Hip Hop, the Gospel and Worship

Early last summer some of my staff and I were on an Acts 17 mission driving around our community observing the culture. There are several churches in our area that are trying very similar things in ministry and outreach to reach very similar people. But, during our drive we noticed a segment of the population who is largely neglected. They were 19-29 year old young men who play basketball nearly every single day, wear baggy clothes strategically placed to show off inked skin, work (or don’t work) part time to support various addictions, go from relationship to relationship sometimes producing children, and are heavily influenced regardless of race by hip hop music. These men, we recognized, may be directionless now and lacking maturity, but in reality they are the future of our community. They are in desperate need of being rescued by King Jesus and maturing into a manhood that is more about biblical masculinity than a macho bravado and locker room mentality. We decided that we were going to try our best and go after these guys.

What did we do? We started an open gym night in an amazing gym facility that God has provided at our campus. We began to have 20 or so guys showing up every week with whom we were building relationships. Then, we began to plan and promote a community 3 on 3 tournament. The event was a huge success. We had over 150 people in attendance. That meant more relationships and more chances for Gospel witness because since then we have been having at least 50 guys show up for each week’s open gym. What was the next step?

When we took that drive back in the summer and observed this sub-culture we recognized immediately two predominant things that interested them: basketball and hip hop music. We knew that we had the facilities and guys who could connect with these young men through basketball. We said, “This is out there but what might really be cool is a hip hop service of some kind with open gym afterwards…” But, we said we are as far from hip hop as anybody can be. Then, Ronnie Parrott, our student minister and contributor at Baptist 21, told me that he knew of a Christian rapper who goes to Boyce College. He is really good. He is with Cross Movement. His name is “Flame”. He is nationally known and travelled. He is theologically sound and lyrically talented. He uses hip hop as a medium to communicate Gospel theology. His last two albums, “Our World Fallen” and “Our World Redeemed,” have walked listeners through the Grand Story of Redemption. So, we decided to approach him and get his counsel on how to use hip hop to reach out to some of these guys. We began a friendship with him, and he was extremely gracious in giving ideas on what this might look like. We tossed around all kinds of ideas from concerts to hip hop services. We decided that we would begin the basketball events to meet people, develop relationships, etc. Then, we would begin to incorporate hip hop. So, our next step/event is this Friday night November 21. We will be hosting off-campus at a community center gym a hip hop concert with 3 point and dunk contests plus free food. Flame will be there to entertain and share his testimony with these guys.

There has been a lot of discussion lately in evangelical circles about contextualization, which mediums can be redeemed, what mediums can be used to communicate the Gospel, etc. Even the issue of Christian Rap has become quite popular. Dr. Russell Moore interviewed Flame on the Albert Mohler Radio Show. They discussed the merits of using hip hop as a Christian medium. Both Mark Driscoll and the Worship Pastor at Mars Hill recently interviewed Lecrae, another Christian artist with Reach Records who has everything from hip hop albums to a curriculum through the Pauline Epistles to manhood studies. You can download all of these interviews on itunes.

I would like to hear from you. What do you think about Christian Rap? Do you think Hip Hop, with all of its baggage and connotations, can be used as a medium that faithfully communicates the Gospel of King Jesus to lost young men? What would be your opinion of incorporating elements of hip hop in a worship service? Let me know.

If you want more info on the event this Friday go to www.comingtothevalley.com


Comments 0

  1. Of course it can. To say otherwise would be a cultural snobbery. Incorporating elements would need to be sensitive to the congregations ability to participate corporately. Lot’s of easy-to-catch-onto tunes.


  2. Yes God can use ANYTHING to His glory if we, His children can be creative enough. Though I personally don’t care for this style. I enjoy the old quartet singin myself. As long as God is glorified and His message of salvation through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is proclaimed then it should not be debated. Will it ever be the style of the church, I do not think so but it is not up to me. Let us praise God for who He is and what He has done to reconcile His creatures back to Himself. To God be the glory!

  3. Bradley,

    Thanks for your response. I think you are on to something. Can you tell me what some of the dangers or just impracticalities of including hip hop elements in a worship service would be in terms of corporate participation? What is it about the corporate nature of worship that would require sensitivity?


