By Chad Greaves
I have, for years, described myself as…well…a musician. I grew up in a family that was heavily appreciative of music, particularly my father who has been playing the guitar for over 20 years. Before I became a Christian, my interests were centered around the reggae works of Bob Marley and the Wailers, Culture, Buju Banton and others, the contemporary rock works of Bon Jovi, Aerosmith and others, and basically any music you can think about; I loved it all (except for the heavy metal and gothic stuff). When I became a Christian, I did something that every or most new-born Christians do. I asked God to show me what He would like me to do for Him. After trying out various other ministries in church, I then realized that my passion was in the music ministry. Compared to other child musical prodigies around the world, I started late, but I started nevertheless. I took up the piano/keyboard and started my musical journey, learning as much as I can. With this new turn of musical interest I began doing my research in and collection of Gospel music. I would always be encouraged to listen to music and then work out the chords and try to play the songs. I remember vividly one album I was introduced to that has up to this day influenced heavily my musical style, and that was Israel and New Breed’s 2004 album “Live From Another Level”. I then ventured into looking at the music that came before that album and after. I enjoyed it, I loved the gospel music, from playing it to listening and singing it. I loved the arrangements of this great musical genre that I later on didnt just label as “gospel music” or “christian music”. Instead, I preferred to label it with the more cool sounding name “Kingdom music”.
One day, I was researching Christian music online and I came across an encyclopedic entry given my wikipedia on the topic. Certain things that were mentioned quite frankly surprised and disturbed me. The article describes Christian music as an industry that:
“has roots in Jesus Music, although in order to commercialize and gain a wide appeal, the music had to largely move away from the form of that movement.”
It goes on further to state that:
“Christian artists generally use secular styles, pairing them with lyrics that display faith and spirituality to varying degrees”.
All these things were said in the introductory passage for the article. This then led me to think “what exactly is the state of Kingdom music today?”. Do we as Christians take the music of the Kingdom seriously? Do we lack innovation or are we lazy in making it original?
Music is described as the global language. Its sometimes the only mechanism through which certain messages can be brought forth. Christian music is therefore one of the most effective means through which the Gospel of Jesus can be spread. In Arthur C. Clarke’s science fiction novel entitled “Childhood’s End”, a group of powerful Alien overlords invaded the Earth because of their curiosity of the human culture, particularly the human interest in music. The Alien’s then expressed their confusion as to how billions of people find pleasure in spending many hours of their time playing with or listening to “meaningless” tonal patterns that come together to form “music”. In looking at the situation, our minds cant even understand why music has such a heavy impact, but all we know is that it does. It affects our daily lives, our thinking, the way we respond to situations, and of course, what we melodiously utter from our mouths using our voices. Even our Facebook statuses and our Twitter tweets are sometimes based on lyrics of songs we know or have heard about. The contortion of various waves into frequencies that bend and “shape-shift” well enough to create tonal occurrences that produce sound that appeal to the very core of our being is quite astounding, once you think about it in such an in depth way. Then again some may see it as just over thinking it. Nevertheless, one must wonder how important is music. Why does music have such a drastic impact that it can even alter movements and cause changes in character?
The Bible gives one of the most interesting occurences of music, its use and effects known to man. In the book of 2 Chronicles chapter 20, the account is given of King Jehoshaphat as he was faced with the impending attack from a collaborative military effort among the nations of Moab, Ammon and other nations. A time of prayer and fasting was declared for the whole nation of Judah by the King. God then promised them that He would fight the battle for them and that they only needed to stand still and see His salvation come to fruit. Them standing still did not mean them doing nothing. Instead, King Jehoshaphat decided to take a leap of faith and place the worshippers in the forefront of the battle (v. 20-21). God sent ambushes among the enemies so that by the time the children of Judah got to the valley and looked out, all their enemies were dead. There was so much bodies that it took the children of Judah 3 days to gather the spoil. One cannot say that music itself caused the victory for all victories are brought on by God. However, to think that so much faith was exercised in Almighty God that the forefront of a battalion line constituted worshippers and musicians showed that the use of music was seen as an effect enough tool in offering thanksgiving to God, whether during battles or during the celebrations that came after.
