ChristianityMusicToday.com published a summary of the current state of Christian Music. It is eye opening and painful to read for us in the industry. However, it's very important for us to know the truth so we can decide where to go from here.
Following Where Jesus Leads
GMA Music Week
April 15, 2009
It is a great honor to bring the last of the keynote
addresses here at GMA Music Week.
I still remember my first GMA experience 19 years ago. I wore a black fedora, backwards. A gold silk suit and black janitor
shoes, with chrome studs hammered all the way around the outside rim of the
shoes. And I wasn’t a young kid –
I was 33. I’d already been a
working artist for 15 years. I got
married when I was 18 and started figuring out how to make a living at
music. By the time I arrived at
GMA I had already recorded for A&M and Island Records, worked for CBS as a
songwriter, and toured as an opening act for a bunch of eighties bands you’ve
probably never heard of. I was the
rarest of birds back then. I was a
Christian who had been in “secular” music. There’s nothing unusual about that now. Most of you probably don’t even know
that part of my story. If you know
me at all, you’re probably saying: isn’t he the guy that wrote In The Light for
dcTalk? Or, didn’t he discover
Switchfoot? Or isn’t he the guy in
the Verizon commercial?
I think I’m here today because I’m
haunted by four questions? What
does it mean to be an artist? What
does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus?
What does it mean to the love the church through music? And what does it mean to create
winsome, imaginative music for the common good, for people outside the walls of
Recently I’ve written, and been
quoted as saying, that contemporary Christian music as we once knew it is
coming to an end. I do believe that. The modern worship music explosion, as
good as it was, was a game changer.
It put a dagger in the heart of music with lyrics that brought a
Christian worldview to bear on a diversity of subjects. That shouldn’t have happened. People kept calling worldview music
crossover, or secular, or watered down, or vague. The problem was that many people couldn’t tell what was
Christian about the lyrics because they hadn’t learned to think Christianly
about the whole of life. As a
result, worldview music went into the world to be heard. Now there are a hundred artists of
faith having a huge impact on popular music – you know their names. Ten years
ago when that music began to exit the Gospel music community, you could hear
many fans and gatekeepers cheering, finally they said, the Gospel music
industry is getting back to faithfulness, and phrases like “core business” or
“your base audience” were on the tips of tongues at record companies, radio,
Today, there are new game-changers
like the economy, and a 50% drop in CD sales. Gospel music’s small group of genre superstars are waning in
sales and public interest – names that the GMA has depended on to magnetize the
music, to promote the genre. Their replacement crew is even smaller, and
there’s no strong indication that the rockets of the new guys will even burn as
long as their predecessors. So yes, I think we are at the end of an era. But I
don’t see it as cause for panic or pessimism, or dismissing good work when we
see it and hear it. It is an
opportunity for course correction though, for fresh ideas, and new faithful
dreams for the music -- AND new dreams for the ways and means that people
encounter the music.
This is a critical, fresh moment in
America’s Gospel music history. I
wonder though, will history show that we trusted God for good to emerge and
prevail? Or will history show us
enslaved to the same old relentless metric of quantity, with no room for
quality? Will we, in this fresh
opportunity see that it doesn’t matter how many points you put up on the board.
If you still lose by God’s standards of success, you still lose.
All of us that care about music, and
its distribution to the church and the watching world, have to guard ourselves
from the extremes of oversimplification.
We always need to critique our work and cast a vision for what the
future may hold, BUT it has to be done with grace,
with charity, with an understanding of history, and most of all with love. Those in the church who pride
themselves on finding everything that’s wrong with Gospel music without
providing solutions, are just as misguided as anyone whose hysterical optimism
refuses to take a critical look. If we love Christ, his people, and the good
gift of music, then our stewardship demands that we speak out with an inspiring
vision for the future and not just words and deeds that are drenched in either
negativity or unfounded optimism. Truth telling is always in order. An absence
of faith, hope and love is not.