    Thank you for your response as well. I certainly think that God can redeem things and use them for his glory. You say that God can use anything for his glory but I am glad that you qualify it later to say that it must be God-glorifying and gospel-proclaiming. Do you think there are some mediums that no matter what message they are trying to communicate can be unhelpful or wrong? Are there times when the medium itself becomes the message? Are there times when there are too many culturallly sinful connotations and baggages attached to mediums that they cannot be used in a redemptive way without doing harm?

    Both of these responses have been very helpful. These are important issues and hot, current topics. We need to think carefully and as Douglas said “creatively” about these things. I really am trying to achieve greater understanding in this area and would love to hear from others…

  4. Any kind of music can be used in my opinion. However, I will qualify that it is always messy. Just look at when the church tried to bring the organ in!

    Lines will be set and people will complain on both sides.

    Personally, I think that as long as the lyrics are sound and point people to Christ, then it can be used. I’d love to see some rappers take some William Cowper or some of John Newton’s “poems” or “hymns” that were never put to music and do something with them.

    Ultimately, I think that if God can salvage and redeem someone like me, then he can redeem anything. Hence the name of my blog… redemptivetobacco. You’ll have to visit to get the real story behind the name. 🙂

    I’ll have to think about the “some mediums” question. It is definitely worth a good discussion.

    I’m watching the UNC/UK game as I write this…so if it is incoherent, that is why. Oh, and if God can redeem those at Duke… 🙂

  5. I think the key is ephesians 5:19 you will sing and make music to the Lord with your HEARTS. As for the style I have heard people say that you have to stick to the old hymns, When the Psalms were written it was mostly with thanks giving for what God had done for his people, God is still doing something new today so I think our music can reflect that.

  6. Dangers or impracticalities in terms of corporate participation would include: 1) songs that are hard to chant along with or sing along with because of the tempo and lyrical complexity, 2) lyrics that only make sense to a small minority of the congregation due of overuse of slang and creative wordplay (you might have to teach the people what the language means), 3) troubleshooting with those who legalistically think that it’s wrong and therefore don’t want to participate and stir up trouble and cause division (much like when rock music hit the church).

    One important question to ask is, “Is this a danger unique to hip-hip/R&B music or is this just a danger no matter what kind of musical style you use?” I think most of the dangers listed above apply to all types of musical genre’s. I think “special music” is lawful, but maybe not as profitable as something with maximum corporate participation. On the other hand, if praying at great length in between songs helps set people’s hearts and minds on Christ, perhaps a hip-hip verse in between chorus chants of melody could be edifying to the people.

    I’ve heard of Hip-Hop churches where hip-hop is already being used in worship services. Finding those churches and asking them to produce a video of what it looks like might be helpful.


  7. Q: “Do you think Hip Hop, with all of its baggage and connotations, can be used as a medium that faithfully communicates the Gospel of King Jesus to lost young men”

    A: Yes, personally Lecrae and Ambassador are two of the best. I think the pro’s out weigh the con’s when a few things are considered.

    Q: “Can you tell me what some of the dangers or just impracticalities of including hip hop elements in a worship service would be in terms of corporate participation? What is it about the corporate nature of worship that would require sensitivity?”

    I) Dangers and impracticalities of Hip Hop as corporate worship

    A.Dangers of HH as corporate worship:

    1. If the style of worship music becomes more important to us than the Receiver of our worship obviously God is not pleased because it has become idolatry.
    2. In the past Hip Hop’s tone has primarily been fun/chill/kick-back and whereas God receives joyful praise, He is holy and we should approach Him humbly. The worshiper needs to check his heart for humility.
    3. The worship leader may need to more consistently remind the congregation of God’s holiness.
    4. Consider the demographics of the congregation if Hip Hop is appropriate or not.

    B.Impracticalities of HH as corporate worship:
    1.Tempo should not hinder legible/singable lyrics.
    2.Lyrics should express upmost respect towards Holy God and should deter from a “buddy buddy” attitude.
    3. Black Southern Gospel is another genre to consider.
    4. Lacrae does something cool in his music. While a purely instrumental interlude is playing, he inserts a key quote of a sermon or someone reading a scripture. It’s usually a white dude so his voice really sticks out and grabs your attention.

