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Carrie Underwood and Cece Winans Steal the Show at the 2021 ACM Awards: How Excellence Leads to Gospel Opportunities


The attention of the nation has been understandably fixed on the aftermath of Derek Chauvin’s trial and the jury’s verdict that he is guilty of all three charges. As such, other significant events in our culture have largely gone overlooked.

And while I’m not sure I would normally classify the Academy of Country Music Awards as an event of significance, this year’s show qualifies. The ACM made an effort to highlight diversity within their industry, tabbing Mickey Guyton as the first Black woman to co-host the awards show—she shared the evening’s duties with Keith Urban—and capping the night with a performance by the Brothers Osborne, whose lead singer came out as gay last year.

What struck me most, however, was that out of all the storylines and performances that defined the evening, it was the gospel music performance by Carrie Underwood and CeCe Winans from the former’s new album My Savior that stole the show by most accounts. (For more on the album, please read Minni Elkins’ excellent article.)

Now, I feel like I need to say upfront that I’m not a fan of country music. Maybe it was an act of rebellion after moving back to Texas in Junior High or perhaps it’s a character flaw I have yet to fully rectify, but the 2021 Academy of Country Music Awards was among the last things I expected to be writing about this week.

Underwood and Winans’ performance, however, goes beyond country music. The response it has received from various media and news outlets offers two important lessons for us to consider today.

Excellence is easy to appreciate

Some of the same outlets that praised Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s performance of “WAP” at the Grammys last month as “show stealing” and “incredible” described Underwood and Winans’ musical journey through the gospel message in similar terms. And after listening to the latter duo’s stirring performance, it’s easy to understand the appreciation it has garnered.

Both Underwood and Winans demonstrated remarkable vocal range and a clear passion for the songs they shared. Whether it was Carrie’s stirring acapella rendition of “Amazing Grace” or the duo’s collaboration on “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and “The Old Rugged Cross,” it would be difficult to deny the excellence of their performance, even for those who may not ordinarily have given a second thought to the content of what they sang.

But while few can replicate both women’s vocal brilliance, each of us can aspire to their commitment to using the unique set of gifts that God has granted us to the best of our ability and to the pursuit of his glory. Fortunately, that’s precisely what he asks of us.

You see, there is something about the pursuit of excellence that is easy for people to notice and appreciate, regardless of the context in which it occurs. Perhaps it is easier to recognize when it comes to music, athletics, or other more public displays, but the principle applies to our work, our relationships, and our personal pursuits as well.

We see this pattern displayed in the Bible throughout the course of Daniel’s life.

From the time he was brought to Babylon, Daniel’s commitment to excellence and fulfilling his God-given potential attracted the notice and praise of others. Whether it was as a young man with Nebuchadnezzar after he excelled in his training (Daniel 1) or toward the end of his life with Darius (Daniel 6), Daniel modeled Paul’s instruction to the Colossians: to treat every task and every facet of his life as an opportunity to serve God by pursuing excellence in his service to others (Colossians 3:23-24).

And while that unwavering commitment made enemies among those who looked on with jealousy, it also enabled him to share the message of God in ways that would have otherwise been impossible. That, in turn, leads us to our second point of consideration.

Excellence earns the opportunity to share the gospel

While Carrie Underwood and CeCe Winans are exceptional singers, the music industry is filled with gifted musicians and they would be among the first to tell you that there are others who can at least rival their vocal abilities. Yet, it’s difficult to see many others being given a platform at a secular award show to spend more than seven minutes singing hymns about the Lord.

Granted, country music tends to be a bit more open to lyrics that speak of God than many other genres, but it is still noteworthy that, on a night when they made a point of celebrating their diversity, the faith often seen at odds with certain elements of that diversity was given such a showcase.

Underwood, however, has spent the better part of two decades building a reputation as one of the industry’s brightest stars, winning sixteen ACM awards throughout her still-thriving career. She has also earned the respect of legends like Dolly Parton, who introduced the performance by saying “I have always admired Carrie’s incredible talent, but I am just as impressed with her personal qualities—compassion, kindness, generosity, and, most of all, the powerful faith that we both share.”

As such, she was given the freedom to “TAKE US TO CHURCH,” as the ACM Awards’ official Twitter account described it. And that’s just what she did, sharing the message of our need for God’s grace, the Lord’s unwavering faithfulness, and his offer of salvation through the gift of “The Old Rugged Cross” before concluding with a powerful invitation to celebrate his greatness.

Everyone who witnesses that performance walks away having encountered the gospel. They may not fully realize it, but the seeds have been planted for the Holy Spirit to work through those lyrics to help people encounter the Lord, perhaps for the first time. And it was her consistent commitment to excellence that earned her that opportunity.

What is your motivation?

A. W. Tozer once wrote that “It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. The motive is everything. Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act.”

If we will commit to serving the Lord in excellence, offering our best to him in recognition of the fact that he has offered his best to us, then there is no limit to what he can accomplish through our lives. And each day offers us a new opportunity to do just that.

What will God be able to accomplish through your life today?

Publication date: April 22, 2021

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Jason Kempin/Staff, Getty Images/Matt Winkelmeyer/Staff

Ryan Denison, PhD, is the Senior Editor for Theology at Denison Forum. Ryan writes The Daily Article every Friday and contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions. He holds a PhD in church history from BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. He’s authored The Path to Purpose, What Are My Spiritual Gifts?, How to Bless God by Blessing Others, 7 Deadly Sinsand has contributed writing or research to every Denison Forum book.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.

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