Since he posted this Open Letter on his Facebook page, broadcaster and journalist MIKE RIMMER has received an unprecedented response to his thoughts and feelings.
In the beginning, there was ministry. This Christian music was a radical opposition to the spirit of rock'n'roll and its worldly values. There wasn't an industry, there were individuals and bands so motivated by their faith in Jesus that they wanted to sing about him. They wanted to tell others about him and encourage believers to live more passionately for him.
For a while, Jesus became hip in the early '70s but in reality, record labels weren't interested. How were they going to sell this stuff? Record labels still worry about that! If we're honest, the true message of the Gospel is never going to be hip, it's never going to be cool. At least not if the message is communicated in a pure form and not sweetened, watered down or compromised to create a more "commercial" version.
So Christians who wanted to use music to communicate faith helped to build an alternative reality of labels and gigs and "happenings" and festivals to get their music out to a church audience. They played at church events and outreaches and recorded their low budget, generally artistically unsophisticated music and hit the road.
There was a time when Christian music was obviously "Christian" in its content. Artists and bands sang about Jesus and were unashamed to nail their colours to the mast. These were the days before the crossover where artists and bands decided to head into the mainstream yet forgot to take the cross with them when they crossed over.
I am glad that there are Christian artists working in mainstream music. But I'm disappointed that many times when I pick up their albums, I can't tell that they are Christians. There no longer seems to be a desire for mainstream artists to create any kind of worldview that might challenge an unchurched audience. There are so many differing points of view in mainstream culture, why shouldn't a Christian one be expressed? But who would be brave enough to do it when inevitably the perceived wisdom is that it'll damage record sales?
Whatever happened to songwriters boldly critiquing the culture? What happened to musical prophets shaking up the scene and causing people to consider their own lives and choices? There are so many ridiculous fads and fashions and opinions in modern culture, the Christian prophet should have no problem lining them up in his/her sights. Yet who is doing anything like that in the mainstream on a consistent level? If you're going to be a Christian and work in the mainstream, isn't it time we had a generation of artists who actually had something to say instead of writing the kind of songs that a million non-Christian bands can write?
The modern worship phenomenon has captured the imagination of a lot of people. It seems that a lot of young artists and bands want to be the next Matt Redman or form a band that is the next Hillsong United. To be honest, it's all starting to sound the same. Musically I'm getting bored. I love being in my church and worshiping using music but the endless bland worship music that is filling the shelves of my local Christian bookshop leaves me concerned. Isn't it time we had a new wave of worship music and a new style? There's such a tendency to copy what is already out there that the scene is over-run with soundalikes rather than originals. Admittedly there are a few originals out there and I admire the work of Kevin Prosch - he was an original and so is David Crowder. Both men seem willing to push back the boundaries but for every original, there seem to be 500 copycats.
There have been plenty of words written about the poor state of worship songwriting. Since it became more commercial, it seems that there are plenty of worship writers who have their eye on the prize of a global hit church song. Instead of writing for their local congregations, there seems to be a plethora of watered down lyrics where the hope is that the song is so universal that it would work for a congregation in Texas, Cape Town, Manchester and Adelaide. Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of universally awful songwriting and a "sound" of worship that is caught in the quicksand of pop rock rather than genuinely reflecting the reality that across the world different cultures need their own sound of worship reflecting the tribe and nation which is lifting its praise to God.
If you are wanting to pursue either worship music or mainstream music, I applaud you. Each person has their own calling but my encouragement is for you to do it in such a way that you stretch boundaries and dig deeper for more creativity and more of a spiritual impact on those listening to whatever you create.
For me though, I wonder whatever happened to music ministry? The lure of the mainstream seems to have made people look down on the Christian music scene as the poor relation. It's written off as insular and sneered at as a subculture. Its musicians are told that they are not talented enough to make it in the "real world".
In many ways, a lot of what the Americans call CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) has become a flabby pappy entertainment with a gorgeous white smile on its face. Listening to a lot of Christian music, it's often impossible to tell that it is Christian even from bands whose focus and market is the Church. Weighed down by unimaginative music and bland lyrics, doesn't anybody have anything to say anymore?
I am calling for a revolution! It is time for artists to rediscover what true music ministry can be. I am looking for God to raise up artists who are not worship leaders or mainstream acts but whose passion is to see their fellow believers come alive in God. An artist like that would have to be biblically literate and spiritually mature. Away from the music, they would be a disciple and capable of discipling others. A music minister would be culturally aware and able to critique what is happening in the world but also have a handle on the issues that are facing their fellow believers in church. A true music minister will be a radical follower of Christ wanting to help others become radical too.
Biblically this kind of musical ministry would fit into the pastor/teacher model in Ephesians 4. Their job would be to help the Church come to maturity and unity. Instead of singing a few nicey, nicey songs and saying a few platitudes about Jesus, their performances would be rousing and provocative. People would leave a gig with a fresh sense of purpose and determination to live for Jesus and impact the world around them. The music minister's songs would touch on the real issues and struggles of their lives and give them the heart and conviction to make changes and pursue God more deeply. There would be an element of the prophetic as God's voice rings out clearly for people to hear about life from his perspective. Ministry would cut through the religious and reach the heart. It would be honest about how the Church is really doing, it would be stirring and strong helping the hearer to maturity. It would promote a biblical lifestyle, the sacrifice of discipleship, the importance of sharing our faith and provoke people to go out and make a difference.
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