    These are just my initial thoughts and are not conclusive however I am reminded of two more things:

    1. To the pure all things are pure.
    2. Worship God in Spirit and in Truth.

    PS Miming is incredibly expressive and worshipful and should be considered more often as a “special music” piece. Here’s one the best I’ve EVER seen, I think it was done at a family reunion, check it out:


    Here’s the description found on You Tube if the link doesn’t work for you: “Now Behold the Lamb” – YouTube.com/MarlonHinesMime ::.

    God’s blessings, Marybeth

  8. Mike,

    I think I agree that “any kind of music” CAN be used in a redemptive way. I think you are also right that the lyrical message is a key component. I am glad that evangelicalism has moved away from the “there are demons in the beats” mentality… However, that doesn’t mean that this is an easy thing. As one has mentioned in this discussion, some styles are perceived of as sinful by some in the congregation. That doesn’t mean that is IS sinful or that it should be avoided, but there will be some necessary teaching that must go on…

    You are right about the practicalities of this as well. ANY change in style will be messy b/c there will be people for whom it is uncomfortable. My pastor uses the analogy of riding in the car with your grandparents. Who is going to control the radio? Someone will inevitably be more comfortable with the music than another. Personally, I think it is important to incorporate in the service styles of music that reflect the culture around you, show appreciation for every generation represented in the church AND are gospel-centered. Being uncomfortable at some points during a service might not always be a bad thing and might help one recognize that they are a part of a larger body that is made up of very different parts…

    In my opinion there are some mediums that cannot faithfully communicate the Gospel because the medium itself is sinful. Mark Driscoll at the SEBTS Convergence Conference used stripping as an example of a medium that he doesn’t know how it can be redeemed because the medium itself promotes sin. I think that is a good example. Can we think of others?

  9. Bradley,

    Again your comments are very helpful. In the interview at Mars Hill I think Lecrae makes some similar points. Worship is presented in the Bible as corporate NOT close your eyes and pretend it’s just you and Jesus. So, in some ways a BAD corporate worship song may not be a “bad” song or an unChristian song. It might be a great song and a gospel honoring song but just unhelpful for worship. As you mention it might be helpful as a “special” if it is something that will at least call the congregation corporately to reflection or prepare them for the word (maybe steps might need to be taken to ensure some corporate element. For example, if the lyrics are too fast or hard to understand then putting them on the screens might aid in reflection on the gospel).

    I think teaching and patience will be key in ALL of this as you mention. If you force something or employ it too fast it could cause harm. Your points are right on.

    To answer your question, “is this a danger unique to hip-hop or is this just a danger no matter what kind of style you use?” I think the answer is “yes and no.” There are some dangers unique to hip hop in terms of legalism from the congregation because of stereotypes that connect rap with a certain lifestyle: sex, drugs, violence, disrespect of women, materialism, etc. (though certainly many styles are attached to some of those things as well). Also, some musical styles lend themselves to group singing better than others. But yes overall any musical style can bring its own dangers, even traditional organ based hymns! They can be HARD to sing corporately for those not musically trained. Some of the dangers with hymns also have to do with idolatrous nostalgia that longs for the “good ole days” when all things were as they should be and selfishness that says I want things the way I want them or I am going to get upset and complain about it…

    I have heard of hip hop churches that incorporate all kinds of these elements. Some also incorporate neo-soul and other musical elements so that corporate participation can happen.

    I think the song by Flame and Lecrae at the top of this post is very usable in corporate worship. The leader could rap the verses and the congregation sing the chorus?

  10. Marybeth,

    Thank you for your comments. You also raise some very wise point about the focus of the worship (Jesus rather than style), the attitude of the worshiper (humility), and the demographics of the congregation (as I said above musical styles that represent the community not just trying something different b/c it is cool).

    I will have to think about the miming. My initial concern would be that it is a wordless medium. As has been mentioned above in many of the threads lyrics are a big part of assessing what is usable because the theology must be Jesus-centered. I do notice in that video that a worshipful song is playing in the background with gospel-centered lyrics, so I’ll have to think about that.

  11. Can anyone name a medium of music that has not caused troubles or questions in the church? From new hymns written 80 or 200 years ago and introduced to those churches for the first time, to “praise and worship” choruses or songs 20 years ago and today, to interpretive things like miming or movements, they have all had their critics and been beaten down by those who were comfortable in their faith and in their paradigm.

