Hello, my name is Kenneth Woods. If you’ve been following my career as a poet and spoken word artist, then you probably know me by my stage name KennyFresh. I wrote my first poem in 2008, but I’ve been actively participating in the Louisville art scene since 2011.
Throughout the years I’ve performed in a variety of places. From the KPA (formerly known as the Kentucky Center for The Arts), to various bars and churches. One thing that has remained the same throughout my decade-long journey as a spoken word artist is: my content. I tend to keep my poetry clean of profanity, inject my Christian worldview into my work, and hopefully leave my listeners feeling better after they’ve interacted with my work.
Due to the nature of my content, I am consistently called a “Christian poet.” I don’t mind it, but I think that being a Christian artist comes with a lot of misconceptions that I would like to put to rest.
First of all, people assume that Christian artists are consistently getting booked by churches. In my experience, that is simply not true. And by booking, I mean churches paying me a decent amount for my services. I did a voiceover poem for a church in December of 2021, but the last time a church booked me before that was in August of 2019.
Honestly, if I was waiting for the church to support my work, I would be hungry and unhoused. Matter of fact, I’ve had more churches hit me up for free performances in the past few years than I’ve had paid offers. Some folks seem shocked when I ask for an honorarium, but I don’t know why.
The Church is notorious for pimping the gifts of the creative. NOTE: I’m not talking about my home church. For me, it’s an honor and a privilege to serve my church with my gift. I’m talking about church folks who have heard of me or seen me perform and want me to do that for their congregations….without pay. I’m lowkey beefing with a particular church because two of its members have reached out to me within a 12 month period asking for free performances. Huh?! You want me to come perform for free in the middle of a pandemic??! What sense does that make?
People assume that the Church is a built in fan base for the faith based artist, but once again, that is simply not true in my experience. My work speaks to the Believer but I also don’t use too much Christianese to lose those who may not practice Christianity.
When it comes to Christian audiences, there is not a monolith but a varying spectrum of folks. There are Conservative, Progressive, Black, White, and other types of Christians. Christian can barely rally around the Scriptures, much less an artist. I mean, just look at Lecrae and how he is vilified by mostly Christians. The core audience that he started making music for turned around and tried to cancel him when they didn’t agree with his views.
The last misconception I want to debunk is the thought of being a full time Christian creative. Being a full time creative is hard enough, but when you add in the faith component, it becomes exponentially harder. When I first started doing poetry in the early 2010s, all the Christian poets who were popping were folks like Jackie Hill Perry, Preston Perry, Ezekiel, and many others. Fast forward to 2022, and all of those folks have moved on to other ventures. When I noticed that a couple of years ago, it was jarring and I was saddened. I don’t know that you can support yourself full time as a poet who is purely making content geared towards the church.
Contrary to popular belief, most of the money I make does not come from the church. There are other businesses and individuals that see what I’m doing and see the value in it. These folks don’t just shower me with compliments (I can’t eat or pay rent with those), but they go out of their way to share my content and speak my name in rooms that I’m not physically in. Being a full time artist consists of finding your tribe of supporters and supplying them with content so that they will in turn support you with their finances.
There are so many aspects to being a Christian artist, but I just wanted to touch on those three. Being a Christian artist is not easy. It’s a difficult route if you choose to only speak the lingo of the Believer. Yeah, the churches will love to throw you on their flyers and parade you around the church, but some are more likely to throw prayers and pronounce “blessings” over you instead of actually “blessing” your pockets. This isn’t every church, but you do have to know who you are dealing with when those inquiries come.
BONUS: I wanted to only touch on three misconceptions, but there is a fourth one that needs to be talked about and that is: your art is not separate from your business. Many Christian creators call their work a “ministry” as if it absolves them of the responsibility of running a business. The instant you create art or content, you become a business. Whether the business is profitable or not isn’t really up to God but how you navigate. There are a lot of Christians who are working multiple jobs when they could really be working one job and their craft. What if instead of giving free work or performances in order to “sow seeds” or “doing it for the Kingdom”, you monetized your gift? That $500 you need for an unexpected expense could be handled if you charged for that verse, design, or whatever your “ministry” is.
Here is another reason that you need to do good business: Jesus did good business. Folks act like if you are doing something for the Lord it ought to be free by default. Hmmmmm, but when I read the Scriptures I see that Jesus had a treasurer! Although the treasurer was skimming from the top, Jesus still had someone managing the finances of His ministry. Even though Jesus wasn’t charging for miracles, folks still donated and gave to Him. He wasn’t being fake humble like a lot of us, He accepted the gifts. Scripture says that wealthy women funded His mission! He didn’t say, “I can’t accept this, I’m doing it for my Father’s glory!” He didn’t point to the sky and say that’s all He needed. Nah! Jesus traveled, had a bunch of folks on the road with Him, and stayed at inns and such.
Here’s an ugly truth folks don’t want to talk about: the Kingdom needs funds. If earthly kingdoms and countries have an economy they depend on for the good of their citizens and the work that needs to get done, how much moreso does the heavenly Kingdom need? This is a case of over spiritualizing a very practical concept. I have a saying I picked up from another artist, “It’s hard to build the Kingdom with no coin.” The Bible also says to pay a worker his wages, so there’s that.
In conclusion, stand firm in your “no” and your price, because folk will throw the words “ministry” and “kingdom” at you to guilt you into providing free goods and services. I believe this is why many church singers leave that realm and switch over to R&B. You can’t sustain yourself or your family just off of prayers. The next time you see a local Christian creative doing their thing, instead of trying to figure out how to use them, how about you see how to help them further their careers and meet their needs with adequate funds? Art is one of those industries where folks will literally ask you to your face how much can they use you. That hurts in regular business dealings, but the pain goes even deeper when it’s from people that share your religious beliefs. Being a Christian artist isn’t for the weak, so make sure it’s what you feel like you should be doing before you commit to that label.