A Progressive Christian Blog

Fixing Christian Radio: Part Deux

Fixing Christian Radio

Fixing Christian Radio

Allright, so a few days ago I posted a blog about an idea I had to fix “Christian Radio.” You can read the blog in it’s entirety here, but the gist of it is that I propose we separate music made by Christians into two general purposes: one station plays solely music written and designed for corporate worship, while another station plays solely music written by Christian artists “not” designed for corporate worship.

I received quite a bit of interesting feedback, and so I thought it merited some followup thoughts on my part. Here are 2 primary reasons, in more detail, WHY I wish Christian Radio would separate their music.

REASON # 1: Works Against Proper Understanding of Worship

I’ll use some excerpts from people’s responses to get started:

Brian writes: “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 a worship leader or a “Christian artist”

You bring up a good point, here Brian, and on one level I agree with you. But I think Logan is correct when he offered this:

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.

In my original post, I was trying to make that distinction, and when using the term “worship music,” was doing so in the context of music specifically designed for use in a corporate worship environment. The word “worship” is so multi-faceted and has so many dimensions and layers to it, that it really does require a note about how the author is using it. Most certainly, one way to talk about worship is like what cnhutch wrote:

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.

So this would be where I agree with your overall sentiment, Brian, that all Christian music could effectively be labeled as “worship” music. It might be

  • a) written as an act of worship by the author
  • b) listened to as an tool for worship by the listener
  • c) sung as a demonstration of worship by an individual and/or congregation

In this sense, you could use a very broad definition of ‘worship’ and apply most (hopefully all) music written by Christians as worship itself (the product) or able to assist in worship (as a performance).

But I think you can, (and as I argue, maybe “should”) separate the music as best as you can. This is one thing that bothers me now about going to a Christian Rock concert where there is a section of “corporate worship” stuck right in the middle of the rock show (which is the inverse of what bothers Janice:

There is a time and place for special music, but not smack dab in the middle of deep and meaningful vertical worship (I, Colby, might agree with this as a general principle, but I do believe that if well chosen and well executed, you can have a very meaningful, powerful, and impacting moment of worship with a special music stuck “smack dab” in the middle)

Back in the day, I used to love going to Third Day shows for this very reason; fantastic “corporate worship” time in the middle of the show. But now, I think I take issue with it. I don’t think we are training people well to separate these two moments, these two realities.

Third Day Concert - Entertainment? Worship? Both?

Third Day Concert - Entertainment? Worship? Both?

One says, “come, be entertained… observe but don’t participate… watch and enjoy.” The other says, “come, be engaged… enter in and participate… join the hosts of heaven and earth.” Is it possible that we are, indirectly, cutting off the branch we sit upon by blending these two realities so closely? Are we just to assume that people are able to cognitively flip off the “observe” switch and enter in to “participation?” Is there too much in common between these two that it makes it hard to distinguish one from the other? This same distortion of distinctions between these two realities is happening on Christian Radio, and that’s a big part of why I wish they could be separated.

It’s not unlike a principle my wife and I share in our house with our kids. We try and teach them that some words are okay for grown-ups but NOT for kids. And if certain words find there way into a general conversation, we pause and remind our kids that these are “grow-up” words, not suitable or acceptable for their vocabulary. It would be unfair for us to expect them to know the difference and separate the two if we didn’t teach them about the differences. How could we hold them to a certain standard if they didn’t know where the boundaries were?

In the same way, maybe Christian Artists need to take more responsibility to understand their influence on people, and “teach” them in their concerts that they’re shifting gears from performance to corporate worship. Maybe the DJ’s on the radio could assume the same responsibility?

REASON #2: Waters Down Good Christian Music

Okay, I get that this is totally subjective, and I’m not asking you to completely agree with me, but I DO think that mixing “songs made for corporate worship” and “songs made for general enjoyment” are crafted differently. And a lot of people’s critique that “Christian music” is lame comes from a set of expectations and standards that “songs made for corporate worship” are never intended to meet. But again, throwing them all together on the radio makes it impossible to separate this.