Now is the time for all of us to
lead Gospel music in new, revitalized ways. We need strong voices, leaders who
will give us radical hope in the face of inconceivable cultural change. We need
musical and business leaders of courage, wisdom and flexibility. What we don’t need is another
short-term vision of music designed to serve the young alone or the most
immature of believers. Instead, we need a vision for Gospel music that will
last the test of time, faltering economies, and new technologies. No
sustainable good can come from an industry with a past that cannot promise a
future. We can’t let ourselves ignore audience attrition or artist attrition just because there’s always a new crop
of baby Christians coming up, eager for a soundtrack to their new Christian
lives, impressed that there’s positive music safe for the whole family. THIS VISION IS TOO SMALL. Faithfulness demands more. Our people, the church of Jesus Christ,
the young, the old, all ages, deserve our best efforts in delivering into their
hands and hearts, a lyrically and musically comprehensive Gospel music. A music big enough, and beautiful
enough to deserve the name, Gospel.
What we want is a remarkable demonstration of the musical people of
God, everywhere and in everything, spiritually and artistically mature and
authentic, eager to proclaim the mighty works of God in the church and the
public square, for the good of the church, and for the common good of all. I
will not rest until this is the norm for the music created by Christians
everywhere, but especially here in America.
I love this country. America is a great nation, not in its
absence of faults, but in its presence of assets, not in its absence of
problems, but its presence of solutions. I believe that the Spirit of Wisdom working in the lives of Christian men and
women in America is no small thing. The spiritual and intellectual capital
of the millions of Americans that profess faith in Jesus is True Wealth. And
the faith, enthusiasm, and dreams of the people gathered in this room is no
small thing either. Achievements
count, but they are empty without the currency of God and the fame of Christ
crucified and risen. Jesus came
announcing the time has come. In the advancing kingdom, the time just keeps on
coming. It’s time for many things,
but most importantly, it’s time for faith, hope, and love. It’s time for
trusting that Jesus really does provide all that we need for life and
Something good is coming. It’s not
far off. It’s coming with a demonstration of God’s faithfulness to sustain his
church and to provide for its true needs, INCLUDING MUSIC. We so easily forget
these truths about who God is.
We lose the Jesus/kingdom story-line. Other stories come in, they
compete for our attention, and in our weakness we exchange faith, hope, and
love for something altogether different. But
Take Notice: These kinds of stories have no light, no brightness, no true
quality. All they want to do, is
to see that you and I are scared, faithless, unimaginative, and unproductive.
Stories with this motive have leaked out of the world and into our music and
our ways of getting out to people. They divide, fill us with fears, and shake
our foundation. But this is not the time to run scared. As I’ve been saying,
it’s a good time to remember Jesus and his words--his story. His message went
something like this: Don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or drink--or
about your body, what you’ll wear.
Remember: A follower of Jesus is one who
imagines, speaks, and acts the same whether in plenty or in want. Why? We
follow Jesus, not the money. Jesus holds the defining story for life – and HE
has all the resources to pull it off on our behalf. Like he said, we needn’t
I’ll say it again, this is the kind
of cultural moment that doesn’t come around that often. We’ve got to open up
the windows and let the wind blow through. It’s the right time for Christians
in the music industry to show through faith, hope, and love that they don’t
need a stellar economy and outdated music business models to make great music
to God’s glory. It’s time to focus
on Jesus, on what it means to be his kind of person in the world, and to use
the good imagination He gave us, fueled by the Holy Spirit of God. We’ve got some soul work to do though.
generation of Christian musicians think they are the only generation to come along and change the music for the
better, to rescue it from being “cheesy.” But you know what, tomorrow young
musicians will think that all music is dated and boring, and they will create
something THEY think is current and not cheesy, only to become someone else’s
version of cheesy ten years from now.
They’ll say things like: “We just wanna show people that you can be a
Christian and have fun, too.” Or,
“God has called us to change Gospel music, to show the world that not all
Christian musicians are irrelevant.”
Or, “We’re not gonna hit people over the head with the Bible. We’re not
Christian musicians; we’re musicians who are Christians.” Or, “We’re BOLD,
we’re totally sold out to Jesus. We don’t write vague, sugar-coated lyrics like
those other bands.” It won’t
matter what future generations say though if it’s all retread hubris, pride, and boasting like this. I’ve got good news for all of us. Jesus doesn’t need us to protect his
reputation. He’s protected his own
reputation just fine for 2000 years.
It’s his people, you and me, whose authenticity is vulnerable. Let’s
concern ourselves with asking whether we look like we’ve taken the word and
work of Jesus seriously – that it’s actually changed our lives.
