5 Reasons Church Leaders Should Pay Attention to Christian Hip-Hop

May 5, 2016

By Aaron Earls

lecrae-bookImagine trying to be a missionary in another country without even attempting to learn the language. Any explanations of the gospel would be useless. Your listeners would have no idea what you are saying.

In some ways, many American churches are in the same situation with their surrounding neighborhoods. The church is using one language to speak and sing about Jesus, while the culture either doesn’t understand or ignores it completely.

Christians can bemoan those changes and wish culture still talked like us, or we can do something about it. Right now, one of the most dominant cultural influences on young adults and teenagers is hip-hop music.

So how are church leaders supposed to properly understand a cultural language that has historically not often communicated a biblical worldview? The same way you learn any language, listen to those who speak it. Thankfully for pastors and church leaders, there are several Christian artists who are seeking to live as missionaries in the hip-hop culture, while creating art that challenges listeners and glorifies Christ.

They are rapping on The Tonight Show about biblical solutions to real world problems. They are appearing on MTV to communicate a different, gospel-centered way to live. Millions of people are listening, but are church leaders?

Using the early church as an example of ministering cross culturally, here are five reasons church leaders should be paying attention to Christian hip-hop even if you never buy a song.

  1. Cultural understanding — Walking around Athens, Paul’s spirit was troubled by the idols dominating the city’s landscape. Yet, instead of shrinking back, he went into the Areopagus, used the idol to the “unknown god” as a starting off point, and preached the gospel. For many Christians, the rap world may be as foreign as the streets of Athens. But more people listen to hip-hop on Spotify, a popular music streaming service, than any other genre. Christian rap artists can help pastors and leaders see this “unknown god” as an avenue for communication. This will not be an automatic gateway to reaching millennials, many of whom are hip-hop fans, but it is a way to better understand them.
  2. Effective communication — When the Holy Spirit filled the disciples on Pentecost, they began to speak in different languages. Because of this, people from numerous areas were able to hear and understand the message. This opened the door for Peter to proclaim Christ. Speaking someone’s language grants us gospel opportunities. When it comes to hip-hop, simply understanding the concerns that are present in that community can open the door. It’s not about using the right slang words or sounding cool. It’s listening to people, getting to know them, and sharing Jesus as the answer to their problems, as well as your own.
  3. Different perspectives — As the gospel spread and the church grew, conflict and issues arose within the early church. The Greek-speaking widows were being overlooked in the food distribution. The apostles heard the complaints and addressed the issue by appointing deacons to meet the needs of those who had been unintentionally ignored. Artists like Lecrae can become to church leaders like those Greek widows were to the apostles. They can help us expose cultural blindspots and uncover opportunities for change. Lecrae’s autobiography Unashamed shares the tragic story of his childhood and the redemption Jesus brought to his life. Those of us who come from a completely different background can listen to Lecrae’s perspective and learn how Christ can bring change in situations different than our own.
  4. Theological conversations — During his missionary journeys, Paul often went to the Jewish synagogue in each city. Acts 17:2 says that was his habit. He went to the synagogue where people would already be talking about spiritual matters and then he pointed them to Christ. There in Thessalonica, he won both Jewish and Greek converts. In our culture today, hip-hop music is often the most theological genre, even if it can be misguided. Kayne West, one of the top rap artists today, says his latest record is a “gospel album.” It may not give a biblical gospel. But he, along with virtually every other rapper, is talking about theological issues. Christian hip-hop artists are bringing gospel truth to these conversations. They allow church leaders an entry point to a spiritual dialogue happening in our culture we often miss or ignore.
  5. Ministry reminders —Paul not only gave theological instruction to churches in his letters, he gave ministry updates. Churches would be told the spread of the gospel, the state of Paul’s work, and specific prayer requests for people and his ministry. Believers were able to see that the church was much larger than their local gathering. In a hostile culture, it reminded them of their ultimate victory in Christ. We need those same reminders today as we face an increasingly antagonistic culture. It can be encouraging to hear how God is at work far beyond our circle of influence. Artists like Lecrae, Trip Lee, Propaganda, and others offer pastors and church leaders that opportunity along with the privilege of joining in the work through prayer. Find out how God is at work and pray that He continues to use these artists to reach those far from Christ with the life-changing message of Jesus.

