Fixing “Christian” Radio

Chris Tomlin - Gifted Worship Song Writer

Chris Tomlin - Gifted Worship Song Writer

As a worship leader, it is sometimes assumed that all I listen to is worship music, or at the LEAST, “Christian” music. Closely related is the assumption that I listen to K-Love or Air 1 whilst in my car.

Without bursting any bubbles or crushing people’s thoughts of me, I emphatically say that I listen to all sorts of music, and rarely does my dial cross Air 1 (and never does it land on K-Love).

Now please, don’t think that I’m “against” either of these (or other “Christian” stations), it’s just that they’re not really for me. I’m not particularly inspired by much of the music (by inspired, I mean both spiritually moved and/or encouraged or pushed to something new and different “musically.”) and I tend to get bored of hearing the same artists and the same songs.

However, I don’t think all is lost. And so, I propose the following changes to Christian Radio. And if something like this WOULD happen, I would be a dedicated listener of “Christian” Radio.

1) Separate the music that is created for “worship” in a corporate setting with music that is created for the sake of good music. What I mean is this: I don’t find it particularly healthy to blend so closely together a song that is written for and meant for use in public worship with a song that is meant for the purposes of entertaining/inspiring/encouraging/convicting/etc. I’m constantly frustrated by how “worship” has become so marketable, as though it’s just another genre of music. When we hear, on the radio, “Made to Worship” by Chris Tomlin, followed directly by Jeremy Camp’s “There Will Be a Day,” it evokes confusing feelings. On the one hand, we want to jump in and sing along and enter into meaningful worship. On the other, we want to sit back, watch and listen, and be lifted up by powerful vocals and moving lyrics. Then, we get to church on Sunday, we half-expect a show, or concert. To be entertained and inspired, like the songs on the radio. We switch in and out of “engaging in worship” and “watching a concert” modes. Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely the potential for genuine worship to occur in simply listening to and soaking in a song. We do it often (i.e. “special music” pieces). But the juxtaposition of “worship” music (music written for and intended for the purposes of singing together in corporate worship) and non “worship” music (music written by songwriters and bands for the purpose of entertaining/encouraging/etc) can lead to fuzzy thoughts and expectations about worship.

So, my thought is to have different “Christian” radio stations with different purposes.

Let one station be all worship music all the time. And let another station be devoted to all those singer/song writers and bands who aren’t trying (and don’t want to be) the next Chris Tomlin or the next David Crowder Band. A lot of bashing on Christian music as a genre, by various music snobs, is in regards to the poor level of creativity and originality of songs they hear on the radio. But the problem is that songs written for the purpose of “worship” are written DIFFERENTLY than other songs. They’re written SO THAT they can be somewhat simple and easy to remember. Relatively un-complicated melody lines and song structures. Somewhat plain or ordinary production and arrangements. This is all intentional so that thousands or millions of people can play and sing them. But if songwriters and bands who do NOT write like this were given a separate station to be played on, I think many of those “snobs” who bash Christian music would think differently.

Wanna listen to worship music? Tune in to 107.1 for artists like Matt Redman, Hillsong United, Brenton Brown, Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Paul Baloche, Rita Springer, etc.

Wanna listen to original, creative, unique, and great music that happens to be written by Christians? Tune in to 107.7 for artists like Andrew Peterson, Matt Kearny, Brandon Heath, Brooke Fraser, Logan Martin, Phil Wickham, Jimmie Needham, etc

That would be great. I would listen to both at different times, depending on what I’m looking for.

I think this could help the perception of Christian music, increase the number of listeners, and work towards a more healthy view of worship in the church.

2) Hmmm… Re-read the first idea, because it’s a good one.

What are your thoughts?
Do you listen to Christian Radio, and if so, why?
Do you agree that there are different types of “Christian Music,” songs written for the purpose of worship and songs written for the purpose of making art? Am I just paranoid about thinking these different types should be separated?

