The last few weeks have offered plenty of takes on both Kanye West’s new album, Jesus is King, and his newfound faith. Personally, I’ve found it refreshing to be reminded that the gospel is powerful and capable of transforming any life. Honestly, it feels kind of good to be optimistic.
As my social feeds are usually full of Christians arguing viciously about every possible detail of Christian belief, the simple proclamation of Jesus as King, characterized by so much of Kanye’s new message, is a palate-cleansing reminder of what matters most.
I don’t have much more to contribute about Kanye’s conversion than has already been said, but there is a part of Kanye’s story which I think hasn’t been given enough attention—at least not what it deserves. Kanye found a pastor. He has a pastor who knows his name, who can speak about his faith, and who has apparently been walking personally with him over the past months.
In October, Christianity Today published a profile of Kanye’s pastor, Adam Tyson. Tyson is not a celebrity. His church, Placerita Bible Church, has an average attendance of about 350 people. It is a primarily white church that often spends an hour expositing scripture each week. Search Adam’s name, and most of the photos show him in a conservative coat and tie. The church’s website could be any small church. The site currently has promotions for a women’s Christmas event and a dessert reception for a transitioning staff pastor. Adam’s Instagram has 877 followers. He hasn’t written a book nor appeared on any list of influential pastors. Adam seems to be like so many pastors I know.
But it was into Adam’s church that Kanye walked, invited there by an employee and friend. According to CT:
“After the service, they chatted for a few minutes and set up a meeting for a week later. They walked through the whole gospel, including passages such as John 3:16 and the Romans Road, concluding their conversation with a discussion that shifted away from justification and more toward sanctification, Tyson said.”
Tyson has also acknowledged that he didn’t initially know who Kanye was. In fact, when shaking Kanye’s hand after service in the church lobby, Tyson opened the conversation by asking, “I’m Pastor Tyson, what’s your name?”
Since that simple meeting, Adam has continued to walk with Kanye, helped lead bible studies with him, and spoken at his events.
Reading and listening to Adam recount those life-changing events, it struck me how un-innovative the whole process has been: a modest church service, an evangelistic explanation many believers learned as children, shaking hands in the church lobby, a coffee appointment, a bible study, and conversations about justification and sanctification.
Kanye found the gospel, but he also found a pastor.
A few weeks ago, I had the chance to talk with author Harold Senkbeil about his new book, The Care of Souls: Cultivating A Pastor’s Heart. We talked about the pastor as a physician of the soul. Like a doctor, a pastor takes the time to listen, to ask questions, to recognize challenges, and to walk with a patient back to wholeness. In our conversation, we noted how many Christians have never had the opportunity to have that kind of relationship with a pastor.
I wonder how many people have ever had a pastor who knew more than just their name—if that. How many people can walk into a church, talk to the pastor after service, schedule an appointment, and talk about their deepest personal struggles with faith? What struck me about Kanye’s story is the gift of a pastor with time and attention for that kind of relationship.
Everyone deserves a pastor.
In an age of leadership fascinations, staff delegations, scaling, and technological depersonalization, maybe the most culturally innovative ministry is the one in which a pastor attempts to know his flock personally. After all, the shepherd, by which we have inherited our work as shepherds, was willing to recognize the single missing sheep and to turn his attention to finding it.
Adam Tyson and Kanye West are a relationship few might have been able to predict. But who would have imagined Paul and Barnabas or Apollos with Priscilla and Aquila?
If you are a pastor, Kanye’s story should remind you of the dignity of your work. Small, unnoticed, and uninfluential are evaluations of this world. In the kingdom, this is the greatest work of all. This is what we do. We shepherd those God adds to our flock. We learn their names. We learn their stories. And we walk with them into greater faith.
It might not be a celebrity who walks through the doors of your church this Sunday, but it will be a person who needs a pastor.
“Before anything else, a church is a place where a person is named and greeted, whether implicitly or explicitly, in Jesus’s name.” — Eugene H. Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir