I have a scenario to present.
Imagine a young Steve Ford, a good-looking and talented new artist who has driven his beat up old Saturn to Nashville to figure out what he needs to do in order to “make it” in Christian music. Steve has done the right thing – he has networked around and scheduled some time to sit down with a few of his favorite artists – how convenient that they are all on Centricity.
So he sits down at Starbucks, for that is where all work is done in Nashville, to talk to a few people over some Chai Latte (he doesn’t drink coffee). A few questions were thrown out to Jason Germain from Downhere, Jason Gray, Jaime Jamgochian and Matt Papa. Lets listen in to a bit of the conversation…..
Steve – I really feel called, what should I do to prepare for a music ministry?
Jason Germain – Be prepared for less music and more ministry. There is a heavy toll on the life of the itinerate, one has to be prepared for sacrifices on time, friendships, livelyhood the works. Music is not worth it. Ministry is.
Jaime Jam – I think it is so important to be pouring into your local church before considering traveling and ministering. The kind of hands-on experience you can get serving and working at the local level will bring experiences that, I know, will be used later on while traveling in full-time music ministry. Ministry is so much more than music. I am a big fan of taking Bible classes/schooling/some kind of program that gears you up and prepares you for ministry.
Matt Papa – The word that sticks out to me in this question is “ministry”. Being prepared to be an artist takes lots of work, but being prepared to be a minister takes lots more of a different sort of work. I would encourage you to do a few things:
1. Engulf yourself in the Scriptures. People think this to be a pastor’s job…but in my opinion it is MORE of a songwriters/music ministers job than anyone else. Songs are sermons that people will remember….songs are creeds that shape people’s theology. If you are not saturated with the Bible, you will lead people astray and you will have nothing to say.
2. Be full of prayer and the Holy Spirit. Your ministry can have no power or authority apart from these. Depend completely on Jesus and he will bless what you do for His kingdom.
3. Start doing ministry! This is the best thing to do, be prepared for ministry. Whether it’s working at a homeless shelter or playing your music at nursing homes….it is SO important for you to establish within your heart that YOU ARE SERVANT, NOT A ROCK STAR. Jesus doesn’t need more rock-stars….He needs servants who will humbly proclaim the gospel. Get actively involved at a local church and do ministry EVERY CHANCE YOU CAN! Blossom where you are planted
Jason Gray – Well… that’s a tough one to answer with a short answer. I do think it’s worth saying that a music career is different from a music ministry, and so the answer is different, too (and I’m not saying one is better than the other, I’m just saying preparing for them is different – maybe a good place to begin is by asking this fundamental question: is my vocation driven by a love of music and I’m so grateful I get to do it in service to the Lord? or is my vocation driven by not only a love for music and God but also a love for His people, and so everything I do will have to answer the question of whether or not I’m best serving the people God loves. Does that make sense? This is probably a fundamental difference that takes more than this paragraph to explore, but seek the Lord and engage this conversation with him. Again, though, I’m not saying a ministry is better than a career – they’re just different.)
But two quotes came to mind when you asked me about being prepared for music ministry, one is from one of my favorite authors and the other from one of my favorite artists.
In G.K. Chesterton’s book “The Man Who Was Thursday”, (an existential “thriller” that is less about the anarchic ambitions of its secret society than it is a theological statement about… well, I guess you’d just have to read it…) the main character is being recruited for a covert mission and wonders aloud if he is unfit for the task, to which his recruiter says that it’s enough that he is willing.
“Well, really, I don’t know of any profession of which mere willingness is the final test.”
“I do. Martyrs. I am sending you to your death. Good day.”
I don’t mean to be melodramatic, but when I first read this, it rang true for my vocation. I suppose it’s true that there are a million ways the world will break your heart regardless of what vocation you choose. Maybe the difference though is that music is a vocation that requires such an intense engagement with your heart, that unlike other work you are denied the luxury of self-preservation. Self-preservation makes for terrible music and worthless ministry. And so when this vocation leads you to places of disappointment, humiliation, and questioning your worth, you can’t retreat into cynicism. You must keep your heart engaged, right there on your sleeve, where it can bleed the most beautiful songs, even though it feels like it will kill you. So I guess it’s a calling to daily die to our instincts of self-preservation, which is ultimately for our own good anyway. And your heart can take a mighty beating in this vocation – are you prepared for that? Do you know how to handle that? Are you exercised in the discipline of bringing your hurt to God rather than internalizing it and becoming hardened (which is infinitely easier though deadly)?
The other best advice I got was from my musical hero Pierce Pettis, who has sacrificed SO as he has faithfully worked for years in obscurity and financial difficulty in spite of his formidable gift. When I asked him for advice early in my ministry he told me: “advice? I guess I would tell you that if you can be happy doing anything else, then do that instead.” I knew what my answer to that question was, and so here I am on a plane, having bid my family good-bye once again, on my way to a weekend of concerts, wondering how we’re going to afford a new washer and dryer when I get home, occasionally wishing I could have been happy doing something else, but most days grateful for the good adventure of this musical life.
Steve – What is the most important trait I should develop as a musician in Christian music?
Jason Germain - Patience with God’s timing and patience with yourself. Over-achievers burn out quickly. A life in the arts is being able to be flexible, stable and self-starting with the things you can control and do well.
Jaime Jam – I think in any genre but especially in Christian Music …CHARACTER! At the end of the day I am always challenged with the questions “did my life reflect that of Christ’s”? Did I serve as He would, did I speak the things He would, do my actions in my everyday life hold true to the platform I have been entrusted with?”…It is not easy and we are all at different places in this journey of faith but I strongly believe that Character comes before any kind of talent in this industry. I would rather be well-respected and known as someone with godly character more than someone who just had a lot of “musical success” but it did not reflect Christ well. CHARACTER + SUCCESS= AWESOME!
Matt Papa – Humility. There is nothing that is more disgusting than someone who claims to be a servant of the most humble man to ever live, and at the same time has a gross sense of entitlement….entitled to success, fame, a green room, a CD, fans, etc. Jesus said if we want to follow Him we have to get on a cross and die….said we would be HATED by all because of His name. Does that sound like worldly success? Now, with that said, please know that I am the chief of sinners when it comes to arrogance. I don’t want to preach at you…but encourage you to ask the LORD to kill pride in you everyday. There is a question I ask the LORD often, and I would encourage you to ask Him as well: ”God, are you using me for Your kingdom, or am I using You for mine?”
Jason Gray – Perseverance. I think. I hear Tom Hanks spoke to a class of would be actors several years ago and told them that the ones who make it are the ones who stay with it, who stick around long enough that eventually someone has to take them seriously. Also, having your identity firmly rooted in Christ. It’s too easy for us to let our music, vocation, or approval from our audience or critics define who we are. Who determines how and what you do? If it’s your audience, or the marketplace, or your artist peers, you’ll go crazy and get lost, because that is a moving target. A steady progress, slowly, with our identity rooted in Christ, faithfully, in the same direction, is what takes us where we need to go.
Steve – What mistakes should I avoid?
Jason Germain – Positioning yourself against… If your conscience is clear, work with it….say yes. The Label, Management, Radio, Venue, Pastor, Movement. Surround yourself with people you trust and when they have ideas…work with it. There will be times that you just have to say no to things, but keep your cards close, don’t take a defensive position on issues that can be argued. Related to that, stick to your guns. Set boundaries, and if there is critical reason to say no- do it. Say yes in person say no through management.
Jaime Jam - If I am being honest I think it is SO easy to compare yourself to others in this “small” industry of Christian music. Something the Lord is really challenging me with lately is not having to look like, sing like, minister like, have a career in music ministry like anyone else’s. I need to stay true to what God is asking me to do and be accountable to that. I think it is also a very easy mistake to equate CD sales and radio play with being a real success. Ask God what He views as successful in what you do. These are just some of the pitfalls I am really having to guard against.
Matt Papa – Don’t promote yourself. Trust God to do this for you….it is His work. Be faithful with little and you will be faithful with more. I can personally tell you that I have never promoted myself, and God has been SO FAITHFUL to bring opportunities. Give everything you’ve got to your current opportunities, and more will come. Before you have places to say something you first have to get something to say. Not promoting yourself will do a couple things: 1. It will allow you to trust God and give Him the glory for opportunities you get. 2. It speaks volumes to youth pastors and event sponsor people. They would rather hear from someone else why they should bring you in than your own lips. In other words, they would rather INVITE you to their home for dinner, rather than you saying, “hey I’m a really good dinner guest”.
Jason Gray- Most artists spend hours working on their songs, on their instruments, on their performance, etc. but spend no time working on their communication and what they say between their songs. But this is where they have the greatest chance of making a connection with their audience, and to just assume that you can be great at this without working at it as much as you work at every other aspect of your music ministry is the most common flaw I see among artists. It’s a form of arrogance and laziness, too, I think. Over the years I’ve found that I probably need to practice and refine my storytelling – what I say between the songs – more than even my music. It’s a worthy investment of your energy, too, because you’ll see the greatest return. People will respond to an artist who is also a good communicator.
Thats it for the conversation today, but on Thursday these wonderful artists have the opportunity to answer a few more questions. Make sure you check it out to see how Matt really feels about Steve.
If you want more information about any of these artists check out their web sites:
Jason Germain – www.downhere.com
Jaime Jamgochian – www.jaimejam.com
Matt Papa – www.mattpapa.com
Jason Gray – www.jasongraymusic.com