A few weeks ago, I was minding someone else’s business on Facebook when I stumbled upon the trailer for Oxygen’s new series, Preachers of Atlanta. I was immediately intrigued because I watched Preachers of LA (seasons 1 AND 2) and, for the most part, I actually enjoyed the show. But, if I’m honest, some aspects of it left me a little rattled. While the rattling didn't shake my faith, I did wonder if it did more harm than good to those who might not already be believers. If nothing else, the comments sections in the blogosphere and the sentiments expressed by noted faith figures like Kirk Franklin and T.D. Jakes proved that at least some in the Christian community quite frankly weren’t feeling 'the Preachers'.
But, somehow, we’ve got yet ANOTHER “Preachers” series on the horizon; and it just so happens to be based in my beloved hometown. (*Screams, "F.I.L.A.!!!!"*)
As I became curious about the pastors involved in this edition, I nervously watched the skillfully edited preview to see if any of my old pastors would pop up. None did. (Whew!) I was relieved! I couldn't fathom the homies Kirk and T.D. potentially dragging someone I actually knew!
But my jaw dropped as one of my long-time favorite Christian hip-hop artists, Canton Jones, appeared on the screen. For a moment I really needed Jesus to take the wheel, be a fence and hold my mule! “No! Not Canton,” I screamed internally. “Noooo JEEBUSSSSS!” (*Cue dramatic faint*)
Yet, after I regained consciousness, I reflected on what I know about Canton. I concluded that, surely, if he is involved in the “Preachers” series, he certainly has a good reason.
In the interest of full disclosure: I’ve been a Canton Jones fan since 2002, when I first gave my life to Christ and when he released his debut album, The Password. I was a newbie to the faith and his music spoke to my spirit. As my personality went, I was pretty rough around the edges (still kinda am). So I couldn't help but appreciate a song like, "Stay Saved", which details the day in the life of a Christian making the conscious effort to hold his peace, despite being repeatedly provoked to "pop off". I found Canton's music refreshingly relatable and honest for someone like ME. It didn’t make me feel like I had to be super religious or have it all together to boldly profess that I, too, was a child of God. I would later interview Canton for another publication in 2005 - I found him to be just as cool, honest and real as his music. Even now, his three most recent albums in my Spotify library all reaffirm he's a pretty solid dude in the faith.
But the man's done decided to do a show that some in our community strongly believe "turn people away from God"!
I recently caught up with Canton to get a firsthand update on his ministry and how, on earth, he took the leap into reality television. Doesn't he know what folks are gonna say? Or, does he even care?
Here's what he told me.
T+F: People, especially the church, can be pretty critical of reality TV and anything they may consider “worldly”. Why did you decide to get involved with Preachers of Atlanta, and what led you to this opportunity?
CJ: Actually, a friend of mine was getting ready to do [the show], but I was like, "Ehhhh?" I was praying about it. But when they came to me and we did the interview with the production team, we felt comfortable about it. We prayed about it and God gave us the 'GO'. Of course, I [also] had to talk to my mom and to my wife. But we felt at peace about it. We understand the controversy that’s gone on in the past with the other series, but I really feel people are going to be pleasantly surprised about this series.
T+F: When it comes to your music, you’re pretty unorthodox. [Speaking on topics like prostitution, drug use, etc.] Most people would say gospel music today is too worldly…do you believe there's such a thing?
CJ: No...never. It’s never too “worldly” as long as the content is based on the Word of God and how it sounds is based on what God gave you. It’s amazing that when you’re trying [different approaches] to get people saved - and there are so many people out there that are unsaved - because [doing] the same thing is not working, you get condemned by those people who are supposed to be on your side. But we really don’t pay attention to that. We kinda just keep going. For a lot of the pastors who are my cast mates on Preachers of Atlanta, controversy may be new to them. But controversy isn’t new to me. I’ve been doing out of the box stuff since the beginning of my career. If God called you to be out of the box, you gotta just do what God’s telling you to do. Our music has blessed so many. Those who usually wouldn’t have listened to gospel music came in and listened to gospel music because of music like ours or music like Lecrae’s. So, we can’t really be moved by what other people say when God has told us to do something.
T+F: So tell me about Free Life, you new church. What can congregants expect when they visit and worship with you guys?
CJ: [Free Life’s] out of the box. It’s a Thursday church. We don’t do Sunday. It’s a really energetic atmosphere. Our praise and worship feels like a concert. When you come in, you will see maybe 10 to 20 young people - men and women of God - praying over beats. You’ll think you’re looking at a cypher, but you’re hearing people praying over instrumentals. That’s how we start our service – we start off really in prayer and going into the presence of God. Even before service we feed families that are trying to come in from different parts of the city that may not have an opportunity to get anything to eat when they’re trying to navigate through traffic. That’s just what we’ve been doing – it’s what God told us to do. So when you come, expect to hear a word from God. But also expect the anointing and the power of God to have an impact on you so that you can hear from God [directly]. That’s the main thing at Free Life. We want you to hear from God as an individual. We understand that God is going to tell me to do something specifically for my family, but it may not work for yours. So, you want to hear from God specifically for your situation so that He can help you navigate out of trouble. That’s what we teach.
T+F: You’re called to youth and young adults. What’s been the highlight of working with this demographic in your ministry?
CJ: Well, I’m called to the world. I’m not necessarily called to youth and young adults, it’s just that the approach is hip-hop. A lot of times in church, things that are unorthodox are always given to the youth and young adults. Step team…dance team….rap…etc. Hip hop, when we really look at it, is about 50 years old. There are 40 year-old rappers out here still doing it. We just cater to the body and the family as a whole, not just the youth. We have a lot of young marriages in [our church]. We have a lot of young kids. We also have some older adults coming in. One mom said she specifically came to bring her son, but she was being blessed on account of it. When you’re talking about the entire family you want to have something that caters to everyone, from [ages] zero to 100.
