This post isn’t intended to be a real drilling down into one area so much as it’s something aimed more broadly at a number of interconnected issues.
I was listening to the Bad Christian podcast the other day, which is basically a show where three American guys (one’s a pastor, the other two are involved in various media industries, I think) get together for an hour and a half to talk honestly and authentically about whatever comes to their minds – having listened to about three shows now, I would highly recommend it!
But back to the point of this post – the other week they were doing an interview with Aaron Gillespie, whom some of you may know as part of the band Underoath, lead singer for The Almost, or as a solo artist producing mainstream worship albums. He’s a man who has done alright for himself in the music industry generally, and also in the Christian music industry.
But Aaron came on the show and said that he was leaving the Christian music industry (by this I mean Christian record labels and mainstream outlets, not that he’s stopping writing songs from a Christian perspective). I’m paraphrasing now, but he found the industry to be contrived, saying that you can’t be a genuine, flawed person and make Christian music. You need to be perfect so that people can look up to you, and take hope from your songs. Aaron argued, however, the a song would be more hopeful if it was clearly written by a broken person who is relying on the grace of God.
Another key reason that he wanted to get out of the industry was that he was uncomfortable with the business side of it. He felt that the record companies were just looking for the next hit, which is fine for a record company, but not great for producing real worship music. He said that record labels would ask artists to write songs aimed at specific people, to make them feel a certain way, just so that they could target the right demographics. He said that it didn’t feel honest.
One quote that struck me was this: “Christian music should be insane […] the music that we make to [God’s] glory should be full of soul and full of art, and most importantly, be genuine.” Taking art and making it into a saleable package is never going to end well, but add in Christianity, and you get a real mess.
I don’t know what I think about the Christian music industry. I don’t know it at all as an insider, and I can say that I have been profoundly affected by songs that would be considered mainstream Christian music, though I would say that the most powerful songs do tend to come from bands made up of Christians who do more of their own thing. I’ll leave this here for you to think about, and if you have a point to share, please do feel free to leave it in the comments so that everyone else can engage with it!
The points that I do want to engage with are those that relate to Christian musicians setting an example. The crux of the matter, for me, is that it is true that there are some Christians who are called to set a more visible example for others – Paul makes it clear in his letters in the Bible that people in a position of authority in the church need to be very careful in how they live and in the example they set – but should Christian musicians be included in this bracket?
Part of me wants to disagree with Aaron, and say that, as public figures who are perceived as authoritative because of the types of songs that they sing, Christian musicians do need to set an example in the same way that church leaders do. Like it or not, people do look up to them, and if they are going out drinking too much, or sleeping around, other Christians may feel like it’s not so bad if they do the same.
But at the same time, I hesitate to say that Christian musicians should be regarded in the same bracket as leaders within the life of the church. It’s one thing if they’re a worship pastor who is involved in teaching and ministry, but if you’re just a Christian who is trying to worship God honestly with your music, then having that pressure on your life is unlikely to be helpful for anyone, least of all you.
As Aaron said in the podcast, music that is dishonest, and doesn’t come from a place of true worship, isn’t really worth making. If musicians feel like they have to put on a front in order to appear a certain way in front of their audience, who are they really helping? They’re not helping their audience, because they’re deceiving those people, and they’re not helping themselves, because they’re not allowing themselves to really let go and worship God.
I just want to add that I’m not writing this as a musician (I have zero musical talent, though I will very enthusiastically sing if given half the chance), but rather as someone who likes to listen to the music that these Christian musicians make. Music that is offered to God as honest worship is profoundly affecting, and one of my favourite things to listen to. I love it when I hear music made by a Christian and through their act of worship, I am also encouraged to worship, whether that’s the band playing on a Sunday, or an album I’m listening to on my phone.
For me, the key is authenticity. Jesus made it possible for us to worship God in spirit and in truth. There can’t be any dissembling or dishonesty in worship – worship is about giving God the glory that he is due, and praising him for all the amazing things that he’s done, and not being afraid to come before him as we really are.
If worship is the goal of Christian musicians, then whatever record label they’re recording for, whatever songs they’re singing, whatever venue they’re playing in, they will come closer to God and they will help other people draw closer. In that situation, I don’t care if they’re not perfect. I know that they’re not perfect because they’re humans, like me. But if they’re honest enough to be authentic in front of God, regardless of what other people think, then I believe that God will accept that, and if we have a problem with it, that’s our issue to deal with, not theirs.