PLATFORM VS. STAGE
A platform is a tool God gives us humans to use for making Him famous. The size, shape and nature of the platform varies based on our individual calling. A fast food drive-thru window, a corporate board room, a meal wagon serving the homeless, a major league sports field, or an arena concert for twenty thousand people can all serve the same purpose of spreading the Gospel of Jesus. What we do with the platform is a huge responsibility. Unfortunately, the monster recognizes the power of the platform and desires to control it. The larger the platform, the harder the monster will fight to own it.
I recently ran into a former pastor, mentor and friend of mine. Dave served as an accountability pastor for several artists and musicians over the years. As we were talking, he mentioned a successful Christian artist recently came to him concerned she had become a diva as a result of her music success. She was seeking advice on how to change. He, of course, told her she needed to ask forgiveness from anyone she had wronged, but then he gave her a huge nugget of wisdom every artist should hear. Dave explained to this artist how a platform becomes a stage the second an artist allows the focus to be on themselves. If an artist finds themselves overly concerned about how well they controlled the audience, how cool or beautiful they looked on stage or how many screaming fans they have, it might be a good time to pause and examine their purpose. When the platform becomes a stage for a Christian, they have most likely stepped out of God’s purpose for their life. Wow! That’s simple truth for anyone, no matter what platform they have been given, but so appropriate for those in the entertainment field. There is an intentional art to striving for excellence while maintaining God’s purpose. Staying connected to God through prayer and studying His Word is a great way to maintain that purpose.
While the sound equipment, lights and backdrop may look like a stage, they are merely tools God provides some to use for their platform. Artists, musicians and worship leaders can use the tools to draw in an audience, but where they take the audience once they draw them in is key. Therein lies the tension for an artist manager—how to balance helping the artist strive for excellence without helping them turn the platform into a self-gratifying stage. Platforms come in all shapes and sizes, and God does provide bigger platforms for some. No matter the size of the platform, an artist must create an environment that draws an audience in to listen. In order to maximize larger platforms, artists must operate at a high level of excellence on par with the top entertainers in the world.
As we develop artists and help them create a “drawing people in” environment, I often find myself using words like performance, stage presence and production quality. Those words can be extremely dangerous when used or taken in the wrong context. For me, praying for wisdom in coaching artists is vital. It is also important to be equally yoked with artists who are spiritually likeminded. Discerning whether an artist is seeking platform or stage in their heart can be tricky, as most learn to articulate with “Christianese” early in their career. I have found that actions reveal the true desire of the heart. When I hear an artist complain about having the opening slot or not having as much time for their set as other artists are given, I take their words as a good indicator that they are focused primarily on the stage. We are all human, so it would be silly to expect artists to never have thoughts of stage in their mind, which is the very reason artists should surround themselves with accountability and stay in God’s Word.
Over the years, I have heard artists say they are a “Christian entertainer,” not a minister. While I partly understand what they are trying to say, the distinction doesn’t exist within God’s Word. They may not be great speakers, but they can still minister as entertainers. Jesus calls all of us, not some of us, to be ministers who carry out the Great Commission.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
(Matthew 28:19, ESV)
If those are Jesus’ instructions, doesn’t it make sense that He would want us to use the platform He gives us to carry out the Great Commission? When it’s misused to promote “me,” the platform, instead, transforms into an obstacle for leading others to Christ.
Another interesting observation are those artists who are so adamant about not being labeled a “Christian artist.” When interviewed by media, they say everything possible to get the interviewer off the subject of Christianity. In my opinion, that’s monster talk at its best! I can certainly understand not wanting to be quarantined to the small Christian music genre section in mainstream retail stores, but why would any Christian ever avoid being associated with Jesus? Haven’t they read how Peter felt when he heard the rooster crow a third time? I have heard the argument that it’s the association with the sub-par produced Christian music they wish to avoid. Others avoid talking about their Christian faith in an effort to have world appeal, allowing them to reach a larger audience. Imagine a loud buzzer sound as I throw the penalty flag here! I don’t recall Jesus cloaking His Messiah-ness in order to attract the attention of a crowd. Masses were drawn to His heavenly aroma and amazing teaching.
What does Jesus say about denying Him?
And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.
(Luke 12:8-9, ESV)
Those words read pretty clear to me. I know I don’t want to be denied by God.
Over the years, I have heard many Christian artists cite U2 as the artist they wish to emulate. U2 has indeed made great music and impacted the world immensely. The band didn’t use the Christian music industry as a back door to mainstream success, as I see so many artists attempt to do. Instead, they went about playing music, and God gave them a large platform, which they choose to use to spread His message of love. Bono has been quite wise in the way he uses the platform to share the Gospel. Yes, he dropped the F-bomb on national TV, which I’m not endorsing, but the fruit he bears in everyday life with humanitarian efforts speaks volumes to the world. His love for God and other humans appears to be genuine and is obviously a major priority in his life. He also uses his songwriting gift to craft a Christian message throughout many of his lyrics. Unfortunately, many young artists who wish to emulate U2, lock in on the F-bombs but overlook the God-loving, humanitarian story. We then end up with a bunch of self-professed “cool” Christian musicians in search of the stage, running around dropping F-bombs and claiming it’s their clandestine way of sharing Jesus with the world. The platforms of artists who are lost in that way crumble as their stage is erected.
Imagine the possibilities when one focuses on the platform God gives them instead of the platform He gives someone else. While God does call us to excellence in whatever we do, attempting to deliver huge worldly audiences is taking over God’s role. When He desires an artist to have a massive audience, He will deliver the massive audience. Ask Bart Millard from MercyMe what God did with his blatant song about Jesus a few years back. Through God’s orchestration, “I Can Only Imagine” found its way into heavy rotation on mainstream radio stations around the country. The Texas mainstream radio station’s decision to play the song for the first time wasn’t planned by any record company. A listener called in and requested the song during a request show. Listener response was great and grabbed the radio station’s attention. God then gave MercyMe’s record company the vision, wisdom and tools to work His plan from there. The success of “I Can Only Imagine” was so far outside the normal lanes of working a Christian single that it can’t be classified as anything other than God’s divine plan.
We are currently working with an artist who has the ability to craft lyrics with a biblical message in a way that doesn’t offend most mainstream audiences. This particular artist is signed to a record label who chose to work him to mainstream radio before working his music to Christian radio. Unlike many Christian artists with mainstream stars in their eyes, this artist’s primary goal is to honor God through music. We have worked carefully to help him craft a message for the media that allows him to speak to the world in a way that encourages them to open their hearts and minds to the message of Jesus. The task comes with a huge responsibility, and if done wrong, could easily alienate believers and non-believers. Although his mainstream publicist gets a bit nervous when he refers to God, I’m thankful the artist isn’t willing to deny his faith in order to deliver the message. Ironically, his music is being played on mainstream stations in major markets across the U.S. allowing him to share his faith on worldly platforms. It’s amazing how right that feels and how honored I am to be a part of his team.
When I see artists avoiding association with Jesus or seeking the spotlight on stage, it is apparent the monster is alive and well. Pursuit of fame, success and money is not of God. His purpose for all believers is that we use whatever platform He gives us to make Him famous.