Imagine 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.
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