I’m not saying that “songs written for worship” are NEVER creative, unique, or good art. But I may offer that “most” songs of this nature are not written with those goals necessarily in mind. There is a LOT of really good music being made by Christian artists out there (most of it you can’t find on the radio, but that’s a different story) that I believe could really turn a person from a place of, “man, Christian music is lame” to a place of, “wow, I didn’t know there was GOOD music in the Christian industry!”

So if there was a designated station where songs of this nature could be played, and not be “watered-down” in a sense by songs written for a different purpose, I think the Christian Music Industry would get a lot more respect and credibility from the outside world, and they might actually give it a listen!

What do you think?
Have you ever found yourself with mixed feelings about corporate worship? (is this “entertainment” or “engagement?” Do I “observe” or “participate?”)
Do those lines get blurred sometimes at church? Have you been to a concert where this has happened, and how did you feel?
Have you ever made the comment, “Christian music is lame,” or something similar?
Why do you think that is?

I welcome your responses and thoughts…

18 Responses to “Fixing Christian Radio: Part Deux”

  1. Cindy Hohmann

    Poor Brian. He got his answer graded in front of the whole class…Ouch. ;)

    My two cents worth…

    I don’t think all Christian music is lame, but I do think there is lame Christian music…you will never be able to have one without the other. Unfortunately, like most music genres, music execs have developed a formula for what they think “works” and from that they give the masses the same cookie cutter sounds that makes one group indistinguishable from the next. So if you think one sounds lame….than they ALL sound lame to you. And let’s admit it….sometimes the music is very cliché and cheesy….but (to be cliché,) you can’t throw the baby out with the bath water. :)

    As far as your idea of needing to separate Christian music by it’s purpose, I think worship music and music for entertainment can be enjoyed together. It’s just like with secular music….you can be rocking out one minute and starting to tear up the next when some love ballad starts playing that reminds you of how so-and-so broke your heart or made it feel whole again….blah blah blah. Music is about emotion and our mind will quickly go where the music leads. Now, I wouldn’t mind there being two different stations that play one or the other just for the sake of convenience, but then again…that’s what iPods are for.

    Because you asked, I wanted to quickly share a “concert” experience I had several years ago…
    Back in the day, I was a Michael W. Smith fan and thought it was cool when I got to go to a small concert that he had at a very small, old high school auditorium in Phoenix almost 10(?) years ago that was a “warm-up” to a concert tour he was going to be kicking off….
    I obviously went with a concert goer attitude expecting to be entertained, and that I was….and then at some point M.W.S. changed it up and led us into one of the most personal, intimate moments of corporate worship I have ever participated in. In a matter of minutes, the room as a whole was no longer there to be entertained, it was as if a button had been pushed and this entire group of strangers was flowing in God’s spirit, worshiping together as if we were all standing at the foot of His throne. It was truly amazing!
    What does this story mean in light of this conversation???? I don’t know exactly…But, it can definitely be argued, that when God’s presence is felt, it doesn’t matter what you are doing or when and how you are doing it, when God is in your midst, you have no choice but to fall down on your face and worship him.

    Like most things in life, people need to be taught, so I agree that it wouldn’t hurt if music leaders, disc jockeys, or band frontmen took the time to announce the transition and prepare people for the psychological aspect change, but worship comes from a deeply emotional place and true worship cannot be forced nor stifled.

    So, whether it be in a concert, at church, or on the radio, I don’t have a problem combining “entertainment” and “participation”… one does not necessarily inhibit the other, rather, I would argue, when it comes to worship, people inhibit themselves when they are not WILLING to be moved from one to the other.

