We recently appointed a Board of Reference to oversee Cross Rhythms magazine and the way we cover the international Christian music scene. We asked our board, Dave Markee, Mal Fletcher, Sue Rinaldi and ray and Nancy Goudie, to give us their views on the current state of the Christian music world.
Dave is senior pastor at Folleys End Church and is a renowned musician since his years with the Eric Clapton Band.
I got saved 20 years ago when the standard of Christian musicianship
and production was not as good as it is now. I am very encouraged that
the technical aspect has vastly improved since then but disappointed
in that most of the youngsters I've talked to lately say we Christians
are still playing catch up. They tell me that they don't buy loads of
Christian music because apart from P. O. D. and Delirious?, they
prefer to listen to secular
bands. Thinking about it, I don't know whether I've heard Christian music lately that is much different to anything the world is offering right now.
However, we still have great opportunity here, the possibilities are incredible. Music itself has undoubtedly been the most prolific prophetic vehicle in the last 40 odd years. Miles Munroe, in his foreword to my book, The Lost Glory, explains that when words and music are married together in song, they become the most effective and powerful containers of thought, which explains why the longest book in the Bible is a songbook. So in considering the question of the "state" of music composed by and for Christians, we need to be reminded that our music was given not purely for the purpose of entertainment or artistic endeavour or money making, it's intensely prophetic nature is the major part of its spiritual DNA and as such it is crucially important that we honour it's very nature.
Can we ask then if our artists and prophets are accurately picking up the thoughts of God towards the Church and the world as David did? Is the atmosphere in Christendom one of encouragement and facilitation or one of competition? Could one of our problems be a lack of fathering -where are the business men and women who would encourage and help to create an atmosphere in which our passionate and dedicated musicians are able to follow their high calling rather than be left to succumb to business pressures which inevitably silence their inherently prophetic voice in favour of record sales.
Practically speaking, I believe our music, like the Church, is in a "waiting" period right now, almost like a surfer waiting for another wave. I quote here from John Noble's report on the 2001 Charismatic Leaders Conference... "In his studies on Revival, Martin Robinson of the Bible Society talks of research conducted during the Wesleyan revival which showed three distinct stages, and real growth did not occur until the final stage. The first stage could be likened to a "Toronto" type outpouring of the Spirit, which shocked and shook the nominal church and produced enthusiastic followers but little actual growth. The second phase was renewal that affected the Church more deeply and moved across the denominations. The third stage was the overflow into society at large with effects felt in politics, the arts and education through such movements as the 'Clapham Sect'." He asks the question -'are we at stage three yet'?
Bible teacher and speaker Mal was one of the key pioneers of Youth Alive Australia before founding Next W@ve: International.
In the Christian music scene today there is a pressure to be politically correct. The problem is that we can't be politically correct and prophetic at the same time. There are times when the Christian musician needs to be addressing hard issues but there is a tendency for artists and the industry to be driven to sell units and this becomes an end in itself. There's nothing wrong with a market mentality as long as it doesn't dominate. Where it does dominate Christian artists miss their role to be a prophetic voice in our culture. Look at Daniel in the Bible. He was a man who received prophetic visions from God but also a man able to communicate in the culture in which he found himself. He was able to speak Babylonian.
Today we seemingly have people involved in the Christian record industry who are able to speak the modern equivalent of Babylonian but are no better reading the words on the wall than their secular equivalent. In the '70s, when Keith Green approached the head of his record company Sparrow Records, Billy Ray Hearn, and asked to be released from his record contract so he could give his albums away, Billy Ray was faced with a dilemma. He obviously didn't want to lose his best selling artist but he also recognised that if this was what God was putting on Keith's heart to do, he had better stand aside and let him do it.
Today in the Christian music industry there is far less freedom for any executive to make a decision like that. Most of the record companies are divisions of large secular multi-nationals and therefore the marketing thinking is bound to be different from a Christian mindset. Sometimes there is bound to be a conflict between what God wants and what the marketplace dictates. Jesus didn't always "sell". Dorothy Sayers observed that religious men hung Jesus on the cross because he was too dangerous to live. Overall, the problem is that we have a very flawed view of "success" in the Christian music world. We need to change the criteria on how we judge success.
Sue was once lead singer of NGM's pop chart group Heartbeat since when she has become a popular solo singer, worship leader and author.
Whilst watching a documentary on television, Melvyn Bragg commented how, "Art is a way of addressing the world. It crystallises feelings and emotions. It penetrates the imagination, belongs to the spiritual and promises glimpses of another world." As I listened to these words my heart leapt! I considered my own chosen field of music and song -and marvelled at the potential to open up the celestial to a searching humanity.
I am often facilitating Christians in a musical and creative expression of worship, usually within church culture. But that is only a part of my journey or my "calling" if you wish. I have always had the desire to write songs and encourage other songwriters to write songs that will lead "pre-Christians" to worship. These songs may never get played in a celebration or a worship conference but instead they will be heard on the radio, at the end of a Spielberg movie, in the bar, or during a meal at a neighbour's house blasting out from their CD player. Songs in the key of life! Songs of pain, songs of joy, songs that try to express the heart cry of a woman who feels anonymous, or a child who feels rejected, or a nation living with fear.
In the last few months I have had significant conversations with songwriters around the world who feel that they have been squeezed into using their gifts to only write songs for the Church to sing. As great and valuable as this is, there has been such an emphasis put on it that they have questioned whether this is the only avenue for their gifts and whether their dreams are even valid! I am picking up on a new zeal to begin engaging once more with the musicland of the world. These Levites are on the hunt for the new Levitical environments. Where will these environments be? In the dance clubs, the movie soundtracks, the bars and hotels, the radio and television, the beaches.....
Ray & Nancy Goudie
Ray and Nancy Goudie head up Bristol-based NGM, a key organisation involved in training Christians to engage in arts and media.
I believe God is stirring up the Church to do away with the unbiblical, sacred and secular divide. I believe more and more musicians who are Christians are getting clearer about who and where they want to be. They are artists who are salt and light in the music industry. Bands like Athlete and Ashton Lane and of course the amazing U2. Other musicians have a calling to lead people in worship, for example Matt Redman and Tim Hughes. There are also other musicians who are evangelists, who reach out with the Gospel through their music -The Tribe for instance.
Again, there are also other artists like Andy Hunter who deejays in clubs, as well as churches, and who has a passion to release the presence of God wherever he plays. I don't have space to unpack a lot of that, and I don't mean to box anyone in but to show the different emphasis that seems to be happening at present. I believe we need to release the creatives and not just see them as fodder for the so called "Christian scene" and all that entails. I take great encouragement that green shoots are beginning to emerge of musicians who are passionate for their art and for God, and are pioneering new ground.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.