Are You Using the Right Bait?
Thinking beyond the music to your complete presentation of the Gospel
My Dad is the ultimate fisherman. He is very good at what he does. As a child I ate fish so often that I no longer like it. My Dad never tires of the sport or the eating. He has a boat that is the highlight of his summer. According to me a boat ride should end after an hour or when someone has to go to the bathroom, whichever comes first. A boat ride with my Dad lasts at least half the day. “A little bit of fishing” is an all day affair, and a fishing trip can last a whole week. Needless to say, my Dad is much more interested in fishing than I am. Dad does not care too much about music. He is happy as long as something country or soft rock plays when he turns on the radio in his truck. I, however, am intensely concerned with music and in particular the state of Christian music ministry. It would seem that my Dad and I don’t have much in common, except that my Savior often paralleled evangelism (one of the main goals of Christian music ministry) with fishing.
As a fisherman’s daughter, I have learned some valuable lessons that can be applied to my life as a Christian musician, band manager, and concert promoter. For example, different kinds of fish hang out in specific places at certain times of the year. Some fish like lakes; others prefer rivers. Some fish can only be caught during certain seasons while others like deep or shallower water. Who knew fish could be so fussy? So it’s important for my Dad to know ahead of time what kind of fish he will be trying to catch on any given day.
As fishers of men, and more specifically Christian musicians, we also need to be particularly adept at identifying the fish we are trying to catch. When a promoter books us for a show we need to ask who is expected to attend. Additionally, we need to research what events the promoter has done in the past and what events usually happen at the venue. The additional research is necessary because not all promoters use the same words to describe the same styles (i.e. what is hardcore to one person may be rock to another. “Punk kids” may be terminology used to describe teenagers in general or people younger than the promoter who like punk style music). We can check out the promoters and venue websites, talk to performers who have played the event previously, and attend similar events at the venue prior to playing.
My Dad has spent many hours each year of his life learning about the fish in every location so he can be the best possible fisherman. It is a fun hobby for him. As a fisher of men, I do the same, but my time spent doing research results in more effective ministry and more souls in heaven.
Dad has a toolbox (actually called a tackle box, but it looks exactly the same as a tool box). This box is full of different kinds and sizes of hooks, lures, sinkers, bobbers, and lines. He matches up the right hook, bait or lure, sinker, bobber, and line from this box with his favorite pole to catch whatever kind of fish is in the lake or stream he is fishing that day. The lack of a tool or the wrong combination of tools (tackle) does not result in a good day of fishing. Very few, if any fish are caught, and my Dad returns home very frustrated. When he fishes the same spot, he does not repeat the unsuccessful combination of tackle, but continues to try new methods until eventually Dad catches the fish.
As Christian musicians we expect results but grow increasingly frustrated with the slow growth of our ministries. Yet, we often continue to use the same combination of tools for every gig.
Let’s look at two of the tools in our tackle box. The fisherman’s hook is similar to the musical presentation of the Gospel. Christian musicians tend to focus on the hook—we perfect each song and put them in the appropriate order. When we “set the hook” (getting the hook caught in the fish’s mouth so they cannot escape) we hope someone in the audience will pray the salvation prayer. Fish will do what fish do—swimming, playing, and trying not to get eaten by bigger fish, so, most fish are not attracted at first by the hook. It takes a lure, or bait, to get fish interested in the hook. The purpose of bait is to attract the attention of fish; the hook is useless if they swim right by. So, my Dad uses warm, wiggly, fat worms; lures that are green, purple, yellow or red; moving, spinning, jumping flies. Good bait is so enticing that the fish cannot resist a nibble. Is your bait interesting enough to make people swallow the hook?
We all know of many pop singers who are not awesome singers, not great actors/actresses, and are not even very nice people, but they are great entertainers. For better or worse, they are interesting characters. Their lives seem to be full of strange details that make the headlines and front covers of pop magazines. They shock us, intrigue us, and even make us angry, but they are never boring. What about our stage presentation? Are we boring? Do we say we are a musician’s band and as such we do not have to pay attention to our look—just produce good music? Musicians are not the only fish in the water, but if musicians are the fish we are fishing for, are we the most interesting musician’s band around? If we do not claim to be a musician’s band, do we still produce a quality sound or are we musically boring? Bait becomes uninteresting when it repeats its own movements or is in a swarm of similar lures. What are we doing specifically to stand out from the crowd of the world’s bait?
