As a business man, my entire life and working with Fortune 500 companies, I was taught through men's groups and church leaders to always be a witness in the workplace. Whenever I had the opportunity to share my faith, I should wait patiently for the door to open in a conversation with a non-believer and do what God asked us to do... spread the gospel in the highways and byways. It was a common practice to introduce my faith views in conversation and then invite them to the church where they would get the full sales pitch and hopefully join the ranks of God's army here on earth.
This method of marketplace ministry still exists and is the very essence of every believer's goal after becoming a Christian. They are to be a witness to the lost and help them come to know a personal relationship with their creator. Jesus himself dispatched disciples to do just that. He specifically sent them out to share the gospel. The entire New Testament is filled with the charge to proselytize as many as possible to the Christian faith.
I've met many professionals in my years in business who are Christians. I've met many who do their best to be an example and ambassador of their faith in how they conduct themselves and their conversations. I've met many that actually have Bible studies in their offices and warehouses with employees and some engage with customers in Bible studies. I've known the CBA (Christian Business Association) and members. One of my favorite books is "Jesus CEO" which likens Christian discipleship to a corporation where Jesus is the CEO.
So why is it so commonly accepted to have everyday workers in real world situations represent their faith whenever possible, but if a Christian chooses a career in the music industry, their music must be conforming to church praise and worship lyrical standards and style? In fact, why does music itself get singled out as the one area where judgement from other Christians becomes so commonplace and justified?
Having spent only a few years now in Nashville and working with Christian music producers and industry executives, I've discovered an ironic reality about the double-standards that exist with artists who have a Christian foundation and may want to have their music released by de facto Christian labels or radio stations.
There exists a radical chasm about the purpose and intent of music to a Christian. There is more than enough scriptural reference to how music is used within the gathering of like believers as well as a talent or skill that is bestowed by God on humans in order to perform for an audience of God Himself through repeated worship and praise words and music. This I get.
But how does a Christian, let's say a devout and conservative Christian, rationalize music that is neither praise and worship or directly anti-God in nature. Let's say the nursery rhymes that we share with our children. We use musical notes and melodies along with innocent lyrics to stimulate a message for our kids.
"The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round."
This example is certainly not evil nor is it directly edifying the creator of heaven and earth. It's in a vacuum of sorts which can't be easily defined. It's just a simple nursery rhyme.
What about the Star Spangled Banner. It hints to a time in our country where One Nation Under God was easily accepted, but the song in itself is not a direct worship or praise of God. Yet, Christians hold their hands on their heart and pledge loyalty to our nation whenever it is sung. Some may consider this idolatry but most would consider it what God would want for representing a Christian nation.
To me, the current controversy over what is or isn't appropriate for music started in the 60's when the Jesus movement and flower power introduced a merging of pop culture and religion. The music of the time was blended with seemingly spiritual lyrics that created a move away from traditional church to a privatization of Christianity for an individual. That era was a very complex cultural time in our county's history, but nonetheless, the introduction of the stage show JESUS CHRIST, SUPERSTAR and the film adaptation became a platform for a crossing over of the arts and religion into each others worlds.
Today, the baby boomers and their immediate children are watching the same thing happening. The secular music style and beat is infiltrating church worship sets and a blurring of the lines between CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) and pop culture is rapidly occurring.
In 2012, my son and I attended one of the largest music tours in the world, Winter Jam, which happens to be Christian themed. During the event, 10,000 plus fans screamed at a deafening level as band after band performed on stage. There were moments of old-school traditional worship songs being sung, but for the most part, it was a rock concert. During the event, a youth pastor and speaker took about 15 minutes to share with the largely teen and young twenties crowd in attendance. He had 10 second clips of the most popular secular artists shown on the overhead video screens. As Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj and One Direction filled the screens, the audience went nuts. They screamed uncontrollably. It was a shock to me. The speaker's goal was to illustrate the dangers in listening to these artists because of the lyrical content and lifestyles they were presenting as acceptable. Of course I agreed with the speaker, but apparently the Christians in attendance that night didn't seem to have a problem with those artists based on their cheers and shrill screams.
