In many situations we see that innovation comes from facing impossible obstacles. In some cases it’s even watching something come from basically nothing. That’s the story of hip-hop’s humble beginnings. I recently was reading a book called “IT” by Craig Groeschel and I had one of those epiphany type moments. It talked about the old saying “Where God guides he provides”. He challenged that and reworked it and said, “Where God doesn’t provide, he guides.” You may have to read that a few times and let that soak in. I did. But, then it clicked and it made so much sense as that’s so much of my story and for some of you innovators reading this – I’d guess it’s part of your story too.
You still may not get it, so let me break it down some more. When it comes to doing music, or ministry, or business there are certain things that we think we need in place in order to be successful and really make the impact that we think we’re supposed to. God gives us a vision and then he gives us the provision, right? Well, yes he absolutely always provides, but many times not in the way that we think he would or he should. We get the vision and then we think – okay now God will send the investors or the record label or the right hook up and then it seems none of those things are happening the way we thought they were going to. This is actually a great place to be because then God can use us to begin to innovate and do some things we would have missed if everything had lined up in the first place. It’s funny because a lot of times the end result ends up being much greater than if we would have had all the resources from the jump.
In Acts chapter 3 there was an incredible miracle that took place. There was a crippled dude that was begging at the temple gate called Beautiful. He had dibbs on this prime spot. Everyday he went there and held down his spot to get some money just so he could eat. The day that Acts 3 describes was just another usual day where he got carried by some of his people to his same old spot and was anticipating getting some spare change so he could get some food like he always did. The truth is he was about to get something he only dreamed about. When he saw Peter and John about to enter he asked them for some money. We all know how it can feel awkward when someone we don’t know is asking us for money. Even if we have it, we don’t know what they’re going to do with it, but many people feel guilty and just give it to them anyways.
Here’s where we see a lack of resources bring something so much greater. If Peter and John would have had some change with them they may have just gave to the beggar and quickly moved on and entered the temple to pray. But, they didn’t have anything. Acts 3:4 says, “Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk.” If they would have had some money, they might have missed that! If the beggar would have got what he was asking for he might have never been walking again. Sometimes our temporary lack of something might be the biggest blessing we could ever imagine!
When I started doing hip-hop music over a decade ago I had just moved to Florida and I didn’t know anyone that made beats. There wasn’t the network of beat makers that we have in the Christian hip-hop community today. God had given me this vision to do hip-hop for him and I initially thought some record label would have to come along and hook me up. I was so clueless about the music industry and the process of even making music. No label came along, but soon I met some brothers in Christ that had a similar mindset and they wanted to help me get my first project started. My man Johnny Jamz offered me his studio and his boy Marty (S.W.N.) offered to make some beats. The studio basically consisted of a Roland keyboard with a sampler, a four track, one turntable and a tape deck. It wasn’t much to work with, but that didn’t stop us. Innovation was born. We didn’t even have a drum machine (the one on the keyboard was cheese!), but we started sampling beats and chopping them up and adding baselines and other samples. I even broke out my trumpet and we sampled it for one of the choruses.
We didn’t let our lack of resources stop us. We were hungry. We learned, we got creative and we stretched ourselves. After 6 months of hitting it hard we had a final product and I scrapped up enough money to press up 300 cassette tapes (that was the lowest quantity they pressed up). In just a few months I sold all of them and took the money and jumped back in the studio to make 3 remixes and a new track. We added that to the project and pressed up 500 CD’s and 500 more cassettes. As things developed we watched God provide ministry opportunities left and right. Two years later I put out my 2nd independent release and continued to grow as an artist and minister. Eventually I got signed to a few different labels and I’ve been humbled to put out 4 nationally distributed projects and have been able to travel around the world and impact countless people with the gospel. The vision literally unfolded… but in natural eyes over 10 years ago I could have looked at that ill-equipped studio that I started in and thought… “This is never going anywhere”.
When we face those walls in front of us we have a choice to either quit or innovate. Church planting has had resurgence in the U.S. over the past few years. Lots of great resources, conferences and networks have been formed to help church planters be successful. These are great things that have helped change many lives and bring many new people to a relationship with Christ. But, sometimes we can rely too much on the stuff. Look at the first New Testament church in Jerusalem in the book of Acts. They didn’t have a building, a full time paid staff, multi-media, a great worship team or any of the things we think we need to have a successful church. But, yet that church grew thousands in just one day on several occasions. Scholars actually say that by the end of the book of acts (about 25 years later) the church in Jerusalem had close to 100,000 people that were a part of it. Historians estimate that Jerusalem’s population was around 200,000 people at that time. That means nearly half of the city was part of this church! They literally rocked their city! It was a true move of God! There had to be a lot of real innovation happening for that to take place.
