Preach the Word

A columnist I highly respect, John Crenshaw, recently posted a column that has been sparking quite a bit of discussion around the web: Fifteen Things I Don’t Like about Gospel Music.

On some of his points, I find myself nodding in agreement. If his numbers are correct, the National Quartet Convention really ought to be more than 28% male quartets. I don’t care for patriotic songs, either—unless the lyric uses the patriotism to set up the Gospel message. “Statue of Liberty” and “Let Freedom Ring” are two of the best songs our genre has introduced in the last half-century.

But several of his fifteen points are things I do like about Gospel Music. I love children singing  on stage. I love encores. And I do love versions of “Oh What a Savior” besides Rosie Rozell’s; in particular, I’m a fan of Larry Ford’s, Dallas Rogers’, and, yes, Ernie Haase’s versions of the song.

And I agree with Michael Booth.

In an acceptance speech at the 2009 Singing News Fan Awards, Michael Booth challenged his peers, sitting in the artist circle around the stage, to spend fifteen minutes in each concert sharing the Gospel message with their audiences.

Perhaps there are a few groups out there whose sole desire is to entertain. And so I’ll just leave them out of this discussion. But for the rest—and that’s probably most, since the sacrifices of eking out a living barely above minimum wage (if that) and putting up with the hassles of the road quickly weed out anyone who expected to get rich and famous, and live an easy life—Booth’s message couldn’t be any more timely.

In a world where moral relativism is the flavor of the day (the view that truth is not absolute), the absolute truth of the Gospel has never been more needed. It’s not like Gospel songs are palettes into which audiences can inject their favored form of spirituality. The Gospel is an all-or-nothing proposition. Either Jesus is God, or one of the most misguided lunatics that ever lived. Either He died for our sins, or He didn’t. And we’re either heading to Heaven or hell.

Probably 95% or better of the audiences at Gospel concerts are there because they agree with the message and like the music. But there are often people in the pews or theater seats who are just there because they like the harmonies or because they were invited by a friend. And since they (almost always) come into the concert knowing it’s a Gospel concert, there may never be a better time to share the Gospel message.

Now should the songs share that message? Of course. But that’s not enough. Whether or not an “altar call” is performed, it is quite appropriate for groups to slow down the program and take several minutes to urge their audiences to consider the message in the songs and apply it to their lives. And it’s not just about salvation, either; some in church pews have drifted far from their first love, and there is always room for growth for those who are on the right path.

It is far better that we muster up the patience to hear five, ten, or fifteen minutes of preaching than that a single soul that could have responded to the Gospel message would walk away unsaved.


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31 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. I agree with almost all the points. I prefer no one but Rosie Rozell sing “O What A Savior” either, but since he’s gone I would rather hear someone else sing it than not hear it at all, and I do like encores. Otherwise, right on, Brother!

  2. Kudos Daniel, this may be the best post you have ever written!!!

  3. If only 1% of an audience is do not have salvation, it is sure worth have a message about salvation through Jesus Christ.

    There are two most well known way to get results for God.
    The altar cal way or no altar call way.
    I am very glad to see this discussion about the simple message of salvation.
    God uses both ways so the this discussion should stay on track.

    Abraham Productions has been leader in southern gospel music in balancing the need for wholesome Christian entertainment and desire for a message of salvation at ticket buying southern gospel music events.
    Checking out the bottom of their home will have you reading the “Gospel Music With A Ministry Focus.”
    You go to a AP’s concert knowing a message wit be given as it is printed on every flyer or poster from Abraham Productions.
    There are many other promoters that encourage a message at their events.

    The message has to be out there.

    Lets bring Gaither Homecoming as an ministry to the secular world.
    Sure, you say that there is no spoken gospel message or altar call.
    Gaither on television has done wonders for Holy Spirit to work in God’s way to help people established a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
    Gaither’s ministry exposure has given people living in spiritually deprived area of the United States many opportunities to communicate the gospel message of hope of salvation with other people in a personal way.
    Like one of my friends once said “Gaither does not tell you the message but you know what the message is all about.”
    So whatever way works, PTL!

    I want to add my thanks to Michael Booth!

  4. You’re up early, Daniel. Good post today.

    I see the rationale of the industry turning toward ministry. I’m glad that it’s obvious enough for you to pick up on it and write today’s post. It’s always been my belief that the message legitimizes the genre. Many of us would not have made it on our talent alone when being compared to other kinds of music. But the sympathy toward the message in the hearts of our concert-goers caused them to endure our early trials and errors toward making better music. They wanted us to succeed because they believed in what we were singing.

    • I cannot speak to your level of talent in your earliest years, but there’s no doubt that by the 60s and 70s the Couriers were talented enough to make it in the “entertainment business.”

      And I appreciate that you didn’t – that you stayed true to your calling.

      Thank you.

  5. 4. I don’t like a quartet (or quartet manager) refusing to listen to the requests of the concert promoter. He pays your flat . . . you do what he requests.

    Baloney! If the promoter wants an artist to do something else, hire somebody who does that instead. I think small concessions are fine, but when you hire talent you hire them for what they do, not for what you want them to do.