I left the event scratching my head as to why the Christian music industry didn't have an alternative to those artists which provided Godly lyrics and lived a holy lifestyle.
Getting back to our experiences in Nashville brings this whole discussion back to the reason I wrote this article.
Do Christians pursuing music as a career have to create traditional Christian praise and worship music?
Does a Christian who is an accountant have to inject scripture in their IRS returns? Do Christians who are chefs need to prepare only Biblical based meals using ingredients found in the Old Testament? Do plumbers need to make sure their customers watch them bless the water that comes through the pipes in order for them to be a true Christian?
I know these are facetious, but think about it. Jesus told us to let our light shine before men so that they may see our good works and glorify God in heaven. If we simply function as Christians in our work place, doesn't that become the witness Jesus asked us to be?
I've read many articles online about Christian music and the role of entertainment in the life of a Christian. The dogma was sickening to me. But then again, I'm looking at it through the eyes of a former pastor who spent the majority of his adult life trying to filter all witnessing recipients through a church building to ensure they were properly saved. I fully believe churches have a place in the life of a new believer, but I find it difficult to swallow that whatever traditions that church or denomination has regarding the role for music should be the end-game for how we look at music as Christians.
I learned a particularly funny acronym these past few years in Nashville. It's called JPM's. The terms means JESUS' PER MINUTE. It's a flippant reference to making sure a song's lyrical content has enough spiritually discernable references to make it clearly CCM. It's a mocking of the reality of the business side of Christian Music. In order for a song to be played on a Christian radio station, it must have a clear JPM measure of some sort. In other words, soft lyrics that elude to good and love aren't enough to pass their litmus for authentic GOD music. While on the other hand, several CCM artists over the years have met the JPM requirements, but have been strung out on drugs, alcohol, fornication, adultery, stealing, etc. It's an indictment to the merging of business, money and faith. So while the music industry in general tends to laugh at the Christian Music business, Christians who are trying to live a life pleasing to God are stuck in a hard place where morals and ethics are up to interpretation.
Add to that the fact that most Christian radio stations are non-profit and rely on donations from Christian organizations and every day believers, the programming directors at those stations are especially sensitive to ensure the music has the appropriate JPMs.
More recently, among the Christian music festival world, is the reality that unless an artist plays an instrument or raps, it most likely isn't suitable for the festival world. In fact, there is a clear bias against any artist that may be more of an entertainer than praise and worship artist. It's basically an outdoor church service.
The secular music industry doesn't take Christian artists seriously as a whole. With very few exceptions, Christian artists who crossover to secular radio and are esteemed by secular fans, are an anomaly. One-off hits like "I Can Only Imagine" or "Butterfly Kisses" have reached non-Christian audiences without having to bludgeon the listener with Bible scriptures or references to God's holiness. Don't get me wrong, there is a place for praise and worship in the church and on the radio, but it must not be the only way to measure whether music is acceptable or not.
If we listened to an instrumental arrangement, is it possible to tell whether it is Christian or not? If we observe an athlete perform at the highest level from the stands or on TV, do we know whether they are Christians or not?
I choose to believe that it is possible to create music that is inspiring and reflective of your personal faith stance in God without it being categorized as praise and worship music. I believe the artist can choose to live a life off the stage that represents their faith in God and being His ambassador. I also resonate with Lecrae's testimony of needing to be a light to a heavily oppressed and sin-laden rap industry where he can help other artists find hope in Jesus instead of drugs or violence.
The Bible clearly states that you can't serve God and Money at the same time. One of them will be your master. Unfortunately, that is often the easy write-off given by Christians if a fellow Christian chooses to be in the music industry and not clearly write praise and worship music.
I wonder how they reconcile what that Christian mechanic, Christian attorney, Christian teacher, or Christian architect are doing with the gifts and talents that God gave them.