In the wake of the news that Cross Rhythms has had to pull out of its planned link with Liverpool's Crossfire festival, Cross Rhythms Chief Executive Chris Cole takes a look at the whole thorny subject of financial accountability.
Spiritual militancy can sound very exciting if it's kept to the realm of binding demons or signing petitions against the injustices of the World Bank. But as well as the world's sins, the Lord wants us to demonstrate militancy in dealing with the manifestations of sin that cling so tenaciously to our own lives.
One of the great encouragements of pastoring and leading a church is the privilege of seeing peoples' lives positively changed by God. There is probably no more focused experience within church life which demonstrates God's faithfulness and love to us than when we see Him healing spiritually, emotionally and physically. In fact our lives, as Christians, should be motivated by this one great truth - the love of God restoring human beings to true life. The real challenge is to share this truth with real integrity by experiencing the 'good news' ourselves first of all. It is this motivation which keeps me committed to the process of Cross Rhythms growth and expansion and at the same time also gives me the greatest personal concern. This concern is that sometimes the motivation behind people's endeavours to minister isn't as pure or mature as it should be. Sometimes the desire to share the 'good news' through 'our' ministry is so powerful that we don't care who we hurt along the way. In saying this, I am not a perfectionist who expects 'sinlessness' from people who are in themselves growing into a revelation of who they are in God. But there does come a time when we are encouraged by circumstances to examine the motivation of our service to God and each other. Ministry is not something that Christians do; it is an act of service which comes out of who we are. If you haven't already noticed, Christians are very capable of hurting each other by refusing to seek the Kingdom of God within themselves and demonstrate the gracious and sincere love of Jesus Christ's attitude and character to each other. My understanding of 'spiritual militancy', therefore, isn't a call to go out and evangelise the world, it's a motivation to get our attitude and character together in God first so that when we do talk about Christ, people also see Him.
The Christian music scene can easily be one of those areas of 'ministry' where Christians want to succeed 'at all costs'. To talk the talk you've got to walk the walk. There is a great Vineyard song, "Light The Fire Again", which to me encourages us that God wants to use arts and music. But with this motivation comes a clear warning to be careful about the idolatrous nature of creativity. Our gifting must be built on character as knowledge should be built on wisdom.
There is unprecedented growth and excitement surrounding Christian contemporary music in the UK today. After years of stagnation things are at last on the move - sales are increasing and public awareness is growing. No clearer example of this occurred last week when Tony Cummings was phoned by Music Week -the British record industry's trade publication - and asked to prepare a report about the Christian music business in Britain. When considering the Christian music business one thing we must keep in mind is that it is just that, a business. Albums are released and bought, concerts are arranged and audiences pay to come in. Christians shouldn't be embarrassed or defensive of this reality. The dualism that would seek to hive off ministry from some esoteric spiritual realm, apart from the real world, must be avoided. But the other side of the coin (quite literally) is that financial compromise and worldliness must too be avoided.
In America we have seen financial dishonesty bring down TV evangelists after years of malpractice while in the music realm things can be just as bad. Recently Christian Media magazine have run articles about Frontline Records and their alleged creative accounting ensuring few if any of their artists received royalties for the albums they sold, while the Summer Praise '94 and Thanksgiving Joy Festivals in California failed to pay many of America's top CCM artists amid charges of fraud, embezzlement and gross ineptitude. (I know Cross Rhythms Festival pays low expenses to their bands, but we do honour our bills. We also feel we contribute to the CCM scene, and thus the artists themselves, through our Radio work, which incidentally we don't get paid for. In fact it's quite the reverse).
In the past Cross Rhythms has commented that the British CCM scene has been for so long starved of cash that it has ensured instances of dishonesty and large financial mishandling are rare. And so they are. But you can be within the law and/or dealing with pounds rather than tens of thousands yet still demonstrate a woeful, and unbiblical, lack of financial accountability. This is helped by British financial legislation that enables a limited company to declare bankruptcy leaving creditors with little or nothing by way of payment and no comeback on the directors of the company, who in some cases soon start up again trading with a new company.
