Christian music - is it a ministry or an industry? GLENN KAISER, senior pastor at Chicago's Jesus People USA and founder member of the Resurrection Band, digs deep.

Glenn Kaiser
Glenn Kaiser

I have few illusions about the possibility of a Utopian society. I have lived in actual, geological Christian community for nearly 25 years and any thoughts of "perfect" anything -other than God himself - have long been forsaken!

In fact, the American thinker and essayist Thoreau only lasted about two years in his own self-made Utopia. Interestingly, I have never heard anyone ask, "If life in the cabin on Walden Pond was as wonderful as he had us believing it was, why did he leave and never return to it?"

I love living in Christian community (Jesus People USA, Chicago), common purse, inner-city crime, rubbish in the streets, hurting people and all the rest. At the same time, I have never thought God called all believers to the exact lifestyle he called me to.

Having said all of this, I would ask the reader to think about the following opinion (mine): though industry and ministry are not absolutely incompatible, all of us lean toward one of the two.

As I have heard (and lived) horror stories about such problems as poor business practices, injustice, outright scams and various ongoing sin in the Christian music scene here in the "land of plenty", I look to Jesus and his word for solutions. And I continually find myself thinking about one of the absolute root causes of these and most problems. This cancer is found in all of us. It is SELF.

SELF dictates many (most?) of the far-reaching decisions made at executive and management levels in the business of the contemporary Christian music industry. Consider this:

Unless you live in a Third World situation - as an artist, manager, agent, recording company exec, sales rep or shopkeeper, you CHOOSE a basic standard of living. You seek to attain a particular set of living conditions. So you hire and fire, largely based on the i$$ue of the "bottom line".

The scope of this article does not allow me to unload reams of first-hand knowledge (not gossip, rumour or innuendo) of how a wife and her children are affected when a "Christian" label drops her husband... solely on the basis of sales. Did someone say, "ministry"? This, dear friends, is commerce.

Either the execs, board members, stockholders (SOMEONE) decides that "X" amount of money must be made; cash flow attained and such. In terms of a company, no money means no business OR ministry. Growth is a normal and acceptable goal. Stability has everything to do with good stewardship practices for the Christian businessman. I both understand and support this concept.

But next come the choices. How does one decide the appropriate car to drive, house to rent or buy, clothes to wear, leisure activities to pursue? At what point do "riches, worries and lust for other things" enter in and "choke" the fruit of the word out of Christian music?

I have neither the right nor desire to propose a specific lifestyle approach to others. Community is a calling and a personal choice I have followed. Not all Christians will or should live exactly as I. In fact, the Bible itself is rather silent when it comes to such specific guidelines. But what it does say is illuminating:-

"And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one (of them) claimed that anything belonging to him was his own' but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales, and lay them at the apostles' feet; and they would be distributed to each, as any had need." (Acts 4:32-35)

I know (and have known) quite a few people in Christian music. There are certainly artists who are gifted reprobates. There are also music industry businessmen who are truly regenerate, and live simple lifestyles for the sake of a lost world and Church in need of "teaching and admonishing". But it has been my experience that few artists drive BMWs and very few in the exec sphere drive cheapos. Few artists own their own homes, and fewer still seem to care. Per capita, I'd say the lion's share of the loot is being put into lifestyles that would certainly be called "comfortable" - and I'm not referring to the artists.

And I admit this as well: I am comfortable with a lot less than most, and am not in the very typical financial bind that most Christian artists find themselves in. What I do musically is sponsored by a sustained church body that simply supports its ministers and missions. In other words, I'm well aware that I'm blessed. I am also NOT suggesting that Resurrection Band nor Glenn Kaiser have been brutalised by a corrupt Christian music industry. Most of the foolishness of the CCM industry has not and will not affect us directly.

But this is NOT the case for 99 per cent of the Christian artists I know. It is for them and their families that I am becoming more vocal as I grow older. I am convinced it is time to write publicly about the core diseases that have infected the "Christian" music industry.

May God help us to pray, speak out when and how necessary, and to model lives of commitment, sacrifice and integrity to a church and a world in dire need of all three. If love and ministry is truly our aim, the target is certainly large enough to hit!

If the Kingdom of God is what Christian music is truly about, the "kingdom of self will have to go. If by "ministry" we mean "service", perhaps our individual comfort quotients will have to be surrendered to the Lordship of Christ along with everything else. Without such changes, a solvent "industry" may one day be all we have left.

As always, the Lord has the last word:

"...follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things." (Ecc 11:9)

"Love does no wrong to a neighbour; love therefore is the fulfilment of (the) law." (Rom 13:10) CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.