Economic Models for Christian Creatives

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In my previous post on a Generational Mandate for Christian Creatives, I laid certain premises:

The primary target market of the Christian Creative is the world and not the Church. This is because Christians are the salt of the earth and not the salt of the Church. I also explained that creative content goes beyond worship. From scripture, we find several topical issues the Christian Creative can speak to and deploy in the world including love, politics, sex, romance, business, science fiction and socio-cultural issues among many others. Context is key and I explained this in my previous post. You should read it before proceeding.

Now, how can a Christian Creative deploy his gift commercially, especially within the Nigerian environment? Before I address this specifically, there is something you should know. There are 2 different principles that undergird the work you do in and outside church.

Two Principles of Work

When you serve in church, you are operating (a fraction) of the Principle of Sacrifice captured in Romans 12 and I quote:

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”

I deliberately used the word “fraction” in parentheses, as a study of the entire chapter and subsequent ones reveals not only the Christian’s service to brethren (verse 13) but to enemies and the Government, to mention a few. But let me stay on topic.

When you serve in church, you do so as an expression of commitment to God and to edify the body of Christ (see Ephesians 4:11-12). God will reward you for your service but many times the reward won’t be financial. You see, we no longer operate the dispensation of the Law where the Levites were wholly dedicated to temple service and therefore received an income through the gifts of the nation. They did no other work. We are in the era of the New Testament, the reign of the Priest-King, where you are a minister but also trade in the world to create value. To become prosperous, you must trade in the open market, exchanging ability for value.

In the New Testament, EVERY Christian is a priest and minister (1 Peter 2:9). So God will bless the contributions of the choir leader the same way he blesses the contributions of the social media director or the usher. They are all ministers. These acts of service are not economic activities, however. The EXCEPTION is if church hires you as a full-time or part-time STAFF. In such a scenario, you have now entered into the realm of work for wages and that becomes an economic activity that God can bless financially. This brings me to the second principle of work.

Every Christian in the marketplace is subject to the Principle of the Parable of the Talents. In this Parable, we peer into the mind of God the Businessman. I quote from Matthew 25:14-30 MSG:

14-18 “(The Kingdom of Heaven) is like a man going off on an extended trip. He called his servants together and delegated responsibilities. To one he gave five thousand dollars, to another two thousand, to a third one thousand, depending on their abilities. Then he left. Right off, the first servant went to work and doubled his master’s investment. The second did the same. But the man with the single thousand dug a hole and carefully buried his master’s money.”

19-21 “After a long absence, the master of those three servants came back and settled up with them. The one given five thousand dollars showed him how he had doubled his investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.”

22-23 “The servant with the two thousand showed how he also had doubled his master’s investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’

24-25 “The servant given one thousand said, ‘Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.’

26-27 “The master was furious. ‘That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest.”

28-30 “‘Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this “play-it-safe” who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.”

A number of lessons are brought to us in the story:

Note that God never told the servants what business to go into. He expected them to use good judgment based on their abilities. He also expected them to do their own feasibility study, not fast and pray. When you’re dealing with God the Businessman, he expects you to be knowledgeable and skilled. He assesses your character – Are you lazy? Do you make excuses? Can you take risks? Can you deliver? Do you have a record of previous achievement? The man who performed well was given even more resources to work with. As a Christian Creative, the lessons from the Parable of the Talents become even more important should you decide to become an entrepreneur. We sometimes forget that many musicians (and other celebrities) are actually ENTREPRENEURS. The requirements and discipline of entrepreneurship therefore apply to them.

If you work in church as a paid staff, you MUST maximise your capacities. God will hold you responsible for the return on your abilities. The same judgment you employ in deciding to work with any company outside church is what you should use in deciding to work in church as a paid employee. Do you buy into the mission of the church? Can you learn and grow? Can you contribute something of value? Will it pay your bills or provide a pathway to same? If you do not use good judgment, God the Businessman will hold you responsible when he asks that you account for your gifts and abilities (which include your opportunities, contacts, knowledge and insights).