There is one notorious case of a man currently active in Christian music management in Leeds whose two previous Christian music companies went bust leaving creditors unpaid to the tune of thousands of pounds. Legal it may be but such practices do not marry up with a Kingdom where justice is supposed to be actively pursued.
In the last two years the UK Christian music business has seen promoters going bust owing large sums of money and at the same time putting major pressures on other ministries whom they can't pay. The ends do not justify the means. What's the sense in promoting a concert or festival to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and leave a wake of hurting people in the process? Why am I majoring on finance in terms of 'spiritual militancy'? The reason is that it is in the area of finance that I've seen the body of Christ carve itself up most effectively. My wife Kerry and I undergird Cross Rhythms financially through our business at Cornerstone House. Our property is always on the line to underwrite our debts. That is the way it should be. If you're not prepared to pay for what you believe God has told you to do, why should somebody else suffer and pick up the burden because you've heard incorrectly, or initiated something prematurely?
On a personal level, I have endeavoured to work with Crossfire festival which currently owes just under £20,000 to Christians and non-Christians alike. Over many months I endeavoured to put some form of financial rescue package together. Finally, and with sadness, I have had to put on hold Cross Rhythms' planned association with Crossfire. The reason for this was because there were within Crossfire those who struggled in trusting my intentions in restructuring the board of management. To be absolutely fair to the current directors, they haven't created the debt and do need as much support as is reasonable to expect. I have now come to a point where I've asked certain leaders in Liverpool to pray and discern whether it is right that we even continue to help Crossfire. Cross Rhythms isn't a 'driven' ministry. I am not into empire building, but I do want to see the Kingdom of God built. If God closes the door on our involvement with Crossfire then that is as much an answer as an open door. My advice, however, to Crossfire, is to get their finances sorted out before they even think of putting on another festival. If Crossfire is ever to regain credibility a financial rescue package by someone will have to be mounted. Nothing will destroy a ministry quicker than bad financial management. You can't tell people that you love them and not pay your bills. It is absolutely hypocritical. That doesn't mean you can't make mistakes and get into debt, but when this happens we must at least own the responsibility for our mistakes with humility and contriteness and make the paying of our bills the absolute priority.
Cross Rhythms has been on the receiving end of unpaid bills, usually for advertising. It's not the amount that is the issue, but the principle. There are artists who have met with the Cross Rhythms team at Greenbelt, shared with us, but never mentioned that we are regularly sending them stereotyped letters chasing unpaid bills! There is a national gospel music ministry which has organised annual awards to the Christian music industry but leaves a relatively small bill to Cross Rhythms unpaid. And there was recently a classic example of a contemporary 'art' ministry having left a Cross Rhythms bill unpaid for three years, pontificating in some other publication about the integrity and value of their artistic ministry! My response has to be, 'Come on guys, get real.' You simply haven't got an effective ministry if you haven't got character. When we took over Cross Rhythms magazine, Tony Cummings was some £40,000 in debt launching the magazine. He'd lost his house and was in a real valley experience. With all credit to Tony and Maxine we have helped them restructure the debts which have been payed, rescheduled or re-negotiated. Tony didn't hide behind personal bankruptcy or hypocritical spiritual talk. He faced his obligations and I would warrant will have an ever more effective ministry. He recently got a letter back, after paying some money to a non-Christian creditor, which said that the payment had restored the creditor's "faith in human nature". Now you may question the dear man's theology, but clearly his response demonstrates that a sacrificial action in paying off old debts can speak a lot more than mere religious talk.
The Lord has seemingly given Cross Rhythms a mandate to critique Britain's Christian music world. Now that's not a task we take lightly. The yeast of the Pharisee can contaminate any of us and a zealous passion for truth and justice can so easily mutate into shrill judgmentalism. But we will continue to campaign, behind-the-scenes and sometimes on-the-page for accountability and scrupulous honesty in Christian music. Without this militancy being demonstrated throughout the length and breadth of the Christian music scene -artists and record companies, festival organisers and promoters are simply building with straw.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
Chris and Kerry speak at a number of national conferences on Christian lifestyle, marriage and culture.
View all articles by Chris Cole FRSA