    I believe Rick Warren put it something like this: Music itself is not Christian or non-Christian, it is the words that go with the music that determine whether it glorifies God or not.

  12. The demographic you speak of is passionate and they enjoy music that communicates and channels that. There is a weird vibe about the church stylistically among this demographic. Now, the danger is entertainment, and that should never be the primary reason to do anything. But that’s the same danger among any church using anything other than hymnbooks and pipe organs in programming. Hip Hop is a culture, just like country, emo and jazz that needs missionaries to speak in their own tongue so that the gospel’s pervasive power can redeem that which has been twisted and distorted by the effects of sin. I think connotations are made to particular songs, not styles, because content influences behavior. Now I may bob my head to a beat, but a dude that’s rapping about expiation isn’t gonna make me roll up a blunt! I remember leading a guy to Christ over the summer and Shai Linne’s Atonement was the first thing I gave him. He loves rap. It would have been foolish to give him Randy Travis’s hymnology or whatever. He’s devoured it and now has it playing in the High School locker room he coaches at as he seeks to reach the guys on the team. He couldn’t believe this was “church music.” As he grows, just as it was for me, the style became less important and the content is what grips you. But glory to God, meeting him where he was at really helped.
    As far as corporate participation goes, we have to be careful. Not all rap songs will be useful for corporate participation (there’s no way my white boy country drawl will ever be able to flow with Trip Lee… love his music, can’t catch up though)… but neither should some rock, bluegrass, etc. songs for the very same reason. I remember talking to Dr. Nelson about this earlier this semester and he pointed out three objectives singing should set out to do in corporate setting: 1)Doxology 2)edification of the saints 3)evangelization of the lost. So using those categories, I think we can begin to place songs of all styles under these headings as it pertains to the congregation make up. We must never be too comfortable with a preferential style. Contextualization should be indigenous to the culture. And as the gospel takes roots in that culture, the fruit bore may look different than we may be used to, but oh how glorifying to the Lord it will be when passions have been redeemed for the sake of the Kingdom. Press on, sorry for the book. Thanks for the post-

  13. Jon

    I’m pleased to hear that you brought this issue up. God bless you and those at Valley Station for trying to reach those who actually live in your community.

    There is no doubt that Hip Hop can be used to bring glory to God. The issue of listening to God honoring Hip Hop for your listening pleasure I think is an easy issue. As far as worship goes, it all depends on the culture of the congregation. Some congregations would never welcome and drum set, turn table, or guitar. Then again, some congregations think that organs are only valuable as firewood.

    I do think that any and all type of music would be appropriate, but I think the line is hard to define. Scripture points to us worshipping in spirit and truth. Obviously, the truth part is easy to define. Do the songs we sing contain biblical truth that exalts Christ and brings glory to God? The spirit part is a little harder to define. I believe this is talking about the spiritual side of worship. This is the part where we express with our will and emotions the praise and admiration that is due to our King.

    Can Hip Hop music be used to worship God in spirit and truth? I think so. It’s hard to say where the line is, but if you see it happening I think you can say whether or not it’s true worship.

    You already know everything that I said, but I hope this helps all of us as we think through this issue. God bless you in your quest to remain culturally relevant while never sacrificing biblical truth and the glorification of our Lord!

  14. Jon,

    I’m excited about what you and Ronnie are doing! We will lift up your event in prayer tonight. Regardless of music, getting that relationship built is key. I hope to be able to write more soon but i’m currently at work!

    “To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. ”
    1 Corinthians 9:21-23

    Chicago, IL

  15. I have thought about this question before and I know of a couple Gospel Rappers that are pretty good.

    I do believe that it can shed some light on the GOSEPL and can start or spark a flame so to speak. Which can cause people to hear the WORD more.

    On the Flip Side.

    If it is used as a toll to start and then there is following of some sort of preaching so that they hear about CHRIST and not just the music then it could be very helpful.

    Here is the one negative that I was exposed to with the Holy Hip.

    I went to a concert where the Church was actually a Hip Hop church so that was used in their service, there were people from other Churches there it was a youth night kind of thing.

    Some of the things they were saying while in between songs were “THIS IS NOT SUNDAY GET UP AND PARTY” the problem dosn’t seem big but what they have now done is put into the youth’s mind is that SUNDAY is boring and that they have been worshiping wrong. So it all depends on how it is used and who is SPEAKING I would think.