The Music industry today contributes to billions of dollars made and spent, from recordings and record productions to signings, concerts, tours, record sales and endorsements. The United States, Japan and the United Kingdom are the three major key note players in producing the world’s music, followed by France, Canada, Jamaica, Sweden, India, China and others. The Christian Music industry has been seen as a small subset of the larger music industry. Its origins date back to the 60s and 70s with the introduction of “the Jesus Moevement”. This saw the formulation of various bands and artistes that somewhat became saturative of what was required or desired by the masses. It was a major struggle for many artistes as gaining airplay and rallying multitudes at concerts became extremely difficult as the Christian view points that were boldly professed were seen as “too radical” and therefore not popular among the ears of the masses. The industry saw its greatest booming period in the 90s when it became the fastest growing genre of music, growing faster than Hip Hop, Rock and Pop. This period saw heavy influences from artistes such as Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, Toby Mac, Bebe and CeCe Winans, Sandi Patty and Kirk Franklin. The genesis of the 21st century saw the rise of a heavy reliance on live worship music. This incorporated artistes such as Israel Houghton, Alvin Slaughter, Donnie McClurkin and other. Legacies from bands such as dc Talk, Jars of Clay and Audio Adrenaline paved the way for many modern Christian bands such as Switchfoot, Leeland and the David Crowder Band. The style of rapping Christian Music which was heavily utilized by Kirk Franklin and Toby Mac was then “seeped” into the modern realm, evident by the emergence of artistes such as Lecrae, Tedashii, Trip Lee and Da T.R.U.T.H. It can be seen that within such a genre there arose the occurrence of various sub-genres. The New York Times’ magazine, in 2009, declared that the Christian Music industry was on a “death watch”. This was because the industry recorded major losses in sales, particularly with the lack of sales coming from Christian book stores, which also saw a decrease in the numbers being established.
The concern, however, is not the lack of sales that is experienced. The entire music industry is experiencing lack of sales, particularly with the rise of piracy. The main concern with the industry is the impending ‘rise of fall’ situation due to authenticity being questioned. Now, when I say authenticity, I dont mean there being a problem of plagiarism. Rather, authenticity refers to music solely being for God’s glory as was the music that was produced by King Jehoshaphat and the nation of Judah. Every Christian artiste and musician are faced with the choice of who to please- God or the masses. You might state that it would be silly for them to think of doing anything else but pleasing God. However, many consider the various prospects of mixing both the secular field and the gospel field to obtain a wider fan base and therefore reek in more financial gain and awards. This was a major reason why there was a shift from the original style of the 1960s and 70s which constituted artistes such as Jim Reeves, Andre Crouch and Petra to the modern day constructions of contemporary elements blended with the message of the Gospel. Now, it would be unwise to say that much of the Gospel music that is heard is not God-motivated. Even what is seen as Christian Rap, for example, brings glory to God as there is a distinct difference between rapping and a culture of Hip Hop (which is another discussion for another time). If artistes depend on God solely for musical inspiration and not on the productions of the secular realm, then a huge success would be witnessed. Such a success might not incorporate increased album sales, but it would mean more people being effectively ministered by the message of the Gospel brought forth unhindered and unhampered through the medium of music.
In recent times, various situations have occurred that have caused many to lose faith in the future of the Christian music industry. These include various scandals and domestic affairs broadcast by the media as well as an apostacic movement of musicians into the secular realm and the inclusion of many who were not of the faith. Recently, I read of a world renowned drummer who was introduced to the world officially by his drum works on Justin Timberlake’s 2002 solo album “Justified”. Since then he has played with many artistes including Lady Gaga, Kanye West, P.Diddy, Nas, the Backstreet Boys and Jill Scott. The list of artistes he has collaborated with also include many Gospel artistes. It must be understood that when King Jehoshaphat organized the worshippers, the Bible stated that worshippers were ordained to declare the holiness of God (2 Chronicles 20-21). Although it is an extreme thing to say, the realization must be made that even in the production of music standards must be kept.Why has the Christian music industry come to a place where dependence is placed on the expertise of secular producers and musicians who have produced and played music for songs that have portrayed messages that do not give God glory? Besides there being an issue with the secular influences, why is there a lack of confidence in Christian producers and musicians? This is the time for many Christian musicians and worship leaders to rise up and get back to the place where music Glorified God so much that battles were even won without drawn swords. The Kingdom music cannot suffer and it never will be vanquished. The sound of the Gospel will be echoed and heard throughout every corner of the earth, even in the midst of the signs of the last days occurring.
The music industry today is heavily controlled by the Prince of Darkness himself, with his musical abilities apparently being major residues of his once-held position in heaven as the anointed cherub (Ezekiel 28:12-19; Isaiah 14:12-15). The use of music in Christianity today is therefore seen as fighting “fire with fire”. It however isnt the usual “fire with fire” case as one type of flame can vanquish the other. God is the source of music and the ability of any creation of His to produce music came from Him. Therefore, music was not designed to de frame women, bring down societies, spark violence, praise money or practice self-glorification. It was designed solely to give God glory. The use of Kingdom music is not just about entertainment, its also about warfare, warfare against many forces of darkness that are active day and night, luring souls into various sins and hopeless eternities. We have the ability, we have the passion, we have the music. What are we gonna do about it? Why not have a view point that excludes the secular world’s way of doing things and just focus of God’s way. The music of the Kingdom cannot be hampered with; it must experience a rise towards its true purpose, not a fall towards contamination. Let creativity blossom. Let worship practices be fruitful instead of hustled-down sessions. Let the church of God invest and assist in the training of worship leaders, musicians and artistes that would set the standard and raise the bar, not in the sight of the world, but in the sight of God. His opinion is the only fact that must be considered. When God is pleased, then all men shall see the light shining within us as Kingdom people. The music we produce will reflect that shine.
Together, lets make Kingdom music RISE. Lets be the TASTE and be the SHINE!
Blessed Love Everytime!