For: The Institute of Contemporary And Worship Studies, St. Stephen’s University, Essentials Blue Online Worship Theology Course with Dan Wilt
I like and play all kinds of music. In my early days, I listened to almost exclusively, secular rock, especially coming from a small town in Ontario, Canada. Now I mostly listen to what some call Christian music. I always had an affinity to music, and I respected all styles. I used to DJ for events parties, bars, and had my own radio show in university.
I heard someone say recently, that there isn’t such a thing as Christian music, just music with Christan lyrics. This is important to me to mention. Recently, I shared my music with a non/not-yet believer friend from work. They were amazed at the quality of it, and would like a copy of it to listen to. To them it was just great music with Christian or inspirational lyrics that they can put up with, if not enjoy. It stunned me that they wanted some if it. (By the way, I believe it was music by Third Day or so that I shared with them.)
Maybe it was just in my small world, but when I was young, I remember, there was music you worshiped with, and music you were entertained with, secular or Christian. They were almost completely mutually exclusive, save a few songs by artists like Amy Grant, Keith Green and Rich Mullins. Sure, there would be special songs done during services. Other than that, in terms of worship, there were hymns or hand-clapping choruses-all that I personally deemed, ‘churchy’ music. Most of the Christian music of that day seemed ‘cheesy’ to me.
Yet I’m amazed at the changes in ‘Christian music’ in the past two decades, which really seemed to run parallel with my spiritual growth at the time. (God’s great timing, like He did it all for me!)
First was the obvious increase in quality of musicianship, production and infrastructure. The bar was definitely being raised. I remember as a teen how Christian music at the time wasn’t very appealing to me, Nor was the worship music of the day either. Certain musicians ministered to me, like Michael Card, Scott Roley, the Talbots,and I even admit Steve Green. They were so God directed, and their message was not buried, if not lost, in metaphors. Then came the likes of Steven Curtis Chapman and Vineyard music. For me, I could see good changes happening compared to artists at that time.
Don’t get me wrong, there were some amazingly talented musicians and writers. They were just not my style. Some just seemed primitive compared to the secular musical groups of the time. There really was no comparison to me. Secular music was far better hands down in quality. It just seemed like Christian music was like a little immature brother to the success and appeal of secular music. At the time it just could not measure up no matter how it tried.
Mind you, now looking back, those early Christian musicians and producers were instrumental in the development of Christian music today, absolutely. I have a newly developed respect for those early 80’s musicians that I once was not very fond of. Of course, there were incredible pioneers even prior to then. Such were the likes of Keith Green, Larry Norman, Stryper, Petra, Michael Card, Dallas Holm, Chuck Girard, Phil Keaggy, the Talbot brothers, Glen Kaiser just to name a few. They have to be mentioned, as to me, their music is timeless in message and quality, and the foundation of Christian music today.
If I recall correctly, at the time, the secular music industry also saw important changes. One was a move away from the sound of spandex make-up based, big hair bands, with their lightning-fast licks. the music seems to become more real, and unpretentious with the influx of Seattle based grunge music in the ‘generation x’ climate. I believe this change was influenced the developing Christina music scene in a positive way as well.
From the mid 90’s, right when I was getting more serious about my walk with the Lord, ‘Christian music’ was growing up in quality and became far more appealing to me. It seemed simpler, more real, less cheesy, ‘poppy’ or ‘churchy’. As well, there were a couple important cross-overs. First was the crossover into the secular market. Groups like Jars of clay were an example of a group that was receiving much airplay on regular radio stations. The second crossover was into worship music. I remember as a fairly new musician and worship leader, experimenting with songs that were on Christian radio in worship sets. And they were well received by worshippers. I still remember hearing the Petra Praise tape, and I was stunned at what they did with worship songs. Music by Rich Mullins also touched my soul . Finally, Christian music that feeds me! And I was sold on it! The growth in Vineyard music I believe was also important at the time. It became hard to tell what was worship music, and what was for entertainment. And I loved it! This was such a good time for a new musician and worship leader-songs that were playable, real in terms of their message and contemporary.
Christian music was growing up. It was interesting to see it become more God-directed (vs audience directed), better produced, and more acceptable even by my non/pre-Christians. My understanding is that Christian music had become the fastest growing music industry as big conglomerates bought these companies up with hope of huge profit. With today’s Christian music, I am not left wanting as I previously a couple decades ago. And I find it vital for my own spiritual growth and encouragement. I know that it also has to do with how these songs speak to people’s hearts as they inspire hope and joy and are focused on God..
Now we have incredible fountains of praise from groups like Starfield, Third Day, Matt Redman, Delirious,Darell Evans, United, Chris Tomlin and countless other musical groups and artists that unintentionally feed the church with wonderful worship music (as I believe it stems from their own worship).
So I no longer go to find new worship songs at a sample station in a Christian music store. I just turn on the radio. And sometimes even a secular radio station! What an amazing age for the restoration of music and worship!
I believe this is all part of God’s plan to restore the purpose of music, to be a blessing to us, and a tool to draw closer to Him. I am just glad to be part of this generation in terms of the changes in music we are enjoying!