You may never own a rap album, but you need to pay attention to Christian hip-hop. You need to hear how God has redeemed these individuals and is working in and through them to create quality art that unashamedly preaches Christ crucified in a language that may be foreign to you.


Aaron Earls serves as the online editor for Facts & Trends at LifeWay Christian Resources, and blogs at TheWardrobeDoor.com. Connect with Aaron on Twitter at @WardrobeDoor.

Lecrae’s brand new book, Unashamed, released earlier this week. You can find out more about the book and purchase your copy at UnashamedBook.com.

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20 Comments

  • Bright Eromhonsele says on

    Hallelujah! It is a very interesting topic and I had taken time to read all the comments that I saw, my opinion about this is that; I believe God is the owner of all music (music is the combination of sounds that are pleasant to the ear), also God loves variety so much ( he made the white & black, short & tall), God wants us to sing songs to him (Eph.5:19&20). From this context the heart of the singer is the most important (John 4:20), followed by the lyrics of the song but in all let everything be done moderately and in order (you must not dress anyhow to express yourself). For me I accept any genre of music, provided the wordings of the song is God glorifying and the Artiste is a Christian.

  • I’m sorry, but being one that can just barely tolerate some of the contemporary music in churches today, I would definitely draw the line at any kind of “hip hop”.
    I cannot even tolerate the head banging heavy metal Christian Rock simply because I grew up in the height of the sixties Rock era and to me even remotely equating Rock and Roll and all that was related to the Rock and Roll culture to the holiness of Christianity is to me such an abomination of the faith. To me the Hip Hop style is even worse, conjuring visions of lewd “crotch grabbing” sexually suggestive gyrations accompanied by the foulest of language. Since this is the typical image one derives from the Hip Hop style of music of the world it would be extremely difficult to divorce ones self from these same images and be able to participate in a worshipful manner.
    Scripture says we are to remove ourselves from the practices of the world, not to become more like it.
    The argument of the article is that we need to become like the lost in order to win the lost. Even those in the Hip Hop and Rock and Roll cultures understand plain old English language. Nothing more is needed to convey the message of salvation. To portray the Gospel message through the vehicle of worldly raunchy music styles is a terrible disrespect to what is pure and Holy.
    The church is already being accused of displaying little difference between the church and the world; singing praises to the tune of the worlds style of gutter entertainment would be just adding to it.

    • Phil Cotnoir says on

      Hi Hal,

      Your zeal for holiness and reverence is truly a beautiful thing, and therefore your sentiments towards these types of music is understandable, but please consider:

      – Hymns were once scandalous to a Christendom that was used to chants. They often mimicked popular songs and sometimes even borrowed melodies from them. The point: whatever you associate as “good, godly, reverent” music once upon a time made somebody else cringe like you are cringing at the Christian rock and hip-hop. We are often unaware of our own culture, and sometimes assume we have none. This is what missiologists call “ethnocentrism”, judging another culture solely by the values and standards of one’s own culture. It’s what we all do all the time, but we need to be careful!

      – Missiology is the study of missions and how to reach the lost, and contextualization (what you mischaracterized as becoming like the lost in order to win the lost), is rooted in Scripture both explicitly and implicitly. 1 Cor. 9:20-22 “To the Jews (a culture and ethnicity) I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I because as one under the law… that I might win those under the law… I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” I humbly propose that Christian hip-hop, done properly, falls under the category of “all means”.

      You may not be able to enjoy the music itself (that is simply a cultural reality for many of us!) but by God’ grace I hope you can overcome your own culture and rejoice in the fact that the gospel can take root in and transform ANY culture. After all, that is the hope and prayer of all missions efforts.

