Radical Evangelism and Rock the River
A conversation with Canton Jones
April 16, 2009 - Singer, songwriter, producer and arranger Canton Jones is making waves in the music world, and along the river.
Interview by Bob Paulson, editor of Decision Magazine
On July 18, Jones will be performing his music when the Rock the River Tour debuts in Baton Rouge, La.
Although he has two Grammy Award nominations, a Stellar Award nomination, two Gospel Choice Awards and most recently a Dove Award nomination for urban album of the year, Jone is more focused on proclaiming the Good News of Christ.
Q: Tell us how you came to commit your life to Christ.
I was raised going to church—my mom and dad are devout Christians. As a young boy I had repeated a salvation prayer, but I never really followed Christ. I sang in church and knew what to do in front of my parents, but my heart wasn’t right.
When I went to college, I wanted to produce and perform mainstream music. I wanted the lights, the fame, the money, the women. I would tell people I wanted to make all this money and bring it back to the church. But I was just fooling myself about why I wanted to pursue hip-hop and that kind of lifestyle.
It didn’t go well. My girlfriend Ramona, another friend and I built a studio; it got broken into, and the thieves took all our stuff. I was always one meeting away from meeting the guy that was going to give me the break of my life. Plus, I got into trouble with a couple guys and spent some time in jail.
Even when I got out, I still didn’t get it—the fact that I needed to give my heart to Jesus Christ. Then our studio was broken into and robbed again. I was so discouraged, and I finally realized the problem was that my lifestyle was catching up with me, and I needed to get right with God.
Ramona and I had been living out of wedlock. We committed our lives to Christ and got married. I wanted to serve God with my music, but He told me the first thing to do was not to make a Christian album but to humble myself and join a church. At the church, I began to learn what it means to be a disciple of Christ. I joined the choir and the praise team and started to help the youth ministry with music.
Finally I felt God’s leading to pursue the music industry again, but this time to use the talents God had given me for His glory, not mine. I began to do hip-hop and R&P (rhythm and praise), with lyrics inspired by the Word of God. The music appeals to young people and to those who don’t know Jesus Christ.
Q: What particular spiritual needs do you see among young people today?
Many problems start because of children being raised in fatherless homes. Whether it’s a girl or a guy, you can tell the emptiness inside that comes from not having a man in the home. We may see the surface issues like drinking, smoking and premarital sex—and those are serious issues—but then we have to look at what the young person is being taught at home and where the father is.
All the time I hear teenagers say, “I’ve never met my dad, and my mom works all the time, so we raise ourselves. The people on the streets are my family.” And I encounter young people who have a lot of anger inside. My job is to tell them, “God loves you no matter what you’ve done wrong. He sent Jesus to die for your sins.”
Q: What do churches need to do to reach young people?
If you go to a restaurant and the waiter just brings you what he thinks you should have and makes you eat it, you won’t pay for it. You probably won’t even visit that place again. So when a young person comes in who has never been in church and has no idea what is done there, we need to talk to them and find out what problems they are facing. Before we tell them to pull their baggy pants up and take off their hats and earrings, we need to build a relationship with them.
If a person you respect tells you to do something, you’ll do it. If a person you don’t respect tells you to do the same thing, it’ll become rebellion on your part. So we’ve got to gain the respect of these kids—let them watch us live the Christian life and respect us and love us.
The world is willing to do anything to capture our young people. We have to be just as radical as the world, just as cutting-edge as the world, to compel them and keep them in the church.
Q: What burden has God put on your heart?
My burden is for the young people. I want to supply music both for kids we’re trying to win to Christ and for Christian teens, so they can be proud of representing Christ.
I’m like a bilingual type of guy. I have to know how to speak “street” and “teen,” and then I have to understand how the adults speak, so I can interpret one to the other. My ministry is like a bridge between the church and the streets, between the parents and the kids, between Christians and non-Christians.
Q: Rock the River fits that vision well, doesn’t it?
Young people love and respond to music. And the Bible says, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” and “He inhabits the praises of His people.” When praises go forth, the presence of God comes in the midst of the people, and they can be liberated by God as they hear His Word. Older people might just see a bunch of kids jumping around and sweating and screaming, but that’s the way young people praise God. So when Franklin comes to that podium and gives the Word of God, I feel like the atmosphere will be set—the Spirit of God will be there and souls will come to Christ.
I think my desire for young people and my desire to be radical when it comes to winning souls is a perfect fit for Rock the River, because it’s soul winning—it’s evangelism. The great thing about Rock the River is not the music, but when souls come to Christ at the end of the concert. That’s what it’s about.
For more about Canton Jones’ music and ministry, go to cajointernational.com.
Rock the River is an evangelistic effort to reach youth with the truth of God’s love. In each city, it is one day of nonstop music mixed with the Gospel message. For more information about this event, visit this page »