T+F: How would you say you’ve changed spiritually since the beginning of your career until now?
CJ: I’ve got such an insight on the Kingdom of God and what God wants me to do. At the beginning of my career I thought I was going to do music, and music only. I never saw myself as a Pastor. I told God, “Man, you’ve got to find somebody else to do that. I’m not into the suits and the hooping and hollering – that’s just not me.” I’m not putting that [style of preaching] down because I came up in that, but that’s not my thing. And God was like, “I didn’t call you to do that. But I did call you to [share] the Word like you’d give it for your generation.” I accepted that call…that call was on my life and I ran from it, but when I was finally obedient to the call, you wouldn’t believe how the flood gates started opening up. When I decided to say, “Lord, okay, I’m going to [open] the church. I’m gonna do it." - a week later Preachers of Atlanta called. That’s crazy! God started opening doors immediately. And these are doors I couldn’t have opened at all. Just be obedient to God and you’ll never know where you’ll end up.
T+F: You started very strongly in music and have your own label, CAJO Records. What’s coming up with that?
CJ: I have a solo record [that was released] on January 29th. It’s called I am Justice. I always name my records after my babies. [My wife and I] have a new son - he’s 6 months. His name is Justice, so this record has his name. He’s our 4th child – our LAST child! Part of our story is that we miscarried a child on Mother’s Day in 2014 and that was tough on us. We actually share that story on Preachers of Atlanta and give people insight on how difficult it was sometimes to walk through [faith] when the doctor is telling you that you shouldn’t try again and that we should be happy with three [children]. But we said, “No. God called us to do this thing again.” He wanted us to be fruitful and multiply. So we had Justice; and so I am Justice has a feel to the season I’m in right now. It’s very, very, very urban. It’s an urban, urban record. For those who’ve been following me since day one, it feels like The Password. There’s just a little bit more Word in there.
T+F: You are a pastor, a musician, a husband, father, mentor…now you're on television. How do you balance it all?
CJ: Man…scheduling! My wife manages my schedule and if it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t happen. She’s been doing this for years – she’s my “wife-ager”. She handles everything and she’s brilliant at that. She has such a passion for taking care of her family and her husband. She’s awesome. I can’t wait for the world to hear her sing, though. She’s so gifted. But she decided to take a step back and support me. She’s the puppet master and I always tell people to get with Mona - whatever she says goes. It’s made my career so easy. With busy seasons in your career communication is key. Sometimes when you’re away and you have to do certain things to support your career, but your wife isn’t involved, it can cause a strain on the marriage. But God has allowed and graced us to work together. Sometimes we’re with each other 24 hours a day, 7 days a week! I’ll look at her and ask, “Aye girl…you ain’t tired of me? If you ain’t tired of me, I ain’t tired of you!” It’s just cool to be friends and buddies...I get everything that I need out of my wife.
T+F: Any advice to those young in age, or young in their faith, who may be confused about pursuing God or feel lost or misunderstood in this whole “religion/faith” thing?
CJ: My advice is would be for them to seek God for themselves. So many people can give you advice about God, and some of it can lead you down the right path. But some of it can lead you down the wrong path because what worked for THEM may not work for YOU. That’s why it’s called faith. You have to step out on what God has spoken to you, specifically. My word today is 'walk by faith and not by sight'. Go by what God is speaking to your heart and not necessarily by what everyone else is doing. People may come against you for stepping outside of the box, but the Bible says, ‘a hundredfold cometh with persecution’. When you’re getting blessed and trying to change the world, there are going to be naysayers and people who talk about you. But you’re not doing it for them, you’re doing it for Him. Imagine if I hadn’t done what God called me to do in 2002 that encouraged you in your faith. We’ve got to extend the same thing to the next generation. We’ve got to tell them, “Yeah…I know this is a weird thing. But if God called you to do a praise dance on a hoverboard, then go for it. I ain’t getting up there. But you go ahead…we support you!”
And there you have it! Canton still seems like a solid dude to me, but I certainly acknowledge my potential for bias. Tune in to Preachers of Atlanta this season to assess (and hopefully be blessed by) Canton's ministry, and that of his cast mates, for yourself.
Oxygen’s “Preachers of Atlanta” premieres on Wednesday, February 3 at 10 PM ET.
Oxygen Media reimagines the network’s popular franchise and heads to The ATL with “Preachers of Atlanta.” Through the lens of five pastors with drastically different approaches to their ministry, the show explores many of the most hot-button and polarizing issues in America today. From passionate discussions surrounding the validity of unorthodox ministry methods to first-person accounts of the rippling and emotional effects of racial tensions with law enforcement, these unconventional preachers have no boundaries when it comes to tackling real issues that affect real people in their communities. The five preachers challenging the status quo are Pastor Corey Hambrick, Pastor Le’Andria Johnson, Pastor Canton Jones, Pastor Kimberly Jones-Pothier, and Pastor Judah Swilley. “Preachers of Atlanta” offers a fresh perspective on men and women of the cloth determined to meet people in their current circumstances in order to inspire a resurgence of faith. Their ministries include communicating spiritual messages through hip-hop lyrics and venturing into the neighborhoods of Atlanta to find those in need. The pastors are real, passionate, and unashamed in their transparency, using their imperfections and out-of-the-box ways to reach a new generation for God.