10 Responses to “Fixing “Christian” Radio”

  1. Brian Morgan

    Colby, I see where you are coming from and you have some great points. I love worship music b/c of the heart attitude and purpose. I tend to dislike other Christian music (at least on the radio). And I’m not too familiar with the artists you mentioned. I don’t see how Christian music can be separate from worship though. What’s the point?? If as a Christian you are not bringing worship 100 % there is no point- whether you are worship leader or a “Christian artist.” The bottom line is the world puts on a better show. The world sets the trends and originated all the music out there. The music business (in the world) has the money. If as a Christian you are trying to put on a better show or write a better song, it will not be as good. I think some of these crossover bands: Switchfoot, Lifehouse, The Fray have some credibility though- in using the music business pretty wisely (at least I think so, they could be just cashing in- I don’t know??). They have a purpose it seems though. And eventhough they are “artists,” they are still bringing the worship. As Bono says, “all music is a form of worship.” So as a Christian, if you are trying to separate the music you are putting out as either worship or not…I think you are “missing the boat.” As I indicated earlier, what’s the point as a Christian???

    Reply
  2. Meghan Green

    You have put into words many, many conversations we have had. We always talk about how you can tell “Christian” music is “Christian” before the words begin. I’m definitely one of those snobs. I like the idea of two stations.

    Reply
  3. cnhutch

    It’s true that all music, indeed all of life, is worship. When we understand that worship is a bowing down or submitting oneself in attitude and in action toward another, then it’s true that everything we do in life as believers should have this bent (rather than the “inward bent” our corrupted natures have towards self worship). But it is also true that there is a distinction musically between music that is designed for the participation of the community and music that is not. As we’ve been learning Arabic, I’ve been intrigued to get to know Arab Christian culture a little better. Interestingly (and relevant to this discussion), there are two different words that are used for “music” in Arabic…and the two words distinguish between these two categories that you suggest, Colby.

    I think that emphasizing this distinction is very helpful because it reminds us that there is supposed to be something about corporate worship that is (and should be) different than other worship in our lives. Primarily…it’s “corporate!” And the music for those times of togetherness is different than the music I listen to and enjoy at other times.

    Reply
  4. Logan

    Nice post. I fully agree (as I’m sure you already know). Also, Brian, I believe that when Colby is talking about “worship” he is being VERY SPECIFIC to what would be considered “corporate worship” , or actual music that you would find in a church being sung by a congregation. I believe that U2’s recent song “Get On Your Boots” has a cool message and a catchy beat, and Bono probably in some way has given that song up as a FORM of worship, but it will most likely never be sung corporately in a church. I also may just be wrong in assuming what Colby was saying.

    As a musician/recording artist/worship leader I have to walk a fine line often between “performing” in concert, and leading a congregation in worship. I believe that there is a definite need for both in my life, just as I think there is a need for both in this world. I agree that we can’t get rid of one on the radio, and that one is in no way better than the other. There is a place/need for both. I write music that I hope people enjoy and are inspired by, but I am TERRIBLE at writing “worship” music for people to sing. That is why we need both. I wouldn’t be surprised in a guy like Andrew Peterson has in some way been inspired by Chris Tomlin, and I bet that Tomlin has in some way also been inspired by Peterson…and so the world turns…dumb ending.

    Great post dude, I like reading your stuff when there’s nothing funny on Youtube…j/k

    Reply
  5. colbymartin

    Here are some other thoughts/comments from the thread on Facebook:

    “I have a Christian radio but my speakers are unbelievers.” – Mark Ruff

    “Right on! I love that idea!” – Veronica Jones

    “i agree. i RARELY listen to christian radio. i like the idea. i can’t remember your other questions. i do feel the same about worship in the church as well. there is a time and place for special music but not smack dab in the middle of deep and meaningful :
    “vertical worship”. i refer to it as that. horizontal worship for the people, vertical worship for God. anyway, that’s my 2cents.” -Janice Bailey

    Reply
  6. colbymartin

    More thoughts from the thread on Facebook:

    “Colby, I see where you are coming from and you have some great points. I love worship music b/c of the heart attitude and purpose. I tend to dislike other Christian music (at least on the radio). And I’m not too familiar with the artists you mentioned. I don’t see how Christian music can be separate from worship though. What’s the point?? If as a Christian you are not bringing worship 100 % there is no point- whether you are worship leader or a “Christian artist.” The bottom line is the world puts on a better show. The world sets the trends and originated all the music out there. The music business (in the world) has the money. If as a Christian you are trying to put on a better show or write a better song, it will not be as good. I think some of these crossover bands: Switchfoot, Lifehouse, The Fray have some credibility though- in using the music business pretty wisely (at least I think so, they could be just cashing in- I don’t know??). They have a purpose it seems though. And eventhough they are “artists,” they are still bringing the worship. As Bono says, “all music is a form of worship.” So as a Christian, if you are trying to separate the music you are putting out as either worship or not…I think you are “missing the boat.” As I indicated earlier, what’s the point as a Christian???” – Brian Morgan

