So what is Cross Rhythms actually trying to achieve? With this mag well into its seventh year it may seem a somewhat belated endeavour but here CHRIS COLE, the founder of the Cross Rhythms ministries, attempts to define what we are about.
A few weeks ago I sat in the offices of a senior Christian music industry executive who told me that Cross Rhythms magazine had an identity crisis. I agreed with him, but not for the reasons he stated.
To their credit this man and his record company colleagues genuinely believe in marketing contemporary Christian music in a professional manner in a still perilously small market and have been instrumental in keeping the fledgling CCM industry alive in Britain for many a long year. Now, of course, the CCM market place is at last experiencing growth. But, according to this executive, Cross Rhythms is failing to maximise ITS potential sales base. In his opinion, Cross Rhythms magazine is too wordy, heavy and musically diverse, resembling possibly Q magazine rather than the secular market leader Smash Hits. In the opinion of this executive, Cross Rhythms needs to be more glossy, lightweight and youth based. Leaving aside the commercial reality that a frothy, teen-based Cross Rhythms would be a mighty hard animal to sell at British CCM outlets in view of the fact that there is already a quality monthly glossy with lightweight coverage available FOR FREE in the UK, I think it is understandable that this executive wants a mag full of unchallenging teen-based coverage of CCM STARS. Big names sell magazines. Articles about grassroots ministries, articles on music history, reader's testimonies, features on "minority" musics and theological think pieces don't shift "product". But it is Cross Rhythms' depth of coverage which makes it unique in the world of Christian music magazines (for evidence of this see our growing number of US subscribers). And more importantly, Cross Rhythms' editorial coverage reveals the heart of the magazine. To explore spiritual implications at a deeper level.
In our small way we are endeavouring to chronicle the journey of a generation afflicted with an identity crisis who in some degree have found a lifeline in CCM that makes cultural sense out of their times. For them there is no appeal in shallow Christian consumerism and Christian music star hero worship. They are hungry for spiritual substance. Music, like drama, the visual arts, literature or any creative endeavour points to the Creator particularly when emanating from the Church. Being a Christian music supporter can be much more than merely a subcultural alternative to the world's obsession with entertainment. It CAN be a means of developing intimacy in worship, an openness to the prophetic in life, renewing zeal for social justice and increasing focus on the things above. If the Christian music scene is to fulfil this thrilling potential it requires a publication which will honesty and intelligently critique it. All of us at Cross Rhythms passionately believe in the power of CCM to be used as a radical tool of communication. In the best sense of the word, all the Cross Rhythms team are "fans" of CCM. But it is possible to be so focused on our particular subject that we miss the wood for the trees. Finally, the focus of Cross Rhythms is on the Creator, not the creativity.
For me, personally, the meeting with that executive was very useful because a final piece of the jig saw which makes up Cross Rhythms finally fell into place. After 14 years of working with CCM on radio; publishing a magazine; promoting festivals; pastoring a church; running a business and above all learning how to love God and my family, I came to a place where I can finally share this mission statement. Cross Rhythms isn't about promoting contemporary Christian music, it's about resourcing a generation with the tools of spiritual insight to authentically and sensitively communicate good news to a confused society groping in the dark of a post modern culture.
These are times of great insecurity, but also great opportunity. Dare I say it, but these are times of reformation. Over the past years Cross Rhythms has endeavoured to focus on the fathering heart of God. John 17 verse 3 states that "...this is eternal life that we may know the Father through Christ Jesus..." At our festival we have seen first hand through the ministry of Tony Fitzgerald, John Barr, Tom Brock, Louis Els and others the Holy Spirit endorsing the need for a generation to understand individually that the Christian faith is built upon the rock solid reality of relationship and personal responsibility. If any generation needs to capture the hope of genuine, strong yet gentle fathering and mothering it's this one. This fathering is not achieved through easy believism, by becoming another shallow Christian consumer, by dead evangelical orthodoxy or by any other means. It comes from submitting to the process of becoming sons and daughters through the indwelling Holy Spirit. This process is often achieved in the wilderness experiences of life. In a sense, Cross Rhythms is a living epistle. It was birthed in sacrifice and, sometimes, suffering. To this end the Cross Rhythms team have been encouraged and envisioned through relationships with a special breed of musical ministers such as Glenn and Wendy Kaiser, Tony Loeffler, Kevin Prosch and John Smith, individuals who really do "walk the talk". Sure, CCM is fun and we all need entertainment. But we have to be careful that we don't entertain to death ourselves and our friends in the Church. For alongside the sanctified dancing, roots music jigs and Christian headbanging there is also a pivotal need to maintain a vibrant, balanced and radical walk with God.