    Cindy :)

    • colbymartin

      hey cindy,
      thanks for joining the show.
      and thanks for sharing your thoughts and opinions!

      i’d like to interact with a couple things you said:

      (cindy) “As far as your idea of needing to separate Christian music by it’s purpose, I think worship music and music for entertainment can be enjoyed together. It’s just like with secular music….you can be rocking out one minute and starting to tear up the next when some love ballad starts playing that reminds you of how so-and-so broke your heart or made it feel whole again….blah blah blah. Music is about emotion and our mind will quickly go where the music leads.”

      on one hand, the essence of what you’re saying is true: music lends itself to playing ping pong with our emotions, and the right (or wrong) mix of styles can take your heart on a wonderful (or awful) rollercoaster. however, on the other hand i would be cautious to compare how two different “styles” of music can be enjoyed together, with how two different “purposes” of music and be enjoyed together. what i mean is that music for the purpose of enjoyment/entertainment is, while wonderful and inspiring at times, ultimately about the art or the artist. whereas music for the purpose of “corporate worship” is ultimately about THE artist. one song (regardless of tempo/lyrics/feel) invites the listener to enjoy, reflect, relate, etc… while the other song (again, regardless of tempo/lyrics/feel) is designed to invite the listener to participate, enter in, turn all our heart/soul/and mind towards our great king. (i shall pause to say that, yes of course there are plenty of overlap between those two “purposes,” and i’m over-generalizing, i realize).

      but i don’t feel this is the same as saying “one song gets me all rockin’ out and celebrating life, while the very next slows me down and makes me weep.” in our scenario, one song is about us/them, the other song is about Him.

      (cindy) “I obviously went with a concert goer attitude expecting to be entertained, and that I was….and then at some point M.W.S. changed it up and led us into one of the most personal, intimate moments of corporate worship I have ever participated in. In a matter of minutes, the room as a whole was no longer there to be entertained, it was as if a button had been pushed and this entire group of strangers was flowing in God’s spirit, worshiping together as if we were all standing at the foot of His throne. It was truly amazing!”

      sounds like this was an incredible time of worship for you and those there! and i’m with you… i’ve been there too. like i mentioned earlier, this was part of why i loved going to third day concerts… i’ve had some wonderful, authentic, engaging times of worship at their shows.
      my point is not to say that this can’t or shouldn’t happen… my point is rather to say that i think it has the potential to do damage to people’s sub-conscious thoughts or expectations towards “worship” and “corporate worship.” you, cindy, are a mature christian. and so i wouldn’t be overly concerned about your ability to separate and to know “these words are for adults only, but these words kids CAN say.” but my fear is for the hundreds/thousands of people going to these shows who AREN’T able to do that on their own, and as a result they take back to their own churches or own individual lives a “sense” about what worship is or should be like, and it reeks of overtones of “entertainment/show/production/high emotions/etc”

      last word, i think my perspective is a obviously different (maybe even tainted? or jaded?) because i’m coming from the perspective of a “leader of worship.” and so i deal with every week the battle of “are we entertaining people? or are we inviting them to enter in to god’s story and be changed…” and so i think about what sorts of baggage/expectations people bring to worship, or how they’re thoughts about worship are incorrect or full of holes.. and that leads me to wonder how we/they got this place… and hence, i find myself wondering if “worship time” in the middle of rock shows is doing more harm than good.

      love ya cindy!
      thanks for playing along…
      (i know you’ve banned yourself from my blog, but if you come back, feel free to keep dialoging!)

  2. Brian Morgan

    Ha! I can’t say I disagree with most of what you’ve written in your two blogs. But lets use Third Day as an example…Some years back they put out a worship album and I saw them on tour that year. It was absolutely amazing worship! The experience was awesome! But the last two times I have seen them they were lame..after putting out their standard albums. They tried to entertain. As I stated last week, the “world” does that better. They tried a light show that had aspects of U2 but it was so scaled down and some of the lights weren’t even functioning right. The focus was different. And their songs didn’t hold up. If I want to listen to rock songs, I’ll turn on secular radio. When I want to worhsip, I listen to Christian music (some is okay). But I tune in to K-LOVE and Air One to listen to (in your words) Corporate Worship (for the most part)..but don’t mind hearing Lifehouse, Switchfoot, The Fray, and some others along with them..Paul Coleman Trio were good and so were Tree 63..what happened to them?? So I don’t mind a blend..Last week in church worship we intertwined Mighty To Save (not a corporate worship version) and “Rise” with Corporate Worship..to me that worked out fine..it’s all worship to me..but I don’t listen to Christian music/worship for entertainment purposes or to hear good songs first and foremost..but Paul Coleman and Tree 63 have written some good ones..but again, I think the “heart of it” has been there with them..some of these other artists don’t belong on Christian radio b/c their songs don’t hold up and they rip off all the current secular bands/artists..