  6. Great post Daniel! I love SG music. I love the harmonies, I will admit. I love to hear the intricate harmonies and love the melodies of the songs. However, I know that I can speak for every man in our quartet when I say that it is a tool that is used to minister. We do not always give an altar call but we try to let everyone know about the gospel in one way or the other. I know that there are groups out there that are just there to entertain. Christian entertainment is great! I would rather my children be going to a SG concert for entertainment than going out drinking or things like that. However, I believe the same way that you do; the majority of the SG artists do it for the furtherance of God’s kingdom. We are here to spread the gospel. Whether it be by song, or by one-on-one witnessing, or by preaching God’s word. We should always be willing to take the time and share the gospel with someone. We never know when someone is watching us. We should always live what we sing also. Let us as SG singers remember the reason that we sing! That reason, for me, is that God gave His only Son that I might have eternal life. I can’t wait for that day that I get to meet Jesus face to face and thank Him for what He has done for me! The streets of gold and walls of jasper are not going to make Heaven, Heaven for me! Jesus is! Once again, great post Daniel!

    • Great post Daniel! I’m behind you all the way, J.C., you should know that. God’s gift of salvation is the ONLY subject worth singing about on this earth! God bless you Daniel, keep up the great work!

  7. I agree with Seaton. Excellent insight, Daniel.

  8. Good word Daniel!

  9. I’m with you on this one, Daniel, as usual. I’m a relative newbie on the southern gospel internet scene, but one thing I’ve learned so far stands out. This, like many other issues, is rooted in what I believe is the biggest line of demarcation among southern gospel fans. It’s the classic ministry vs. entertainment debate. Fans either believe the music is primarily a ministry (that can also be entertaining) or primarily entertainment (that can also minister). Some more secular-minded people will vehemently object to what they see as proselytizing, even at a gospel concert. Others see that as the absolutely most essential component of the event. There are artists on both sides of the issue as well. This particular point of contention goes beyond preference, and involves people’s philosophy and perspective on the genre as a whole.

    • Yes, it does come down to that fundamental philosophy question. Why are you here?

  10. Let me add my thoughts regarding the column by John Crenshaw (who is a dear friend and Christian gentleman). I’ve been attending gospel concerts for well over 50 years and I’ve seen (and heard it all). In fact it was gospel music (before it became Southern Gospel) that led me to Christ. I attended concerts as a young man to hear the music but I also received the gospel in song. In those days (as today), there were groups that whenever their singing wasn’t going over, they would resort to “preaching”. Usually this was tirade that was more brow-beating than Scriptural and it did nothing for me. On the other hand, lyrics that were sung by individuals who may, or may not, have been Christians showed me the Light.
    I don’t think John was implying there should not be testimonies, short sermonettes or song introductions that are Scriptural, but rather long, long sermons that are nothing more than an effort to draw an ovation and arecounter-productive.

    • Well, I would certainly agree that a long, long sermon that’s nothing more than an effort to draw an ovation is counter-productive!

      But I’ve never seen a call to salvation (or, if you prefer, altar call) draw an ovation.

      Now as to extended political discussions in concerts, that’s an entirely different story altogether. I’m as conservative as they come, and even if I agree with the artist (which is most of the time) I’d rather have three extra songs over a long political discussion.

      But when it comes to a challenge to apply the message of the songs to your life – be it to become a Christian or for a lukewarm or backslidden Christian to return to the right path – that’s another story. I’ll sit through that as many times as I have to for the chance of another soul being saved. 🙂

  11. Agree with Seaton, great post Daniel! I wasn’t very fond of “the list” either. I think if all groups applied this list to their set then all groups would be the same. Everyone is different that’s why some groups are more popular than others. Some preach some do not, some have singing kids some do not, some promoters like to promote local talent and some do not. It’s all a matter of taste, that’s the beauty of it all. About the only thing I wish could happen is the live band comeback, but since the cost of the road is higher and higher that’s the first place to cut.

    • “I think if all groups applied this list to their set then all groups would be the same.”

      Fascinating.

      And great point. Because when I go to see the Collingsworth Family I expect and get something entirely different than I would expect and get from a Signature Sound concert. Both have entertaining moments, and both move me spiritually, but their different approaches do keep them from being the same.

