CUW education alum Josh Atkinson (’09) leads a unique music ministry at Milwaukee Lutheran High School—one that just dropped its fourth album.

By Dr. Michael Uden

Upon his graduation from Concordia University Wisconsin with a degree in education in 2009, Josh Atkinson was called by the Holy Spirit to commissioned ministry as a Lutheran educator … as well as a Christian hip-hop performer? Josh indicates that early in his service at his alma mater, Milwaukee Lutheran High School, he realized even more acutely the importance of developing authentic relationships as well as mutual trust and respect with the students he was serving. Recognizing the overwhelming popularity of the hip-hop musical genre among his students, Mr. Atkinson spent hours listening and mimicking Christian hip-hop artists so he could connect the Gospel message with a musical style that was most popular with the audience of students he wanted to reach.

In many ways, he was attempting to do something quite authentically Lutheran. Martin Luther, whose compositions included music borrowed from secular sources, recognized the impactful way music could affect youth. One legacy that can still be felt today is Luther’s belief that there must be a balance between a simple, accessible musical style and the use of the vernacular in the text. As he put it, “Both text and music, accentuation, melody and gait, must come from the true mother tongue and voice.” (Holman, 2018).

Beginning with the performance of a Christian hip-hop cover song during a chapel at Milwaukee Lutheran High School in 2016, Mr. Atkinson eventually began to write original Christian hip-hop music as well. That avocation not only gained the attention and admiration of many of his students but ignited an interest in them to participate in Christian music composition and performance. Within a few years, ATK Ministry, a 501(C)3 with a mission to share Jesus through music and the arts, was formed. Today the afterschool program of ATK Ministry mentors Milwaukee Lutheran High School students in hip-hop and contemporary gospel music composition, performance and production as well as in dance technique and performance.

IN THE NEWS: Josh Atkinson on CBS58

According to Josh, “The vision for ATK Ministry is to provide the appropriate tools and coaching to support the incredible artistic talents of the youth we serve. We seek to engage our youth with a high level of instruction, equipment and performance opportunities and, above all, to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them.”

Current Concordia University Wisconsin sophomores KaiJay Jiles and Za’Nadia Young are alumni of the ATK Ministry program and have had their original work featured on the organization’s professionally produced albums. ATK Ministry’s fourth album, 12.25, a Christmas collection, released yesterday. 12.25 is available for download through all of the major music streaming sites including iTunes and Spotify, and direct financial contributions can be made to ATK Ministry through its website.

I should like young people, who in any case should be instructed in music and in other proper arts, to have at their disposal something that will rid their minds of lascivious and sensual songs, and teach them instead something wholesome, and in their way they may become acquitted with goodness in a joyous manner, as benefits the young.

Martin Luther

Fans of Flame

Participating in the professional production of a studio album represents an amazing opportunity for Milwaukee Lutheran High School students involved in the ATK Ministry’s afterschool program, to be sure. Yet Christmas will also be “coming early” for these young musicians in another way.

Next week, current and alumni ATK Ministry student participants will engage with national Christian hip-hop artist Flame, CUW’s December commencement speaker. The artist, also known as Marcus Tyrone Gray, holds a MA from the Concordia Theological Seminary in St. Louis. As a confessional Lutheran since 2020, Flame has noted, “It wasn’t until I stumbled upon Lutheran thought that I discovered the treasure found in the liturgical and sacramental side of things.” According to the artist, Flame’s 2021 album release, Christ for You, was so named to reflect “the joy and freedom that I’ve found in the sacraments.”

During his time on the Mequon campus for the commencement service, Flame will host ATK Ministry for a private Q & A session and time of fellowship on Friday, December 16.  Their engaging discussion will focus upon the growing world of contemporary Christian music, all through a distinctly Lutheran lens.

Want in?

At CUW, our education programs focus on optimizing your abilities to serve students, schools, and the community through education. We develop well-rounded educational professionals that can teach and lead in rural and urban communities. With a Christian-centered focus, relevant curriculum, and engaging faculty you can play a meaningful role in the world of education.

—Dr. Michael Uden is Vice Provost of Student Enrollment and Engagement at Concordia University Wisconsin.