Steve left a comment on a previous post, asking about the validity of a secular music “ministry,” referencing a comment Phil Keaggy made years ago about the lack of spiritual Christians involved in the secular music field. I received an e-mail recently asking a similar question about the legitimacy of Christian musicians pursuing a career in secular pop music. How should we think about it? Is it always wrong? It is something we should encourage?Here are some thoughts I’ve shared over the years with individuals who were trying to determine God’s will for their lives in this area.
The most important question to ask (and sometimes the most difficult to answer) is, “What are my motives for wanting to be involved in secular music?”
While I never assume someone’s motives will be completely pure, there’s a significant difference between someone who lives to play on stage and someone who lives to serve others with their gifts. If there’s any doubt about why I want to play music outside the church, it’s a good idea to ask others I respect for their honest evaluation of my motives.
A Christian’s success in the general marketplace is no sign one way or the other that the kingdom is advancing or the Gospel is being proclaimed.
A chart-topper isn’t necessarily a sign of God’s blessing. It might be the result of savvy marketing or great musicianship. In many “crossover” songs, the lyrics fail to communicate anything that’s distinctly Christian. Also, when a Christian song becomes popular people can assume there’s no difference between secular musicians and Christian ones – it’s all about the music and the money. God can use Christian musicians in the general marketplace to advance the Gospel – but he doesn’t need them. The church is and always will be the primary means God uses to spread the Gospel and to make disciples.
Secular music doesn’t necessarily mean godless or anti-Christian.
There are countless examples of popular songs that present moral values, insightful perspectives, and meaningful commentary on life that don’t specifically reference Scripture. The success of songs like “I Can Only Imagine,” “Butterfly Kisses,” and “Meant to Live,” are clear evidence of that. We can use our music to entertain without glamorizing or promoting the idols of materialism, pride, and self-centeredness.
We can’t be certain about a musician’s motives from a distance.
While we may be able to infer conclusions from a person’s dress, language, attitudes, and actions, it can be difficult to tell the difference between an unsaved rebel and an uninformed believer. Few of us would do very well if the details of our lives were published for millions to read about and critique. That doesn’t mean musicians who claim to be Christian are above public evaluation or scrutiny. It just means that in most cases we should focus more on disparities than pronouncing final judgments. At the very least, our private prayers for an artist should equal our public critique.
Being involved in secular music is no justification for abandoning the church or minimizing our faith.
A Christian musician may not overtly sing about salvation or the cross, or play music composed by Christians. But we can never state that our Christianity takes a back seat to our musicianship. There are no musicians who “happen” to be Christians. Our identity as Christians governs everything else we do. In a challenging little book entitled Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts, Steve Turner writes: “I sometimes hear Christians justify mentioning their weaknesses in their art because ‘I’m a sinner like everyone else.’ That is just not true. The Christian isn’t a sinner like everyone else because a Christian is a forgiven sinner, and this alters his or her whole relationship to sin.” Basically, the cross changes everything. The Gospel redefines our priorities, redirects our passions, and reshapes our worldview. We now live our entire lives “by the mercies of God” ( Rom. 12:1).
The world needs to see people in every arena who have been genuinely changed by the gospel.
Christian musicians in the general marketplace have the opportunity to influence non-Christians not only with their music, but with their lives. God may give them opportunities to share the Gospel with others who may never be reached otherwise. Kerry Livgren and Dave Hope are two artists who made a difference in that way. There are many more. Some Christians will serve the church in the church. Others will serve the church outside the church. Both are demonstrating through their lives that Jesus is the only Savior and sovereign Ruler of the world.
Not all music written and sung by Christians needs to expound the full Gospel.
Russ Bremeier, in a Music Connection e-mail, writes, “Some music explicitly shares the Gospel, and some merely plants a seed that can lead to the Gospel. Our art is a diverse reflection of who we are as the body of Christ. Whether it’s used in the church, on the radio, on a television program, or even in a 30-second advertisement, we can rest easy knowing that God can use the music we make in numerous ways to serve his purposes.” May there be music of all types that’s written from the perspective of those who live in light of heaven’s joys and realities.
Bottom line: Know your heart and seek to make music for the glory of Jesus Christ, no matter where you play or sing. Our music isn’t about us. It’s about drawing attention to the God who gave us music in the first place. No other kind of music is going to last anyway.