It’s happened to us all at one time or another. Whether we are the ones confidently playing the music or patiently listening, we’ve all seen it happen:
“Oh, you like 50 Cent? Then you gotta hear Lecrae man! Hold on, let me show you this one song he’s got, it’s dope, you’ll love it”
Both parties sit there uncomfortably as the song plays.
“So, what’dya think? The cool thing about them is they are Christian too! It just goes to show that you can be a believer and listen to cool music”
“Yeah, that was good, I guess, but did that guy just brag about nodding his head to ‘Jesus music’ as if he looks drunk?”
“Well, no, he wasn’t bragging, he’s just enjoying music that talks about God.”
“Okay, but he did say that everyone looks at him when he’s driving around listening to this music right?”
“I don’t know, it just seems to me that these guys want to look and sound like thugs while they talk about Jesus. I think I’ll stick to people that really are thugs.”
Maybe it wasn’t Lecrae, maybe it was Family Force 5, DC Talk, MXPX, or Audio Adrenaline*; and maybe the conversation was slightly different. Maybe the listener said flat out, “this song sucks,” or “why would I listen to Christian hardcore? That defeats the whole purpose.” My point is that we’ve nearly all been in a situation where we’ve been embarrassed by the poor quality of popular Christian music.
There’s been a lot of discussion about what’s wrong with modern Christian music and why it lags behind most secular music in originality and overall musical quality. But all this criticism has not brought about much change, and for several reasons. Perhaps the main reason little has changed is that criticism is the easiest response to any situation. It is a lot harder to do something about the state of Christian music (or “Christians making music”) than it is to criticize it. With that in mind, I would like to offer a list of ways that we can practically help improve the quality of Christian music, instead of merely complaining about it.
- Consider whether or not the music you buy is really worthy of praise. Often times we can be easily swept into the fervor of Christian consumerist culture, which like it’s secular counterpart, tells us how great a musical artist is and how desperately we need to get their latest album. For many, if the CD is sold in a Christian bookstore it has already past their quality test. In this age of iTunes, Amazon, and Myspace, there is no excuse for not listening to a CD (or samples) before you buy it. Honestly question the quality of the music: “How does this music glorify God?” ; “Is this actually good music, or just an imitation of the world’s music?” The bottom line is that as long as bad music is profitable, it will be made.
- Be willing to search for something better. We are busy people. And the marketing from Christian labels encourage us to be lazy by pushing their artists and music on the radio, TV, and in magazines. Thankfully, we also live in a time where it is easier than ever to get access to quality, excellent, praiseworthy, Christian music. Yes, it will take time, and you may have to listen to a lot of awful music to find something worth supporting, but the simple truth is that as we find and support Christian artists who do make excellent music, we are actively reshaping the popular Christian music market.
- Encourage musicians in your church to make good music. There is a temptation we can have when we meet people in our churches who make music to avoid criticism at all cost. These people are our friends, and they are making music to glorify God. How could we criticize the songs they write? Well, if we love them we need to speak the truth in love. Encourage them to keep making music, and when possible support them financially. Go to shows. Buy their albums. Spread the word about them. But also encourage them to improve, to mature, to not be content with merely copying what they hear on the radio. If we blindly support those believers around us who make music, then we will perpetuate the poor state of Christian music. We must be willing to encourage and admonish, in love.
- Spread the word. Yes, I’m asking you to take a risk, to perhaps be like the person in my opening example who confidently and eagerly shared their favorite music to someone else. And sometimes, the reaction you receive will be one of disinterest or disgust. But the best way to help Christian music improve is to show people that there are alternatives–great ones at that–to what is typically marketed as “Christian music.”
As believers, we have a unique understanding of the world around us. We have a worldview that allows us to have great insight into the workings of humans and their relation to each other and God. We also have a command to “work heartily as unto the Lord” (Col 3:23). Which means that the music that Christians should be making should be excellent, it should be the kind of music that draws praise from all people–because it is made to glorify God, not man. Instead of being a source of embarrassment, the music identified with our Faith should be a testament to the wonderfully creative God who saved us. While it is easy (and even kind of fun) to sit around criticizing all the ways Christian popular music is bad, there are practical things we can do which will make a difference towards improving the quality of our music. And since there are very simple and practical things that we can all do, the question becomes: “Are we criticizing Christian music because we enjoy tearing things down, or are we really concerned about seeing change?”
* My point in bringing up these artists is not to call them out as examples of bad Christian music, but to honestly address what I believe is the common situation where a believer becomes embarrassed when he/she tries to show a Christian band to an unbeliever or anyone who has not grown up listening to popular Christian music.