying down rights and being proselytized into another culture. We don’t want hip-hop heads thinking they have to become like middle-class white people to become Christians.
• Pray. My prayer is that we all find local churches where we can, grow, love, serve and connect. Join me also in praying that the Lord would raise up more and more pastors who answer yes when the question is asked, “Who wants to shepherd us?”