    • colbymartin

      I hear ya, Brian… sometimes Chrisitan-acts don’t measure up to non-Christian ones… but I think that’s part of the challenge in the church reclaiming the arts, and LEADING the way, like we used to from 300 AD – 1500 AD.
      I’m not saying it’s inherently wrong or bad to listen to (or even LIKE listening to) both “purposes” of songs on the radio or on your ipod, i’m just posing the idea that it might possibly do damage to our perception and expectations of worship WITHOUT us knowing it…. and THAT I think can potentially be harmful, which is why I advocate for breaking them up…

  3. Brian Morgan

    One more point…I disagree that people think Christian music is lame based on complexity (that being corporate worship). Look at Dillon, Neil Young, McCartney, Lennon..these are the best most critically acclaimed songwriters of our time..all their stuff is simple, catchy, great songs…the reason the world dislikes Christian music has less to do with complexity in Corporate Worship and more to do with cheesy lyrics and rip off artists that shouldn’t be on the radio and making it big on Christian stations..

    • colbymartin

      Good points… That’s definitely another reason why people think lamely towards Christian music…

  4. Haven Yates

    I agree with Brian’s comment about the cheezy lyrics and rip off artists. Much the Christian genre is like a copy of the secular market with alternative lyrics. There should be more Christian artists in the mainstream who are actually artists, who write spiritual things because they can’t help it, being so in awe of who God is, and the sacrifice Jesus made for us. It’s not the same if you start with a secular project, and rework it to just barely not infringe on a copyright.

    • colbymartin

      Yeah, Haven, I agree.. but what I would argue is that those artists DO exist, but they cannot get the exposure that other “artists” do because of the way current Christian radio is set up. If you look, you will find amazing, talented, creative, original artists that are Christians making great music!

      • Haven Yates

        That it a great point. Those artists are very hard to find. If you look at what the labels are looking for, they want lifeless cookie cutter “spiritual” but not “in your face” lyrics to reach a broad audience (make more money).

  5. Karen

    I am thoroughly enjoying this discussion. Most of all, I think it is great that we can even be having this discussion! Back when I was in High School – what passed as “Christian Rock” – was barely palatable. Not to mention the cheesy “worship choruses” that were also written and preformed in the 80s. We have come so far in the last 20 years!! There is definitely a blurring of the lines between performance music and participative (aka worship) music. While both can help lead someone into Worship – the route and methodology is different. You can worship through observing great art/music, creating great art/music, and participating in great art/music. This is where the challenge of a worship leader lies. Different people worship through music in different ways – it is your job to figure out how to reach most of the people most of the time.

    So now to raise a question…. So where do you see classic hymns fitting in with the modern worship context? I love many of the old hymns because they tell the entire story – How Great Thou Art is a great example. But I don’t like that the vocabulary is difficult – and it doesn’t have the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus format that most people are used to. I have to say that I absolutely love when we blend old hymns with contemporary choruses. Amazing Grace – and a version that we did of Fairest Lord Jesus (I can’t remember the artist) are great are some of my favorites.

    Keep the discussion coming. It’s great!

    • colbymartin

      Hey K, totally agree… people definitely worship through music in different ways, and worship in general in different ways, too. And I love the challenge of trying to create avenues for people to express all sorts of “kinds” of worship.
      Where do I see classic hymns fitting in? I see them as, in one sense, just another tool in the worship leader’s tool box. I think they bring to the table a great sense of heritage and history, and give voice to all sorts of different truths that modern music just doesn’t touch. And, like you say, they usually do a much better job at telling the whole story of God, which I feel is hugely central to biblical worship. Hymns also do wonders in “including” older generations into the community of a local church. The most healthy church bodies are often the most diverse. And hymns are an easy way (that sounds kinda trite) to give a place for the older generation in an otherwise 20-40 year old dominated church.