The Purpose of Money

Now, before I present my economic models, I would like to ask a question. What is the purpose of money? What does money mean to you? In a follow up post, I will explore the intendment of prosperity in detail but here’s a teaser:

As Christians, we have a mandate to love the world (Galatians 5:14) and Jesus demonstrates what love does – it gives (John 3:16).

The broad purpose of prosperity for a Christian (beyond meeting personal needs) is to give to those in need, impact the world and ensure God’s righteousness on earth through economic activities. As a Christian Creative, beyond trading with the world for economic return, you will be called to do the following:

  1. Use your gifts to edify the body of Christ. I already addressed this in the Principle of Sacrifice
  2. Contribute to society through good works
  3. Execute projects that are dear to God’s heart which he will reveal to you from time to time.

You may also choose to develop a personal covenant with God on how you will use the resources he brings your way, as a token of stewardship. With these in mind, let us proceed.

Economic & Prosperity Pathways

I will use musicians to illustrate the Christian Creative. I am focusing on this group because it’s a creative field within which a lot of Christians operate. Also, the lessons from music can be extrapolated to other spheres – scriptwriting, dancing, modeling, acting etc.

There are 4 types of musical typologies I can readily identify. Each has its own prosperity pathway. Here they are:

Typology One: Worshipper

As a worshipper, your main role is to call men to worship. The focus is not on you but on God. Ideally, the less people focus on you and the more they focus on God, the more effective you are as a worshipper. As you can imagine, there are restricted prosperity pathways here. This is because (as I previously mentioned), we no longer operate a Levite model. You can however become a staff of church as a worshipper (also stated earlier). Now, you are peculiarly constrained in Nigeria and I will explain why. Nigerians expect worship to be free. We also do not have stringent copyright laws to sufficiently protect songwriters.

In Nigeria, your worship music becomes popular when churches “appropriate” it to use in their services. So, for a new worshipper, you’re better off giving your music for free so you can attain mass music recognition. Learn the art of the “lyric video” as your goal is to ensure as many people as possible learn your song. When you attain that recognition, the following streams of prosperity may then open up to you:

1. Honorarium: You may be invited to churches to lead worship in special programmes and given honoraria. The more respected you are, the larger your honorarium tends to be. For now, The Experience Concert seems to be Nigeria’s largest and most consistent worship circuit in Nigeria and shells out the highest honorarium.

If you are a member of a church with many branches (including international branches), you may be invited to those branches to lead worship and be given honoraria.

A Word about Honorarium

There is a very thin line between being “paid” and being “appreciated” when it comes to honorarium. I don’t like this economic model as there are many grey areas. It seems to be a halfway model adopted by platforms who believe it is unspiritual to “pay” a worshipper and so they call it honorarium. Hmm… Sometimes, it may be a way to signal to the worshipper that while his time is valued, the host may not be able to give a full financial consideration for that time, hence a “token of appreciation” called honorarium. The same model is applied to visiting preachers. Whatever, it is called, some things bear noting:

  1. Be sensitive to the God to whom you call men to worship. Sometimes he may specifically instruct you not to collect an honorarium.
  2. Sometimes, you may be led to sow a seed or to perform a social service and not collect or even expect an honorarium. (For instance if you go to minister at an orphanage or fledgling church.)
  3. Intention matters. Be clear about it. If it’s a seed or you want to edify the body, don’t expect a thing.

Remember, what you do with the gift God has given you is a choice. Make it independently and do not be blackmailed or spiritualised into doing what you don’t want to do or to give more time than you can justify. God loves a cheerful giver, not one who has been arm twisted into giving. You and you alone will give an account to God of what you did with your gifts and abilities.

2. Album sales: This stream of income is limited by piracy, streaming and free downloads. However, if you have very high name recognition, your international audience will legally pay for your music. If you come from a large church with many branches and your Pastor endorses your music, the members will buy your album and you will break even.

3. Licensing: Worship music is global. A good Nigerian songwriter with brand name recognition may someday get the opportunity to write for or collaborate with foreign artistes in countries that will pay proper licensing fees.