    “As someone who worked as a (often frustrated) music director in Christian radio, I do like your idea. We used to program blocks of worship themed music for the same reason you just mentioned (and this was ten years ago – yes, I know, I am very progressive). Unfortunately, in the corporate cookie cutter culture of radio we live in, this idea, along with much of our “edgy” (corporate’s branding, not mine) but absolutely market appropriate format was ultimately substituted with something resembling what you hear on K-Love, which already had a presance in our market (Sf bay area). I had already left by the time the transformation was complete. Shortly after, the station was sold and now broadcasts sweet latino grooves.
    It’s actually the same frustration I have with mainstream or secular radio. No imagination, no creativity.
    Brian, I understand what you are saying, but I do think there is a difference between music that is presented for the intent of worship and music presented as art. And of course there is crossover and worship can produce art and art can produce worship. I don’t so much have a problem with a worship music being mixed in with, as Colby branded it, “Original, Creative, Unique” music. But I do think there is value and power in presenting music with the specific intent of worship in its own forum.
    Of course, now you open up the subjective issue of quality. That is, which worship is “good”. But that’s what music directors and program directors are for. Or, at least it use to be.” -Matt Morris

    “Can I just point out from a design standpoint – or agree with a point of Colby’s from a design standpoint – that anything created for the purpose of being presented to a mass audience, will almost always less creative, original, and thought-provoking. That’s not the point of mass media. The point of mass media is to be understood the fastest by the biggest group of people. That’s just as true of music as it is of designing a textbook.
    As for Christian radio stations – I’m another of those people who’d rather burn a CD for the car. My “Christian” radio tends to come from Pandora, where I can have the Chris Tomlin station, and the folksy/convicting Derek Webb station, and the mainline Jars of Clay station. All valid of course, but all music for different moods. Sometimes I want creative and sometimes I want the bubblegum pop.” -Sarah Uhden

    “Matt, the suggestion of “having worship in its own forum” would be great..and as you said, there is so much subjectivity in this..I mean who is to say Crowder is not creative and unique b/c he is a worship leader?? And I also have no problem worshiping to Jeremy Camp and Tomlin in the same way..There are so many directions you can take this blog…good for discussion though..” -Brian Morgan

    Reply
  7. Natalie

    I would gladly meld 107.1’s “corporate worship” music and 107.7’s “entertaining/inspiring/encouraging/convicting/etc” music into one, happy, cool radio station and boot KLOVE off the planet. Worship music. Not worship music. How about music that isn’t crap?

    But that’s just me.

    Reply
  8. Karen

    Wonderfully said, Colby. I always reclassify my music in iTunes into what I call “Worship”, “Christian Pop” and “Inspirational”. I like to shuffle songs within a genre and this helps me to sort it out. I wholeheartedly agree that there is a difference between music that is meant to be sung in corproate worship – and what is more meant to listen to/be inspired by. Until the radio figures it out – I’ll stick with my iPod or Pandora on my iPhone :)

    Reply
    • Joe B 1

      These comments are interesting, however, here are my enigmatic thoughts.

      Christianity has become a big business. There is no denying the buying power of Christians as evident by christian radio stations, christian music, christian books, christian speakers, christian conferences, church sound systems, church video systems, church websites, it goes on and on.

      The concept of bringing worship 100% in everything is naive. We are human with a sin nature. We have pride. We have egos. We have opinions.

      Instead of wanting to be rock stars, christian musicians want to be “worship stars”. With the advent of technology, any musician can produce a CD and have a CD release party and think they are an artist.

      Way back when (30 yrs ago) we just had to deal with little ol ladies vying/competing for the church organist position. Today people (twenty somethngs and thirty somethings) are trying out for the worship team consisting of many types of instruments. It is clear church’s focus on high quality worship teams to attract new people and keep the current ones attending. They need to keep the giving coming in to keep the business running. There are bills to be paid and salaries to be paid. There are programs to keep running.

      Now having said all that, in this christian culture we live in, money will dominate (sorry to burst the purist’s bubble). People will put there money where they want and right now it is not in two different types of radio stations.

      Reply

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