      Blessings,
      Phil Cotnoir

  • Craig Giddens says on

    … yes … the preaching of the word of God is ineffective without hip-hop ….

  • I am glad someone has started mentioning this issue and how Paul preached around the year 51 in Athens about the “unknown god”. The Millennial generation was not taken seriously until they started voting (at the ballot box and with their feet) but then things started to change. The gospel may not have changed but the world did and presentation method needed to as well. Meanwhile, the absence of the young from many churches is noticeable. For too long, churches stayed stuck in the 1950s, even through the turbulent 60s, the 80s, and the 90s and 00s (internet era). A willingness to listen to people is just the beginning. Most sermons did not adapt to the times. Some still have not yet adapted. Too many younger people believe that church leaders and clergy do not understand the modern, real world.

    On a positive note, it is amazing that some churches growing with younger people still sing hymns, use Elizabethan English, and say 500 year old prayers. Yet, the homilies preached from those hand-carved, elevated pulpits make plenty of people squirm in the hard wooden pews when modern sexual improprieties are mentioned. The cross did not fall down though the general confession might have been said a little louder that Sunday. It can be done if leaders are willing to learn about the younger generations and apply the gospel to the modern world’s issues.

  • Great article! I have to agree with the previous comment that the same can be true for other musical genres. To carry that radical thought one step further-the same could be said for a lot of people who don’t fit our familiar mold of Christian missionaries or “leaders.”

    For instance, consider this sentence from the article: “Artists like Lecrae can become to church leaders like those Greek widows were to the apostles.” What if we considered that Lecrae IS a church leader? Maybe not in the traditional sense of heading up a denomination or congregation, but he would certainly qualify as an evangelist, at a minimum.

    Christian hip hop artists, Christian business leaders, and Christian janitors can remind us all of our tone-deafness when it comes to ministering to our world. Let’s call Lecrae what he is-a Christian leader. Let’s learn from our brothers and sisters who are taking the gospel to our world (which is what I believe this article really says). Thanks for recognizing him!

  • Great Perspective! I loved seeing Lecrae on The Tonight Show. His talent, message, and delivery method has proven to be a successful way to deliver the Gospel message to people who otherwise may not have taken notice. I am thankful for artist like Lecrae who use their craft as an avenue to present a message of hope. It’s also encouraging to see more Pastors and churches embracing this music style as a legitimate force in the spreading of the Gospel.

  • Then the same must be said of Christian rock-metal.
    Look at the work and message of Lacey (Mosley) Strum w/ Flyleaf before she retired to be mommy.
    Thom I believe this plays into the ongoing ‘worship wars’ debate.
    Believers who were not raised on the old sacred hymns are looking for an outlet they can relate to.

  • In one of my sermons, I compared Christian hip-hop artists to modern day psalmists. They pour their hearts out: good, bad, or ugly.

    When done right, it’s a beautiful art form.

  • Joel S. says on

    It’s probably a worthwhile endeavor but I’m so overwhelmed with “keeping up” that I can’t begin to understand another portion of culture!!!!!!!!

  • S. DERRICK says on

    Thom,
    Thank you for brining light to an area of ministry that is ignored, or outright shunned by many church leaders today.

  • If you want good examples of Christian Hip Hop, Lecrae’s first 3 or 4 albums are great…after that, not so much.

    • This is the problem with the “modern church”. It discovers something that has existed and like Columbus calls it a new world and takes over as experts. To say after Lacrae there isn’t much is to show your ignorance and bigotry. It reminds of Elijah in the Bible who proclaimed in was the only prophet left. God quickly corrected him and said there were others, Elijah didn’t know about. At 64 Hip Hop has been a part of my prison ministry for years. And ministers like Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams and many many others have been evangelizing in the secular world through their gifts for years. It’s an insult to God to believe we have discovered anything, we merely stumble upon what has always existed and call it a discovery.

  • Reason no. 6.

    Some of these guys (LeCrae in particular) are musical and lyrical geniuses.

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