The Rev. Darren A. Ferguson started in full-time ministry in Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem five years ago with the Reverend Dr. Calvin Butts, III. In 2001, he began a bimonthly hip hop worship service called Friday Night FLAYVA, an acronym for "Freedom, Love and Abundant Youth Victory Alliance." In 2004, he and hip hop artist Kurtis Blow collaborated on a Thursday night service, Hip Hop Church, at another church in Harlem. Ferguson also founded Luke 4:18 Ministries. Last year, Ferguson was called to serve as pastor at Mott Haven Reformed Church in the south Bronx, where Friday Night FLAYVA continues. He spoke with Beliefnet about the recently published Hip Hop Prayer Book and problems he sees with some elements of hip hop ministry.
Why did you begin your hip hop ministry?
Many of the teenagers in our congregation [were] saying that while they loved church, they loved the music and stuff, too often the church didn’t speak directly to their needs or address their circumstances.
What would people see and hear if they came to Friday Night FLAYVA?
In a lot of ways, it follows the model of a traditional church. We start off with some worship and praise. We praise God with the hip hop flow. We have our hip hop group, which is called Hell’s Most Wanted, perform during the service. The choir, which is called the Soldiers of Praise, performs and then we have a sermon. Usually this sermon is something that speaks directly to the sensibilities of the young people. For example, I preached a sermon based on the R. Kelly video, "Trapped in the Closet," and we use the scripture, you know, where Jesus said, "Anything done in darkness will be brought to the light." So, don’t get trapped in your own personal spiritual closets.
It’s been very successful. The altar calls at every service at Hip Hop Church and at Friday Night FLAYVA are moving. You can see that these young people are really bringing their pain to the altar.
These are kids who have been in gangs, who have turned their lives around, who are former high school dropouts who are now back in school and getting straight As. These are students who have lost parents to cancer. They lost parents to incarceration and almost lost themselves to incarceration and drugs and things on the street. And through this ministry and their own intestinal fortitude, these young people have made a comeback.
What do you think of the Hip Hop Prayer Book?
When I first started doing this, one of the things that we tried was responsive readings. I [tried] to paraphrase some of the scriptures into a more hip hop or hip language. And you know what I found out? They thought it was funny. When you’d be reading it, they would laugh.
When I talked to them about it, I said, "Well, what do you feel about this?" And they said, "Well, it’s the scriptures, why should you change it?" One of the young people said, "I read the NIV, the New International Version, because I can understand that better, but I don’t want to change the scriptures into the way I talk because that just doesn’t seem right." And doing it during service it felt uncomfortable. So, I have some issues with the Hip Hop Prayer Book because I think it cheapens the gospel.
What are some other phrases from the Hip Hop Prayer Book that trouble you?
The 23rd Psalm, which is one of my favorite portions of scriptures--he changed part of it to, "You allow me to chill... In the midst of my haters," as opposed to, "thou preparest the table for me in the presence of mine enemies." To me it cheapens the experience of that beautiful anointed work. It just brought it to a level that I don’t think anybody got out of it what was meant when David wrote it.
What do you think of hip hop Masses?
I think it’s a good thing inasmuch as it brings the gospel to a broader arena of individuals. However, with any hip hop ministry, and that includes my own, my critique is that you can’t do all this preaching and rapping and singing and hip hop homiletics without there being some real education involved. We need to have real Bible study and workshops.
These are going to be tax-paying, child-bearing, working citizens. They need to be able to understand the gospel from a "why" perspective. Hip hop [may] bring them into the faith, but our responsibility is to train them into who they are as young Christians, as opposed to being just "I’m a thug who goes to church."
Do you feel that hip hop ministry has been appropriated?
Well, yeah. In order to be an effective hip hop ambassador for Christ, you need to approach it from a place of sincerity. And some people approach it from [an] almost economic supply-and-demand type of thing: "Nobody else is doing it, so I want to be the one who does it and I want to use it not necessarily an evangelistic tool, but as a tool to fill the pews."
I don’t think that anything you do for God should be relegated to something that is just an attraction. It has to have some deep spiritual meaning. There has to be some healing. Any sincere ministry, any ministry that really holds Jesus Christ as the first and the beginning and the last and the reason, I believe that that ministry will thrive.
There are a lot of frustrated rappers out there--I’m not talking about anybody I know--who want to either resurrect their careers or create careers because they either have lost their relevance in mainstream hip hop or they don’t feel that they can make it in mainstream hip hop. My advice to them is this. Just remember what the song says: only what you do for Christ will last.