These notes are from a talk by Efrem Buckle at the recent Reaching the Unreached [http://www.reachingtheunreached.org.uk/] conference in Barnsley. They are my notes from a talk so they may not accurately represent what Efrem intended. Efrem has a gospel ministry using rap music and is also planting a church in south London.
‘Urban Mission’ have been using rap in gospel ministry for 16 years in schools and prisons. We did this while working other jobs. Then we were invited to come on to the staff of a failing school in Lewisham to use music as a mentoring tool. The children would go from ‘Maths’ to ‘Urban Mission’. We were able to lay down some ground rules. We banned references to drugs or violence. ‘So what we going to do then?’ they asked. This gave us a great opportunity to talk about life skills. We focused on the content (What are you saying?), the creativity (How are you saying this?) and character (Who are you?). This may not sound like gospel ministry, but this opened the door for evangelism in a way we had never experienced. By relating to the children we had opportunities to testify. Ten minutes into lunchtime the children were still wanting to talk about the gospel. As a result many children have come to Christ.
We do not need to make the gospel ‘relevant’. When was life and death irrelevant to people? It is more about being relational than being relevant because gospel is always relevant. The bigger challenge is how they relate to us and us to them. How do we build a relationship so they find the gospel accessible through our lives? Build relationships to create revelational opportunities.
In John 6 Jesus fed people who were only interested in food. But it created an opportunity to share the message – even though only a few accepted it. So the feeding was a relational act that created a revelational opportunity.
Paul also related to people. See 1 Corinthians 9:19-22. Paul made attempts to relate to unbelievers, but without using his identity. Although Paul opposed circumcision of the Gentiles (the letter to the Galatians), he circumcised Timothy to relate to Jews (Acts 16:3; see also Acts 21:24). Paul found opportunities to relate to people and engage in their culture (Acts 17:22, 28).
We need to speak clearly. Rap is an ideal medium for gospel communication because its fundamental element is words. Rap is content-full. Rap is also well known for using metaphors and similes. This allows us to present truth in a sideways manner. We use language to which they can relate before it becomes clear we are presenting the gospel (like the prophet Nathan to David). Jahaziel (a Christian rapper from London): ‘They call me Santa on wax because I bless them with God’s presence when they unravel my raps.’
Short stories are engaging and stories plus music are memorable. ‘From the earliest records of civilisation human beings have used storytelling as a powerful tool to communicate all that is significant concerning human experience.’ (Shai Linne)
Do not rush into something. Rap has some dangers. There is a potential for pride. Rap needs to be seen as a ministry and evaluated as a gospel ministry. For example, we require those who do this ministry to have a suitable gospel character no matter how musically gifted they may be.
It is the message not the method that makes the impact. We did not rely on rap. That is why we have packed it with gospel content. Rap is a relational tool and relational tools will vary in different contexts. The key thing is that we need to relate without compromising gospel content.