“Contemporary Christian music lacks depth. The words repeat too many times.”
“I don’t like contemporary Christian music at all. It’s too fast and too loud.”
“Contemporary Christian music is all I listen to and I listen to a lot of different artists.”
If there is one subject the evangelistic Church seems to be divided on, it is the subject of contemporary Christian music (we’ll refer to it as CCM for brevity).
Most church members have some opinion on the subject, and depending on one’s location, background, personal tastes, the responses will vary.
Part of CCM’s popularity may be due to the down-to-earth subject matter in many of the lyrics.
When Kristin Swinford and the other two members of ZOEgirl took a missions trip to Ecuador with a group of teenage girls in 2004, they discovered a well-spring of gritty subject matter. “There were poignant evenings as the girls shared their struggles, pains, joys, and sorrows,” recalls Swinford. “We knew if they had gone through these sad situations, other girls around the world had too.” The trio then recorded songs to address those needs (no names were used so the teens’ privacy was protected).
Some CCM artists prefer to deliver a softer message of love and hope. Chris Tomlin (http://www.christomlin.com) is considered one of this era’s top songwriters for the church. His string of popular choruses — “Forever,” “How Great is our God,” “We Fall Down,” and “The Wonderful Cross” — are sung by millions weekly.
During an interview, Tomlin said his songwriting technique was nothing complex. “I try to write songs in a clear way that people can understand and they can sing to after hearing once or twice,” he says.
Other times Tomlin has used the Bible for inspiration. When writing Arriving, Tomlin used the words of Isaiah 40: “Thunder in the desert! Prepare for God’s arrival!” Isaiah 40 (The Message)
“We’re like this landing strip in the desert for our great incredible God to arrive on,” says Tomlin. “(We’re) a way for Him to come into people’s lives.”
Still other CCM artists prefer to reach listeners with a rock sound and lyrics that focus on Jesus Christ. While growing up in New Zealand, Phil Joel, former guitarist for popular contemporary Christian music group The Newsboys (http://newsboys.com/), listened to pioneers in the contemporary Christian music movement — Keith Green, Altar Boys, Petra, Whiteheart.
Joel acknowledged the positive influence those early bands had on him as a young Christian. “They helped me know the difference between what to put in my mind and what not,” he recalls. “They filled my mind with good things.” Today, Joel ministers to Christians around the world with a call to pursue one-on-one relationships with the Lord (http://philjoel.com/about/).
Steven Curtis Chapman (http://www.stevencurtischapman.com/), another popular Christian music songwriter and singer, has used his CCM performer status to advance the cause of international adoption (http://www.showhope.org/).
While the question of how music should be played differs among CCM artists, ultimately it comes down to the message.
Twila Paris (http://www.twilaparis.com/), who penned 22 No. 1 singles, some of which have been included in modern-day hymnals, believes there is a place in church for different types of music. “Sometimes at my church 20-year-olds will lead worship using alternative Christian music. I say to myself, ‘Wow, here is the next generation joyfully praising God. They’re responding to that music in their hearts. Am I open to what God is doing through this?’”
With the diversity of CCM artists and music available, the dilemma of trying to satisfy everyone with the style and content of contemporary Christian music may never be resolved.
Chris Tomlin may have summed it up when he said: “Since I was 13, I’ve felt called to write songs for the church. I look back at the years since I started recording and see how I’ve grown. It’s incredible. It has all been God.”
What’s your opinion of the CCM? Do you listen to it? Who is your favorite CCM artist and why?
Note: Parts of this article were featured in The Lookout Magazine, published by Standard Publishing.