    Just my thoughts

    As long as Christ is being up lifted that is the main goal, For we do know that when He is lifted up he will draw all men to Him.

    Great post God Bless YA

  16. I agree that hip hop music can be used to worship God. To say the contrary would be hipocritical when we use any other genre of music in worship.

    However as mentioned already, the logistics might be hard as far as getting everyone to say the words on beat and everything. It would definitely be good as background music. My church recently used similar music as background for a crowd similar to yours and it was successful.

    I think somebody already mentioned Lacrae but he is a really good artist. I’m not really inclined to that stye but I like Lacrae and also Toby Mac, I think his stuff would appeal to them.

    Anyways, sounds like you’re on the right track. Just remember the most important thing is the message, that it points them to Jesus. In the end that is what will matter and not the style of music…

  17. What did Jesus do, God came down and dressed like ate like the culture of that time ,He went to there funrals went to there weddings and dined with sinners and look what the leaders had to say, I say Do what King Jesus did and go and Love these people like Jesus did.

  18. Pingback: Hip Hop + Basketball = Urban Ministry at Everything is Backwards

  19. Haven’t hit this one in a while… good to know healthy debate can occur. I read several things that interested me in the post responses.

    First, someone mentioned that Mark Driscoll had deemed certain areas of culture unredeemable. I think stripping was mentioned. I’m not sure how this relates to a type or style of “music” that is used to create an atmosphere of expression of praise to God and also honors him in a worship context. I think Mark would say that expressions of something may be unredeemable. In the stripping example, sexuality isn’t unredeemable — but the expression of that sexuality is. That boils it down to the original thoughts. We all agree that worship in spirit and truth is acceptable, but are there forms of it that aren’t. Are there elements of cultural music that just can’t be redeemed and used? I’d say probably not. The following responses I saw will help me explain…

    *****Dangers or impracticalities in terms of corporate participation would include:
    1) songs that are hard to chant along with or sing along with because of the tempo and lyrical complexity,

    If this is the case then 1/3 of the hymns that I have sung should be thrown out. There are so many great hymns with syncopated rhythms and ranges that make most in the congregration uncomfortable. (on a side note, I think it should be illegal for a worship song to go above a D# for a congragation. ). Some of the best songs I remember simply because of the complexity.

    2) lyrics that only make sense to a small minority of the congregation due of overuse of slang and creative wordplay (you might have to teach the people what the language means),

    This one made me smile. Here I raise my (or mine) Ebonezer…. nuff said on that one. 🙂 I know I didn’t spell it right and I let it through spell checker. I’ve explained to congregations and still don’t quite get it. If this is the case then songs that mention deep truths like propitiation, sanctification, the Trinity, etc should be avoided because they don’t make sense to a LOT of people. (Teaching the congregation sound theology is another topic in itself.) If this is what we go by, then we should stick with songs like Just As I Am, Lord I Lift Your Name on High and I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.

    3) troubleshooting with those who legalistically think that it’s wrong and therefore don’t want to participate and stir up trouble and cause division (much like when rock music hit the church).

    This one made me laugh…like belly ache laugh. I have never been at a church where there wasn’t an issue with trouble shooting on something. I’m sure I’ll offend some here — and I apologize in advance — but I have to say it. Baptist Congregations get so caught up in the little things that many times they make compromises that no one likes just so no one is really happy. Case in point (and this is somewhat a joke) — the committee that selects carpet. I think 80% of churches built in the 70s and 80s have that mauve/purplish color carpet. The ones built prior to that installed the same carpet when things were renovated. It is just awful. It is so bad that you can’t even really replicate it on a computer accurately. Here is what I think led to the choice…

    No one who picked the carpet actually LIKED it. It was probably the one carpet color that everyone disliked – so it got chosen out of trying to avoid the troubleshooting.

    It is late… so forgive the rambling, but I have never been in a church that didn’t have division or troubleshooting. Some were just good at handling it (peacemakers) and others were not (peacekeepers).

    Summing all this yapping up… I think ultimately worship should be something that brings God glory — in what ever style that best does that. I have more of a problem with the content of the songs. Some of the sacred untouchables are really not God centered but me centered when you think about it.

    Just a few thoughts… fun discussion.

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