Flaws and All: A perspective on musicians and grace

Worship musician and producer Greg Johnson offers hope to artists burdened by mistakes and failures

 

Greg Johnson (Naomi Paul Photography)

Greg Johnson is a keyboardist, musical director, producer and songwriter who is passionate about communicating God’s grace through word and music. He currently serves as musical director at Northview Christian Church in Dothan, Alabama under Dr. Hart Ramsey. He agreed to share his thoughts on musicians who are dealing with internal struggles.

“Broken can be beautiful when Grace sings the melody” – Gwen Smith

I remember when I found myself sitting in church wondering, “What am I doing?”

I felt as if the whole world knew areas of my life that could only be labeled as failure. I’m sure as a musician or an artist, there are some skeletons that you would not want anyone to excavate because they could lead to guilt and public shame. Let’s be honest; 95% of the time the title musician is associated with negative terms. However, musicians are not born with flaws, people are.

Here is the truth:
All have sinned.
All! (Rom 3:23)

Anyone who has been born of a woman has sin within them. Without sin, there would not be a need for Christ to come as God’s rescue plan for humanity. For years, the church has made us fearful of being honest about the flaws and failures that we have experienced; that is not Christianity.

The truth is your flaw does not negate God’s grace on your life. Your flaw does not change God’s mind about you. In fact, it is in our weakness that we are made strong and His strength becomes the source that we draw from every time that we serve (2 Cor 12:9). Your flaw is what qualifies you for His grace upon your life. God isn’t looking for anyone self-made as my pastor would say. That burden will exhaust you, because the image that you create, you must hide behind. And the image you hide behind will be the image that you will have to perpetuate.

It is Jesus who fully sees and fully knows a Samaritan (enemy of the Jews) woman at the well who, after encountering Jesus, goes into Samaria and testifies causing many to believe in Him.

It is Jesus who gives grace to the Prostitute caught in the act and, possibly as she stood naked in front of her accusers who classified her as the most immoral human being to walk the earth, He (the only one without sin) stoops and writes something that causes stones that were meant for execution under the law to fall one by one as her accusers to walked away.

It is Jesus who goes out of His way to break the Sabbath by healing a man who was paralyzed, not letting him wait another day for his healing.

It is Jesus who further violated the Sabbath when He told this same man to take up his bed which was considered work, a violation that caused one man to die for doing something as simple as gathering sticks.

It is Jesus who meets a man on his way to persecute the church, knocks him off his horse, and forms a lifelong love affair that changes his identity and life mission which was to testify about the grace of God. (Acts 20:24)

This same Jesus died for you. His death is greater than your flaw, and it is through our broken vessels that His light shines through. Wherever you are called to, whether it is in your local community or out of the country, know that you are not a failure but a redeemed and adopted child of God. Before being a musician, you are His. You may be wretched, but let your response be “thanks be to God through Jesus Christ”; in Him there is no condemnation. (Romans 7:24-25; 8:1)

Your identity is in Christ; not in your best days and certainly not in your worst.

Wherever you go, before you take the stage, reflect on Christ and His boundless one way love for you as you are – not some future, better, and cleaned up version of you. Rest in His accomplishment for you and make your boast in Him every chance you get. Jesus takes even the worst of sinners to demonstrate grace. Broken can be beautiful when Grace sings the melody. Playing and singing takes on a new meaning once this truth is understood. It will all be to the glory of God who gave you the gift and the redemption despite every failure that you or anyone else can name about yourself.

The Content Question: When critics attack

Here are a few tips on how faith-focused creatives can deal with controversy over their artistic choices

If you’ve created anything outside of the four walls of a church, you’ve probably heard this question.

“How can you (play, create, write) that kind of (music, art, story) if you say you believe in God?”

Or, even more pointedly, “How can you work or collaborate with artists who  _______(fill in the offending act or belief system here)?”

This question always brings out the most critical and confrontational conversations between artists and audiences, creators and congregations, performers and pastors.  There are invisible battle lines drawn as soon as the topic arises.

On one side, you have the standard-bearers, those who want faith-focused artists to have no contact or connection with anything they deem secular or ungodly.

On the other side, you have the artists, musicians and creatives who become marginalized into making art that keeps the first category happy. They champion their creative freedoms and point out the idea that their creativity cannot be contained inside temples and in front of church pews.

To each musician, creative, and artist who has dealt with this question, I want to offer three different questions to ask yourself when critics question the content of your creativity, or the quality of the people with whom you collaborate.

 

  1. Who am I working for?
  2. What is my audience looking for?
  3. Who am I trying to impact?

Should you want to be famous?

Being publically recognized has benefits, but faith-centered artists must weigh the costs

Fame.

Andy Warhol, an artist who gained lots of attention due to his unique sensibilities, once said we would all get 15 minutes of it.

A few minutes on YouTube makes it apparent that he was essentially right. Fame is now measured in views, likes and how many followers you can amass on Instagram. And, if everyone can now be famous, then no one is exempt from the pressure to try to do so.

That’s certainly for many creative artists. We seek it in the form of online approval, fans, name recognition, artistic glory, and critical acclaim. While we may say we aren’t interested in fame, there’s no question that there are benefits to being the person everyone has heard of.

But is it a good thing? Should a faith-focused creative want to be famous?

This presents a contradiction. Every major religion reminds its followers to strive for humility – to let God be the only one who receives glory. Yet, even the faithful often look to the famous.  Some Christians flock to mega-church pastors based on name recognition alone. Chart-topping music acts fill stadiums.   Books by the most famous inspirational authors are snapped up while less-well known authors languish on the shelf. If one wants to have widespread influence, apparently fame is the way to go.

Can we artists reconcile our desire for recognition and influence with the principle of humility? 

Is being ‘gifted’ enough?

Creative artists sometimes must remind themselves of their true worth

There’s something about a gift that makes everyone happy.

Whether it’s a for birthday, a holiday, or just because, there’s nothing quite like the moment that someone is presented with a gift. Even the people who know what’s inside the present watch with eager anticipation, waiting to see the gift revealed and the reaction of the recipient.  Something about the process of opening a present makes us want to be a part of it.

As a creative, you’re probably accustomed to people referring to you as ‘gifted.’   Your gift was given to you by your Creator, and you’ve likely spent your life unwrapping it and sharing it with others.  What happens when people are more interested in the gift than the person that is doing the giving? 

Why good is good enough

Creatives can follow the Creator's example when it comes to evaluating their work

Man invents. God creates.

Man invented the automobile, called it “amazing”!

God made a tree and said, “Good”.

Man invented the refrigerator, called it ‘incredible”!

God made a rabbit, and said,  “Good”.

The wheels fell off the car. The refrigerator broke down.

The tree’s still up and the rabbit’s still running. – W.H.Cosby

You show someone your latest work, your best creation, something you worked really hard on. You ask her what she thinks of it.

She says, “It’s good.”

How do you feel about that evaluation?

Chances are,  you don’t feel very good about it.

Something in our creative DNA makes us dissatisfied unless our work is worthy of superlatives. We want our creations to be considered amazing, ground-breaking, outstanding – anything but simply good. For many, good equals average, unremarkable, acceptable, but not memorable.

But in God’s vocabulary, good is good enough.

Here’s why.