By Peter Pages
Gospel awards have been with us for a while, yet every time nominees for Groove Awards are announced in Kenya, it causes a stir among Christians. It is not always stirring love, peace or unity, but an immiscible mixture of covert hostility, relentless enthusiasm and loyalty, shameless deception and, admirably, a door for propagation of the gospel of Christ. Opponents of Christian awards have long cited an obsession for the expression of an ‘idea’ rather than emphasis on the ‘idea’ itself as their main reason to shun taking part. But do the proponents have a point?
One of the topics that trend yearly on Kenyan social media platforms in the month of May is whether it is necessary at all to award ministers of the gospel. Several things come up in these discussions. God appoints ministers to His work, so it makes no sense that humans take it upon themselves to award God’s workers. Awards make sense in end-of-year company get-togethers, where the chief executive officers and their human resource teams reward their employees for excellence. That works because they are the ones who appointed those people. They are the ones with the correct criteria of judgment. It wouldn’t work if company A tried to award company B employees, basing their selection majorly on publicly-acclaimed talent. What criteria would they use to award someone else’s workers? What right do Christians have to award fellow ministers?
Imagine if the Jerusalem council started awards for ‘Best Prophet’ or ‘Best Writer’. Of course, if Jonah would be alive at that time he would win ‘Best Prophet’ for his 3-day prophecy that turned a whole city to its knees. On the contrary, Jeremiah would lose out because he had no follower even though he prophesied for over forty years. You see, based on popularity, Jonah would probably get more votes and be considered the best prophet.
Secondly, the spirit of competition cultivated by gospel awards is, to say the least, unhealthy. When good friends are placed parallel to each other in the same category, a rottenness immediately begins to develop in their behavior. They bribe people to vote for them, carelessly opting to make winning the award their agenda. The main agenda for their ministry calling is thrown out the window and the desire for status takes over. No doubt the award is a major marketing advantage, but during voting season, it is easy to forget that the main thing is the kingship of Yahweh. The end result of this competition spirit is not edification of the body of Christ but bitterness, magnification of flaws and unnecessary animosity between believers.
Groove Awards, according to the organizers of the annual event, seeks to promote, expose and celebrate Gospel Artists both in Kenya and East Africa. Groove Awards honors outstanding excellence in the Gospel Music Industry with artists in Production, Television and the various regions of Kenya. It is the bit that mentions ‘honoring outstanding excellence’ that should be the subject of discussion here. It is quite clear from the Groove agenda that the focus is on the expression of art and media. We should not, therefore, ask them why they are not organizing street evangelism events and crusades in order to reach more people. They have taken upon themselves the responsibility to promote artistic excellence in Christian ministry. That in itself, should be a good enough thing. But again, what right do they have to award God’s ministers?
First, let me bring up something about the essentials of the Christian faith. Our faith is defined primarily by what we believe about the deity of Christ, original sin, the canon of scripture, the Holy Trinity, resurrection, incarnation, new creation and eschatology. It is a shame that most Christians, even artistes who deem themselves qualified to preach the Christian message, are vocal about opinions they have formed or heard over secondary matters yet they do not have a stand regarding the primary tenets of Christianity. Theirs is a hereditary faith, inherited from parents and become Christians because they were born into Christian families. They make no effort to understand their faith on their own. I bring this up because anyone who understands what Christianity is about in its most basic form, will know the role of the church and Christian leaders. The church is God’s recognized government on earth. It is the role of the church to appoint its own leaders through prayerful consideration. It is also the duty of the church to promote excellence regarding anything done in the name of God. If everyone is left to do their own thing without systems of accountability in any particular Christian community, the body of Christ has failed in its mandate to the world and itself. That’s one reason why Groove awards must continue awarding those who are diligently playing their role in ministry.
The challenge with the Groove voting system is a well-known problem. It is bad enough that some categories are filled with mismatching items. For example, this year’s song of the year category features Bamba Mbaya (Kelele Takatifu), Bazokizo (Bruz Newton), Huyu Yesu (Angel Bernard & Mercy Masika), Kutembea Nawe (Rebecca Dawn), Pale Pale (Size 8) and Thitima Anthem (Kymo and Stigah). This category is occupied by six songs which cannot share a playlist, yet they are to be judged by the same criteria, by voters who will be influenced depending on which of those artistes they know best. If the Groove committee was really serious about this category, they would pull it out of the voting lines and let the niche categories such as Worship song of the year and hip-hop song of the year be subjected to voting by fans of those genres. Even so, letting voters determine the award winner only means that the minister who doesn’t have a budget to promote their nomination or is less vocal about it will receive less votes even if their item is superior in regards to the criteria set out. Perhaps Groove should even take steps to ensure that we can access those songs mentioned there so that we do not vote for names without hearing the songs.
In the matter of competition, it is obvious that men have always wanted glory. Ever since Nimrod and his followers constructed the tower of Babel in order to ‘make a name’ for themselves, we have seen many more situations of men in pursuit of this short-lived glory. Fast forward to modern-day Kenya and you see artistes spending lots of money working on projects with an eye on the awards. Awards open up inroads for penetration of an artist’s content, but the content should never be secondary. It is worth noting that there is no possibility of getting wholesome content from talented entertainers who neither know Christ nor His power. Such people will make their way to the top of charts with a hybrid of worldliness and godliness, and just like the Nephilim of old who were birthed from an unholy alliance between the sons of God and the daughters of men, they become strong and popular, deceiving both the church and the world. In regards to these people, we cannot blame awards for their existence. This problem of deceitful and desperately wicked hearts is not an award-induced problem. People have acted shamefully without reason and we should not pick a few cases and use them to construct an argument against Groove awards.
Lastly, a statement from Groove awards during the nominations read like this: “This year, we have made bold steps. We have left people intentionally whose character does not represent Christian values.” It sounds really good to hear this, as long as the ones who represent Christian values do not get awarded and advised by a secular artiste, no matter how many correct statements the secular artistes have up their sleeve (Read Octoppizo in 2015). It is also likely that Groove organizers do not really have comprehensive information on how all those nominees live their lives, so the criterion only applies to the well-known artistes, in which case it becomes a matter of the connotations a listing brings rather than the Christian values artistes portray in their lives.
I conclude. I love awards. I would love the standards of the expression of the gospel to be raised as high as we can. The gospel is already powerful as it is. We must not degrade its beauty by producing poor art yet we serve the master of creativity. I love what Groove awards is doing to the development of the gospel movement which started long ago when saints of old were killed for their faith in Christ. The gospel is dripping with blood, and it is high time everyone who represents this gospel will stand for the truth. Let these awards not only promote art for the artistes we see daily in the media or those in Nairobi, but also reach out to those whose art has transformed the communities they live in, in Kitale, Eldoret, Garissa, Meru and all the other towns which do not have extended media infrastructure and marketers to help them reach out. Let those who do not believe in awards reconsider their stance and consider how Christianity has developed in Kenya since these awards began, even considerably weakening the secular music industry. Let’s pray that Groove awards improve their voting and selection system, and that the gospel will go farther through them.