Christian music has been a house divided for too long. One half the house is so good at
competing with the world musically -- so good at describing the human condition
in all its glory and shame. The
other is so good at creating well-crafted music for the church and describing
the goodness of God and his salvation through faith in Jesus. Yet each half, each group, is always
sniping at the other, and each group at their worst, is a parade of fools. It reminds me of the story in 1
Corinthians where one group claimed to follow Paul, the other Apollos. A house divided against itself cannot stand.
take that statement too far. True
Gospel music is not going anywhere.
You may fall, I may fall in this house divided. But Gospel music is not going anywhere.
you want to go where the music leads?
Then you’ve got to ask yourself some questions. Are you tired of
repeating history again and again as if you were the first to arrive on the
scene? There’s been a lot of
foolish, cyclical behavior in Gospel music over the last forty years. This must change – cease.
you tired of being a cliché? So
predictable? I hope so. It’s time for our musical community to
move from milk to solid food, from immaturity to maturity. It’s not about sacred or secular,
vertical or horizontal, modern worship or hymns, crossover or church, liberal
or conservative. This is the historical moment of the spiritual – now we will
deal in spiritual currency – people seeking God and a more beautiful, faithful
way of living that is holistic in scope – beyond pietism to a true
righteousness – the righteousness revealed in the person of Jesus. Not an American Christianity, left or
right, Republican or Democrat, but instead, an adoration of Jesus and his ways
of being human – his direction in being and doing, and reforming all things:
music and the arts, agriculture, business, education, politics, recreation,
communication, science – literally everything. It’s about being interested in what Jesus is interested in
and letting the music reflect those interests. It’s about following where Jesus leads.
he leading some to deal with the fallout from genocide in Darfur? Tell the story in song. Is he pointing you to the glory of his
Father, God of wonders? Tell the
story in song. Is he saving and
bringing back to life your neighbor’s sick child? Tell the story in song. Is he healing marriages in the sanctuaries of our
churches? Tell the story in song. Is he leading you toward good work,
giving you good things, food, laughter, baseball, sex, and marriage? Tell the story in song. Is Jesus present in the praises of his
people? Tell the story in
song. Is he alive and working
everywhere and in everything, in history past, present, and future? Then tell the story in song. This is Gospel music – the good news
that Jesus is redeeming all that he loves, people and place and the culture
he’s allowed and encouraged us to create.
There is no end to the creativity of God and there’s no corner of
reality that He is not the LORD over.
Gospel music is only truly faithful to the degree that it reflects this
of who God is and what He is doing, we can be sure that Gospel music is far
from being over.
Circumstances may change
But Gospel music is not going anywhere
The artists and songwriters
But Gospel music is not
The economy may contract and
But Gospel music is not
It may rise and fall in popularity
But Gospel music is not
It may be known by other
names and those names may wear out
But Gospel music is not
Believe with me, that right now
there is an army of gifted musical artists quietly praying to God in their
hearts, revealing their desires, saying: “Oh God, how can I not serve you? How
can I not live for you--make my music for you alone, everywhere and in
everything. Jesus, grant me this great privilege to be your kind of musical
person in this world, full of faith, hope and love for you, your people, and
for those who don’t yet know you. Oh, Spirit of the living God fill me, come
with power and wisdom and strength. Give me faith to take you at your word, to
ignore the stories that make me fearful, unimaginative and unproductive. Help
me to tell a musical story with my life that says I’m following you and nothing
else. And please Lord God, send me people to help me get my music out to the
church and to world for the common good of anyone, anywhere who would enjoy it,
and be moved to praise you because of it.”
can never, ever forget that the life, death, and resurrection of one man Jesus
Christ, inspired the greatest body of music and art the world has ever
known. Gospel music is not going anywhere but forward to the new heavens
and the new earth where all God’s people will sing together:
"Worthy is the Lamb,
who was slain,
to receive power and wealth
and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and
"To him who sits on the
throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and
glory and power,
for ever and ever!
Let’s pray as Jesus taught
us to pray:
Our Father, who art in
hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily
And forgive us our
as we forgive those who
trespass against us.
And lead us not into
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory. for ever and ever. Amen
Praise God, from Whom all
Praise Him, all creatures
Praise Him above, ye
Praise Father, Son, and Holy
BENEDICITON: I pray that the grace of our Lord Jesus
be yours today and in every waking day here on earth. May the Lord cause your love to increase and overflow for
each other. May he strengthen your
hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and
Father when our Lord Jesus comes.
May the God of peace, equip you with everything good for doing his will,
and may he work in all of us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to
whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.