  6. James

    Well, I am not well qualified to enter this discussion; I’m not a worship leader, I can’t tell if a song is good or not (I have my opinions, but people who are “talented” or “trained” often tell me I am wrong lol), and I rarely listen to Christian radio. I think my wife has a couple stations saved in the car…but we also have CD’s in there.

    My beef with Christian music is that so little of it is dangerous.

    I understand that the market is driven by what sells and that “safe alternative/safe for the whole family” is selling right now. So, its hard for an artist with anything new/revolutionary/dangerous to say to get his music out to the world via radio. This is one more reason why I love the internet. I can find little bands that inspire and put their music on my playlist.

    Honestly, I have to ask myself what the soundtrack to a real, wild, passionate, fully committed sounds like – and when I turn on Christian radio, I have a hard time finding it. It fits parts of my life, but it’s not going to dominate the soundtrack to my life.

    And now a heartwarming story,

    When I was in jr. high I loved Christian music. However, Degarmo and Key and the Newsboys (2nd album, Hell is for Wimps) were the only bands that I could find that were aggressive enough for me to listen to (how sad!). Later I found a couple screamo Christian bands but, musicaly, they sucked. How could I share my music with my friends, if they all thought it was pansy or anti-musical crap?

    I might as well have been listening to northern Canadian heroines Celine Dion or Shania Twain.

    When I got into techno I actually had to order my cassette tapes from England because their simply was no Christians making decent techno on this side of the pond.

    All that to say,

    If I can do anything for my kids growing up, I want to expose them to dangerous Christian music that will fuel their passion for the adventure that is following Jesus!

    Who will write it?
    Who will play it for the masses?

    • colbymartin

      James, thanks for joining the convo…
      You’re a church planter now, that pretty much makes you qualified on any discussion regarding church stuff.
      I love your take. Very safe, is that which we hear on the radio. The shot-callers of Christian radio probably cannot “afford” to play any music that might segregate their audience. A song about social justice? There goes the checks from extreme right wingers who fear the liberal “social gospel.” A song about loving all people (including gays)? There goes the checks from… well you get the picture. Which makes me wonder, do “quote-un-quote” LIBERALS actually “listen” to christian radio stations? Can’t imagine the soundtrack to their lives show up much (yes, overgeneralizing, but just raising a thought).
      I would say the same goes for “corporate worship” songs. We just have to play the “center” so that “all people” can feel welcome in worshiping the church (at least, that’s what we THINK we create).
      I do know of some people who are writing “dangerous” songs, as you call them, but their just not that great musically…. might take a while for those two sides to merge… but let’s hope it does!

  7. KZ

    I will start with a question: Colby, are you open to any ideas to fix Christian Radio that have little to do with what you’re talking about or should I try to stay on the worship/art topic? I don’t want to derail the discussion. Thank you.

    • colbymartin

      yes, KZ, you may discuss other ideas if you have them (as i KNOW you do), and/or you may chime in on my ideas. But I suppose there are OTHER good ideas out there besides mine (just don’t tell my wife that!… =)

      fire away.

  8. Haven Yates

    James, if you’re looking for uncompromising lyrics, I would recommend Seven Places. There’s a lot of doctrine in their songs made accessable to teens. We didn’t have Christian rock that spiritual when I was growing up.

  9. Nick Plato


    Well I wrote big thing after part one and didn’t realize the conversation is going on…HERE on your blog…I’m awesome.

    Reason #1 is essentially what I focused on. I didn’t focus on Reason 2 about watering down good stuff…but I agree and think the artists chosen for “Christian Radio” are artists that people want, which are artists that align with the currently selling style…such as Nickleback and Camp…similar voice style.

    My thought is how do you define public worship? (“you” being anyone on this blog) What is the difference in singing a song with people from your church in your car, and singing the same song at church?

    One could say, we’ll the first scenario we’re in a car and the other we’re in church at a specific time and place. I’d say, but I didn’t think “church” was a place but people. So, what is the ESSENTIAL difference b/w the car and church?

    To me they’re both IN the public, they’re both WITH BELIEVERS, they’re both THE SAME MUSIC and LYRICS sang together with the INTENTION of worshipping…so…again….is there a difference? What makes public worship “public”?


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