We can argue some good points of how things are different today in our culture versus when the church in Jerusalem sparked off. But, we can still look at some real models of innovation in America and overseas where we see God showing up in a huge way and it doesn’t seem to make sense. There are many ministries I know across the country and around the world that don’t have all the stuff and they are doing it big for God’s kingdom! Then there are also some big ministries that have all the stuff and it seems over time they’ve become less and less innovative and less and less effective. Real innovators, real leaders and real Christ followers don’t let obstacles get in their way. They don’t always play it safe – they take risks.
I’m privileged to lead a group of innovators in Tampa, Florida that are part of Crossover Church. Several years ago God gave us this vision to focus on those influenced by urban/hip-hop culture. There were a lot of questions, a lot of doubts and a lot of obstacles. But, that didn’t stop us. We didn’t have much money, much experience or any model to follow. But God used those things to drive us harder to seek him, seek wisdom from others and to dig deep in ourselves and discover some new things. Let me warn you that when you innovate there will be critics, naysayers and doubters… aka haters. Over the years there were several people that said our ministry wouldn’t last and couldn’t ever grow and wasn’t a real church, etc, etc. You have to be careful to the voices that you listen to. The wrong voices have stopped many innovators in their tracks. You have to make sure you’re truly tuned into God’s spirit guiding and directing you. Innovation isn’t an easy road and it can be real easy to get discouraged. Not everyone is going to agree with your approach, but you have to learn that’s reality. A very funny guy named Bill Cosby once said, “I don’t know the key to success, but I know the key to failure is trying to please everyone.” People will hate on you no matter what your doing or how big or small it is. One of my mentors Rick Warren said, “When you’re small, they’ll dismiss you; when you’re growing, they’ll criticize you; and when you’re large, they’ll resent you. So ignore ‘them’ and get on with whatever God has told you to do!”
We’ve learned over the years to listen to His voice and get on with what He’s called us to do. One of our biggest assets at Crossover Church is freedom. Our church is full of creative people that are all for seeing people come to Christ and get discipled. That’s so important to us as we are constantly innovating and doing things out of the box to reach the culture. Our people love that. We are continually giving our people platforms to use their gifts and talents to further God’s kingdom. This also creates another huge asset – ownership. We have a great base of volunteers that donate countless hours to various things that take place at and from our faith community. Our unique approach of reaching the urban culture has lead us to be recognized by Outreach Magazine as one of America’s most innovative churches and even receive an award at the Innovate Conference as the Innovative Church of the year. It’s been humbling to be listed next to many incredible leaders and great churches that we look up to and learn from. Crossover was probably the smallest church on the Innovative list as most were mega-churches. But, that goes to show that you don’t have to be huge or have a lot of resources to be innovative and do things in excellence. Our team takes the Kingdom mindset, and being that it’s for God – they go all out! They make incredible sacrifices with their time, talent and finances to be part of things. The fruit keeps us going as we watch true transformation in people’s lives.
As you’re finishing up this article I pray that the light is turning on for you. Maybe you’re just like us in that you don’t have everything you think you need. But, now you’re being encouraged that you can push through and innovate and watch God provide and do miracles. Right now you have exactly what you need to do what God has called you to do right now – open your eyes and look for it and innovate!
This magazine you’re holding in your hands is yet another example of innovation. People would look at the quality and excellence and assume that we have lots of resources and a full time staff. Several companies and events have approached us to sponsor their events for large sums of money as they think we’re “rollin’ like that.” The truth is everyone that is a part of the S.O.U.LMAG team is a volunteer – from writers, to editors, to photographers, to designers… at this point, nobody gets paid a penny! The money that we generate from ad sales and sales of the magazine go for the printing as it’s quite expensive being that we don’t cut corners on quality. Reaching people is our motivation – not money. Sometimes there will be seasons of profit and other times the profit is just simply the fruit. When you have your priorities and motivation in the right place you can watch God show up and do some amazing things. I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone, take some risks and trust Him and watch Him make something out of nothing.
Tommy Kyllonen aka Urban D.
(From S.O.U.LMAG issue #14)