Typology Two: Healer/Deliverer

If you consistently write songs about encouragement in times of trouble and sorrow, then you have a healing ministry. (I recall Kirk Franklin’s “My Life is In Your Hands” healed many in my generation.) You may also have the gift of joy. Your music lifts spirits and makes people happy. You create the kind of music people can dance to. (This is the premise upon which Nigerian “Jollof Music” is built. It is music that people can dance to and helps them forget their sorrows.)

If you have this kind of musical gift, you will be relevant beyond the church and have a much wider audience. A good example of a song in this generation in this category is Pharrell’s Happy.

In addition to the prosperity pathways already highlighted, you may take advantage of the following:

1. Performance fees: You are not limited to honorarium from churches. Your music is relevant to the larger market and you will be invited to perform in non-religious spaces.

2. Personal branding, endorsements & merchandising: While worship is unto God, this category of music appeals to the human soul. Therefore, you can build a personal brand around it and earn money from social media promotions for brands, merchandise created from your personal brand, endorsements for corporate brands and so on.

Typology Three: Poet/Philosopher 

If your music is in the style of King David’s or King Solomon’s, you are a poet. You’re a storyteller; the kind of musician to compose an entire song about a tree or a romantic encounter! Your audience will be somewhat non-populist but you can build a core following like Asa has or Sound Sultan. The artist, Mali Music is another good example.

If this is your kind of music, focus on quality of lyrical content and production (so people can hear the lyrics).

To build a prosperity pathway, you need patrons – people with cultural taste who appreciate high concept music and are committed to supporting your dream until you “blow”. You may build this patronage online through “Patreon” (a crowdfunding site for artists) or offline through small intimate events. Try hosting these events (with very good acoustics). You may tap within your network to invite high networth individuals or members of the diplomatic corps you are targeting as future patrons. To expand your brand reach, ensure your work is properly filmed for social media purposes. Study Chase Holfelder’s YouTube page. It’s an excellent example of how to use YouTube/VeVo as an artist. Make sure you share clips on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Typology Four: Prophet

You may have heard of the groundbreaking musicians, John Lennon, Fela and Bob Marley. They typify the genre of the musical prophet. Prophets paint a vivid picture of what society should be like. They also speak truth to power. They produce what we call “conscience music”. Prophets are the voice of the voiceless, therefore they hold tremendous mass appeal.

Key sources of revenue for prophets once they achieve brand recognition are performance fees and endorsements. Prophets fill concert stadiums so consumer brands love to use them to headline shows.

Concluding Thoughts

I will recap some major points for Christian Creatives:

  1. Identify which genre of gift the Holy Spirit has gifted you with in order to understand the economic model available to you.
  2. Achieve name recognition. To do this, give your art away for free at first, deploy social media, get your art featured on traditional media and get a stage to perform on.
  3. Develop a recognisable visual brand and register your trademarks. Someday, that brand may feature on merchandise and spin-off products. (Similarly, register all your social media IDs and URLs in your name)
  4. Build a bankable work ethic. Show up on time and perform your heart out. Rehearse a routine and dress the part. Don’t just show up in Jeans and T-shirt to give a lackluster performance. Be remembered.
  5. Be business savvy or get a manager or lawyer to advise you on contracts. Remember God will hold you accountable for maximising your abilities.
  6. Be pragmatic. Sometimes, you may sign a contract with minimal initial financial reward because you hope to parlay the platform provided into name recognition you can cash in later.
  7. Start strong. Put your best foot forward. Release material that catches the audience’s attention. You are not the best judge of your material. Get external feedback.
  8. Collaborate. Some creative people do not like the details of enterprise management. Some are intimidated by technology so find social media promotion daunting. Find a friend or partner who complements you; someone who truly believes in you to assist or mentor you.
  9. Google and YouTube are 2 key resources every creative must use regularly. There’s a YouTube “How-to” video for EVERYTHING.

I wish you success in your endeavour.

(Download a PDF copy of this article here.)

 

 

 



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