Why Even “Bad” Christian Music Is Good for You
As true as that saying may be, lately I’ve put some thought into what I listen to. In my little world, music is always playing. If I’m at work, at the gym, hanging out at home, driving, or consuming a Beefy Nacho Loaded Griller, odds are I have tunes rolling.
Growing up, I was the nerdiest of Christian music nerds. I skipped school in fourth grade to meet Michael W. Smith. I stood in line for hours at outdoor festivals to get autographs from Greg Long and Nicole C. Mullen. I had Hawk Nelson T-shirts and still have the rap from “Jesus Freak” memorized. I knew — and loved — it all.
Sometime in high school, I started branching out and listening to what my friends were listening to, and most of it wasn’t Christian (gasp!).
I liked what I found. Most of it wasn’t “bad” — it just wasn’t the “positive, encouraging” alternative I grew up on. I realized there was indeed more out there beyond “Place in This World” and “The Great Adventure.”
Over the years, I admit my musical preferences have drifted more and more secular. I occasionally check in to see what’s new in the Christian world, but frankly, I’m often disappointed. There are many talented and innovative artists on the Christian music scene today, but a lot of the music I hear just doesn’t resonate with me as much as it used to. Some artists are pushing boundaries and putting out quality music, but sometimes I can pinpoint a specific vocal inflection or guitar solo or drum beat and know exactly which pop song from three months ago the Christian artist is trying to replicate.
I understand there’s a place for music that’s “safe for the whole family,” but I also believe that Christians — as children of the Creator — should be making the best art. We certainly have the best source material, and the same Spirit that dwells within us was present and actively involved with the creation of the world. Our work — especially when used to describe or exalt our God — should be alive and passionate and powerful and new.
Song in My Head
That said, my CCM (contemporary Christian music) roots are still alive, and there really is some good music out there. Recently I went through and added several Christian songs to my playlists on Spotify, and I found myself listening to them more often than I expected. The music was quality, but more importantly, I found myself latching onto the words more than I do with poppy stuff on secular radio.
My wife and I now have a one-month-old daughter, and there’s not a whole lot of sleep happening in our house. As much as I love and cherish my little girl, I don’t think you can truly understand how hard and frustrating it is caring for an infant until you actually do it. Parenting is not for the faint of heart.
A few days ago, I admit I was teetering on my wit’s end (Hi, Mr. Whittaker!) around 3:00 a.m. and just wishing and dreaming (sort of) and literally praying for rest, when a few songs started popping into my head. It wasn’t lyrics from the Chainsmokers or Imagine Dragons. Right in my deepest stage of frustration and sleepiness, I found myself thinking:
“I will rest in Your promises. My confidence is Your faithfulness.
Faithful, You are. Faithful, forever You will be.”
“Bigger than anything I’m facing,
I’m gonna trust in You, cuz You’re bigger.”
There’s power in music, isn’t there? It shapes your thinking and can actually affect your mood. In the midst of the baby screams and diaper changes, I admit I began to feel a little better when these songs started echoing around my mind. The words sunk in my soul more than I realized, and they did good. They were helpful, they lifted my spirits, and they reminded me of truths that would be easy to forget in trying circumstances.
I can’t help but think back to the famous psalm: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” I’m guessing David wasn’t jammin’ out to Chris Tomlin on his iPhone, and the lyrics I posted aren’t verbatim Scripture, but the point remains true: There is something powerful about keeping truth about God’s character deep within yourself. When you’re pushed and squeezed and drained by the tough realities of life, those promises do a powerful work that no T-Swift lyric ever can.
Throwing Down the Musical Gauntlet
I’m not asking you to throw away all your secular CDs (remember CDs?). However, if you’re a follower of Jesus, and especially if you’re like me and don’t always have a high opinion of Christian music, I do want to issue you a challenge:
Give it another try.
Find a few songs or artists that resonate with you, and keep them in your rotation. Sing along in your car. Hide the words in your heart. You might be surprised how often they repeat in your mind, and I trust they will return to you in moments of need.
God is faithful and words are powerful, and that is the true value of Christian music.
About the Author
Matt Ehresman works as the creative media director at First MB Church in Wichita, Kan. He loves using video, images, words and sounds to help people think about things that matter. He is a graduate of Sterling College and Regent University and an expert on all things Mountain Dew and superheroes. He is the proud husband of Tillie and occasionally frustrated owner of Jarvis (their mini Aussie).