  12. Daniel, I totally agree with your post today, you could not have said it better!!!!!

  13. I’m going to quickly go down the list because almost all of them I have something to say about! LOL
    15. I agree- UNANNOUNCED LOCAL TALENT. I do not have a problem with Local talent it is the unannounced part I resent. It is seldom the ‘treat’ you are promised it will be
    14 1/2. AMEN, AMEN, AMEN- lose the ego!
    14. I prefer live bands but I realize until ‘Christian People’ are willing to pay for the bands, we aren’t go to see thme.
    13. It is overused but I have no problem with folks praising the LORD, in whatever manner they choice.
    12. SGM is built around families, families show off their kids, some I love to hear, others I’m glad it is over. 🙂
    11. Encores, sometimes I love them, other times, ‘the city has been toured’ and ‘walk has been done’, let’s go! 🙂
    10. I’m a card carrying member!
    9. Some polidtical issues are also Christian issues but most things in moderation is best.
    8. I LOVE quartets but I’d rather hear a good mixed group than a bad quartet!
    7. I’m with Daniel on the message in the patriotic songs- if there is a tie to the gospel message, I’m fine with them.
    6. It is ok to be a Christian entertainer, it is also ok to minister to those you sing to, I don’t believe you have to be one or the other, you can be both.
    5. The Great Commission was not the Great Suggestion- no matter where we go, we are to TELL others about Jesus. And yes THANK YOU MICHAEL BOOTH!!!! Preach the word! But I do think if there is going to be a preacher scheduled bringing a sermon, it is like local talent, it should be announced!
    4. Groups at times are unreasonable, at times so are promoters, at times so are churches, this one cuts every way you turn it. I remember well a church that invited the Kingsmen in their heyday to sing at the church, then didn’t want the drums or steel set up- WRONG! I’ve also seen groups that if the Lord was promoting, they would still be difficult-refer to 14 1/2
    3. AMEN!!! I have seen the spirit move and someone never miss a note and I’ve also seen it dead as 4 o’clock, some one get off pitch and they throw their hand in the air and wipe a tear that isn’t there.
    2. All slow songs are not sad! Some have a promise that can give you true happiness but I do like a blend in the tempos.
    1. For the most part I agree, Rosie was the man and did he ever deliver that song. Most groups use it for a tenor that can’t seem to get his ‘own’ signature song, IMHO.

    • “But I do think if there is going to be a preacher scheduled bringing a sermon, it is like local talent, it should be announced!”

      Great point, and I couldn’t agree more. 🙂

  14. Great post Daniel… I went to a Booth Brothers concert a few months back, and Michael was really laying it on. It was what we crowd needed… The jokes and entertainment are fun and so is the wonderful singing… But there are eternal souls in these crowds that don’t know Jesus Christ as a personal savior…

  15. Neil, Daniel HAS to be up early…otherwise, who would wake up the roosters for the rest of us?:-)

    I enjoy reading Daniel’s takes on things, and appreciate his concerns. But surely he’s aware that once a price tag becomes attached to a work…in this case, professional gospel singing(be it for recordings or for admission to a concert), it then crosses the line from being mere ministry into entertainment(which is NOT the opposite of ministry), and as JC says(and I agree), there’s nothing wrong with being a Christian entertainer(or Christian entertainment, i.e., VeggieTales or the Dan and Louie stories).

    Otherwise, I’m in general agreement with Dean Adkins above, and one point of JC’s I’m firmly in agreement with is his #13…to ask audiences from the stage to give Jesus a hand is far too often a device used not to show gratitude to Jesus but to get applause from the audience. Which to me is nothing more than taking the Lord’s name in vain, which by definition is sacreligious.

    • Actually, this blog is out of whack in Daylight Savings Time. The post really went up at 7 AM.

      I had drafted it the night before, to be perfectly honest, but I *was* up then!

  16. Dear friends,

    I’d like to thank you all for giving me my fifteen minutes (or by now, it may be 30 minutes) of fame!

    I’ve been writing a monthly article on the SGM Radio web site for a couple of years now, and its never gotten as many hits as it has this week. For this, I’m grateful.

    Let me encourage you to check it out every month. I attempt to entertain my readers with a wide variety of subjects including gospel music, recent concerts, church happenings, and life in general. I attempt to make them relevant, rather short, and hopefully humorous.

    Most of my long-time (or long-suffering) readers know that I try not to take myself too seriously, and love to interject humor into my writing. If you know me, you’ve figured it out by now.

    I “borrowed” the title of my article from some old-time gospel personalities. Although I may not care for something, I may still be in the minority for “nobody likes it but the people”! Obviously that’s the case with my recent list.

    I hope you’ll tune in again next month and maybe I’ll say something else that, depending on your outlook on the subject, will either bring a smile to your face or place a burr under your saddle.

    John

    • And by the way, I found myself nodding in agreement on quite a few of your points. It was only this one that prompted a post taking the other view. 🙂

  17. So here’s my question. If a group calls you and wants to “come by” and sing for a love offering, only 1 wk. notice to get advertising out, is it then o.k. to have a local group sing a song to open up the service? I don’t have a problem when a local part-time group opens for another group, but, I don’t want to set through 6-10 songs. Just thought I’d ask on here because I know my question will be answered…

    • I agree with that.

  18. Yeah, I am in agreement with that. I think a couple songs to start out is fine when it comes to unannouced local talent. You definitely do not want the local talent to do more than a few though because you did not come to hear that group. No matter how good they are, most of the time people get upset because they did not come to hear a concert by the local talent. That is my two cents worth which is worth just that “two-cents.” I had it appraised! LOL!

  19. How funny. You had it appraised!! I agree with what is being said. I don’t think it hurts for one song to be sang/sung to open the service then maybe one at the “love offering”, but, defininetly no more than that.