In the last year, Kanye West has taken the pop culture world by storm. Launching in the clear-skied countryside of Coachella on Easter Sunday, he has established what is simply known as ‘Sunday Service’. It is a weekly gathering of select individuals, with incredibly brilliant music, distinct styling, preaching and a sense of secretism that has raised many questions as to what the gathering truly is.
Culturally, Kanye has drawn from religion throughout his career. But this is a new level of ‘interesting’ for the artist – mainly because the gatherings are not made public. Every member has to sign a non-disclosure agreement to not speak to the press. Cell-phone videos are the only medium in which the spectacle is broadcast to the world. And elements such as the ‘uniforms’ worn by the congregants and the elitism somewhat fostered by the celebrities who are invited seem to hint towards some hybrid version of a cult.
There are many things that could be said about these gatherings, but I thought I’d post some personal observations that I believe worth considering:
- A standard for spiritual community is being modelled on a massive scale
As a pastor myself, I do find this is positive in the simplest of ways. Many who have never considered church or religiosity are seeing their cultural ‘idols’ gather and sing hymns. And incredible, beautiful versions of them at that. Sia’s adaptation of ‘Elastic Heart’ in one of the services online is incredibly striking. If anything, planting the question, “Why do they meet?” opens up avenues to explain and support the idea of church in community.
2. Whether genuine or not, the influence of the Gospel music style has had a distinct impact on pop culture
Kanye is an artist in the truest sense of the word – he sees everything as an avenue to express. Church is no exception – whether out of genuine faith or cultural reference. Kanye grew up in church and he has expressed a desire to go ‘back to his roots’ on multiple occasions. I know that he has also attended many popular pentecostal churches such as Rich Wilkerson Jr’s Vous Church in Miami, as well as Zoe church and Hillsong Church in LA. Whether he has conceptually borrowed from these modern church expressions or genuinely begun his own church is not clear, but that simply begs the question, “what difference does it make?” If you truly question how it changes anyones’ perspective on faith, I see many Christians condemning something that in no way threatens their own personal relationship with God. If anything, Kanye is validating the notion of gathering together to sing and worship – with ‘healing effect’ as he has expressed.
3. There are some differences between church and what Kanye is doing – it is important to recognise
Firstly, the church of Jesus Christ is not and should never be exclusive, elitist or secretive. This is where Kanye’s Sunday Service veers off – as it is not a community that is local. The message of the Church is centrally based on Jesus Christ, whereas Kanye’s services are more broad with vaguer references to spirituality. His wife, Kim Kardashian West, has emphasised that there is no direct preaching – just music – which is both a relief and a concern. It is first a relief because it clarifies that there is no attempt to manipulate through agenda’s directly. However, the concern is that this format of ‘service’ would replace the intended idea of church – where people not only sing together, but are taught the word of God, admonished, held accountable, challenged, healed and empowered in their personal relationships with God.
In saying these things I hope that I can broaden your opinions on what Kanye is doing. There are both pro’s and cons that could weigh on peoples’ thoughts. Jesus taught us to pray for God’s Kingdom to come ‘on earth, as it is in heaven’ and a very practical way that this is shown in modern times is the singing multitudes in heaven. I cannot deny that there is a rousing beauty to West’s Sunday Service music. But I believe there is a bigger picture – a true community where people can find healing, hope, belonging and purpose. And that is not on a ranch in Calabasas, but rather a few streets away at your local church. If you want to know more about Jesus Christ and how he can change your life through intimate relationship, click on the link below.