The first challenge to each musician is
to reconsider your own personal appearance.
We do not all have to be extremely thin or muscular fashion models, but do you look interesting? Critique the video from your last show, and then look in the mirror. Does your look entice people to talk to you? If you saw yourself walking around a venue, would you be curious about your life? It is not necessary to be radically extreme, it is important to feel confident in how you look. Push the boundaries of what you would normally be willing to do but not to the point of feeling silly. Often only one or two minor improvements such as a hat that becomes your trademark, an outstanding shirt, handmade jewelry, or funky shoes will make a great difference. One or two unusual items can be great conversation starters during the initial awkward moments of meeting a new fan after a show. Much ministry can be done off stage, so be keenly aware of your body language and the look on your face, smile… laugh… be approachable and be interesting.
The second challenge for each band is
to check your stage presence.
Do you stand on stage without moving, looking bored with your own music? Watch the video from your last show and ask, “Is there anything about the band which would grab people’s attention, causing them to stop what they are doing, walk over to the stage and listen to you?” If not, how effective is your bait? What will you try to do differently at your next gig? Some performers have concentrated their bait on visual effects: outlandish costumes, actors and dancers, wild stage props, or an amazing array of lights and special effects. Others prefer to focus on verbal entertainment using the homespun simplicity of stories from the past, hilarious jokes, the latest band trivia, or heckling one another between songs. Throwing out free t-shirts and CDs to keep the audience attentive between songs never hurt either. When it comes to creativity on stage, we do not have to reinvent the wheel. Look through the history of music and art to glean ideas that can be updated and reinterpreted for today’s use. What was interesting to an audience in the past will not be as interesting today if it is strictly copied, but the past used as a springboard for ideas or with a new twist can be intriguing.
Becoming more effective at grabbing people’s attention to present the Gospel does not occur by continuing to do the same things. It may take several attempts to come up with an effective combination of bait and hook. So, the final challenge to all of us is to give grace to each other as we attempt new methods. Some will be too outlandish and some will be just plain silly. We will not all get it right on the first try, or even the tenth. But, my applause goes out to those of us who will continue to experiment, to try new ideas and methods, as we become the most effective music ministers possible.
This article actually ends here, but read on if you would like a funny story from my band’s past to illustrate the point.
The band played in the Gospel tent at a county fair one summer, typical venue for a Christian band. When we pulled up there were some older gentlemen on stage with their banjos and guitars. The average performers’ age was 50-60 and the average audience’s age was 60-70. Again, a typical audience for that venue, but my band was specifically asked to evangelize and entertain the younger people at the fair. We were not an ordinary band. We showed up in full medieval costume, and makeup. Our guitar player was sure we were in the wrong place and so was most of the audience. The promoter assured us we were not. She was prepared for a band sounding like Black Sabbath and looking like us.
We set up the lights and the smoke machine, the interpretive dancer got her props in order, and the band kids (dressed as princesses) passed out lyric sheets rolled up in scrolls. The audience was curious and stayed in the tent until the middle of the first song. On her way out, one lady tripped over a cord and unplugged the electronic drums. We will never know if that was intentional. The end of the second song left only the promoter in the Gospel tent to see our amazing show.
We decided to continue to play since we were there anyway, and the most incredible thing happened… by the end of the fourth song the whole Gospel tent was filled with people who were smoking and drinking beer. The promoter was delighted—it had never happened before—smoking, beer drinkers in the Gospel tent! Isn’t that who the gospel is for?
The next day the band was asked to play on a larger stage at the same county fair. We walked around the grounds prior to our set in full costume. I was repeatedly asked by little kids, “Are you a damsel in distress?” or, “Are you a princess?” To which I could respond, “No honey, I’m not in distress but I am the daughter of a King. My band is playing in a couple of minutes right over there. Come and see me if you can.” We played to a much larger audience, and most of the people stayed for the entire set. We ran out of lyric scrolls (our version of a gospel tract) and they were not littering the ground after the show.
Our bait was strange, yes. Our music was loud and unusual, especially for the Gospel tent. Our band look has been described as “way out there” by Christians and we frequently heard comments such as “They must be from California”—but we were not boring. We caught the fish’s attention and enticed them to nibble.
has a chapter called Define Your Ministry’s Mission that will help you define what God has called you to do. The rest of the book will help you focus your ministry to accomplish that specific mission.
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