Kanye West is no stranger to the limelight. For years he’s produced hit singles while remaining a fixture in the entertainment industry and pop culture. So, when the wildly successful rapper suddenly changed career paths to focus on his faith and began touring the country with a gospel choir, many in the media (and in numerous Christian circles) were skeptical of his newfound beliefs.
Speculation, however, isn’t fact. And so, when I was presented with the opportunity to experience Kanye’s Sunday Service in person this past weekend to learn more about the enigma that is Mr. West, I eagerly accepted the invite.
Before I attended the service, though, I had the chance to sit down and talk with Adam Tyson, pastor of Placerita Bible Church in southern California.
Adam is a regular guy whose life took a dramatic turn when Kanye showed up at his church last year. It’s not an understatement to say that he has played an instrumental, if not vital role in discipling him during the course of their now weekly Bible studies. For the sake of brevity and Adam’s privacy, I won’t get into all the things we discussed, but suffice to say he’s one of the most humble, genuine Christ followers I’ve ever met. His singular focus is serving God and speaking truth from scripture no matter the circumstances or individual.
After meeting with Adam, I headed back to my hotel to get some sleep, as I was told I needed to get to the event venue early for a good seat.
It was 8:15 a.m. when I arrived at the LeConte Event Center in Pigeon Forge, TN, two full hours before the event began. Apparently, everyone else had the same idea, as I was one of 12,000 other people waiting to get in.
When the doors opened, the masses streamed into the auditorium, each hoping to get a seat close to the stage with the best view of Kanye.
After a few preliminaries (thanks, DJ Caleb), it was finally time for Kanye and the Sunday Service Choir to take the stage. One by one, clad in gray robes, chorale members emerged and took their places. Then, they began to sing. The audience began to murmur, somewhat confused. Where was Kanye? This event was about him, wasn’t it?
They say that actions speak louder than words, and in this case, they spoke volumes. In what can only have been an effort to ensure he received no individual attention or applause, Kanye had donned a robe and walked on stage with the group. Just another member of the team, no one special. If I hadn’t been just feet away, I wouldn’t have spotted him, which, was of course the entire point.
What followed, was a choral service for the ages, which included classics like “How Great Thou Art” and “Jesus Loves Me.” But the most powerful moments were throughout the song “Selah,” during which a crescendo (not unlike Handel’s Messiah) of hallelujahs brought a spirit-filled electricity to the room unlike anything I’ve ever experienced during a musical performance.
From my recollection, it was roughly 30 minutes before Kanye sang a single solo note.
Midway through the service, Adam Tyson stepped on stage to deliver a message about the prodigal son, imploring the audience that it’s never too late to come back home – and many did, some 400+ young people accepted Christ that morning.
And, just like that, two hours later, the service concluded. The choir, Kanye among them, filed off the stage, one by one.
I’m sure there are some who will say that this is solely about an egocentric, gold-digging celebrity, that nothing has really changed in his heart. I’m not one of them. For those in attendance this weekend, there was only one clear message and it wasn’t about Kanye: Jesus Is King.