The move of God's Spirit in the western world today is decoding religious mindsets in leadership. Many a church leader is beginning to grasp that being a captain over 50 or a hundred or a thousand isn't where the life is. Position doesn't bring fulfilment. Saul's army of 30,000 men couldn't handle one giant and Israel stood in stunned fear as the Philistines taunted the ranks of Israel's army. Today in the western world, Goliath taunts the Church and in our secret places we tremble. David, an archetype of Jesus Christ, was personally delivered of a lion and a bear whilst protecting the sheep put into his care. Through that process of personal intimacy with God, David received the revelation of God's heart and desire for his nation. The rest as they say is history, though we must remember that history includes the persecution David endured through the jealousy of Saul after David killed Goliath. Lack of fulfilment will always produce envy and strife. Bad religious leadership will always persecute Kingdom principles. Today there are religious traditionalists still denouncing sanctified dance or the rock 'n' roll beat as worldly or Satanic. And there are even more saddening examples. However aware we may be of the excesses of charismatic immaturity, surely church leaders faced with the news that 5,000 churches of all traditions have been impacted by the "Toronto Blessing", enabling structural change to take place between Christian leaders of differing traditions to start relating to each other as genuine disciples of Jesus Christ, can do more than launch into a raging debate about animal noises...
In Britain today I believe we need a language of the Kingdom of God not the powerlessness of organised religion which has lost the meaning for its existence. The best of contemporary Christian music carries with it an anointing of the Holy Spirit which God is using to discern the chasm of difference between religious formulae-ism and loving, intimate relationship with the Lord. Undergirding our religion, morals, philosophy and ethics is the constitution of love. God is love. When we begin to understand the journey of true love then we'll get a revelation on how to live. We'll be living authentically. And yes, love is not a feeling but a way of life which will take God the rest of our lives to perfect in us through the Grace of Jesus Christ.
I passionately believe that you can fall down under the touch of God's Holy Spirit for the next 30 years and never grow in spiritual stature because it is a life of biblical faith that requires, like David, a passion to put God's honour first, not our ambition, church or even our lives. To perfect that kind of maturity will require obedience and courage. To defeat the giants without we need to defeat the giants within - within our personal pilgrimage and the life of the Church. Love will give us a language of the heart in order to accomplish this reformation graciously.
A week after talking to that CCM executive friend, Gareth Littler, the managing director of UCB, and I prayed in his office in Stoke-on-Trent and God confirmed the relational integration of the Cross Rhythms and UCB ministries. Britain's first CCM radio station was to be UCB Cross Rhythms. An astonishing door had opened. Why did this miraculous opportunity occur? Perhaps it happened because we're not focused on contemporary Christian music but on something infinitely bigger and more fulfilling. As a result of this perhaps the Lord has led Cross Rhythms on a journey where now we will be able to steward something that larger CCM companies, with all their professionalism and expertise would approach in a different way. For we're aware that a Christian radio station, or for that matter a magazine or any other thing, can become idolatrous. Do pray that this doesn't happen with Cross Rhythms and we retain our vision and integrity. Our hearts are to build with all other ministries in a spirit of non-competitiveness and generosity. This is an issue of the Kingdom, not personal or corporate success. The stakes are too high for that. We need to fight the spiritual enemies of the Church, not each other. Are we big enough for the task? Let us pray we are and hope the next 14 years will be built upon the biblical reality of 1 John 2 verse 6, "...if you say you abide in Jesus Christ, then you must walk as He did..."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.