Cover image for At the crossroads : an insider's look at the past, present, and future of contemporary Christian music
At the crossroads : an insider's look at the past, present, and future of contemporary Christian music
Peacock, Charlie.
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Publication Information:
Nashville, Tenn. : Broadman & Holman, [1999]

Physical Description:
xii, 219 pages ; 24 cm
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ML3187.5 .P37 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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This book is meant to clarify the mission of Christian music & awaken the Christian music community to its lofty potential as God's image-bearers.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Peacock, a Dove Award-winning, Grammy-nominated musician with two decades of industry experience, tackles a debate that has been raging within the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) community in recent years. Having served as songwriter/recording artist ("Coram Deo," "Everything That's on My Mind"), producer (Margaret Becker, Cheri Keaggy) and eloquent spokesman on Christianity and the arts, Peacock applies these multiple perspectives to his examination of what is now a multimillion-dollar businessÄand the focus of criticism from those who feel ministry is being neglected or ignored in favor of commercial success. After reviewing the conditions that gave rise to CCM more than 30 years ago and introducing the major issues (the role of music in ministry, lyrical content, general market appeal), Peacock attempts to show that limited and particularized visions of the Christian life have contributed to the industry's failures. As a solution, he proposes a "comprehensive kingdom perspective" that is informed by Scripture and evolves from an artist's commitment to primary (discipleship) and secondary (artistic) callings. Those familiar with Peacock's music will not be surprised by his challenging honesty balanced by a respectful tone. The situation he describes is a true crossroadsÄone in which artists, record companies and retailers need to make decisions affecting the future direction of CCMÄand Peacock's penetrating analysis will provide readers with a firm foundation from which to proceed. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One Voices at the Crossroads Christian music has enjoyed unprecedented popularity and success in the 1990s. Total sales of popular Christian music in 1996 reached a new high of $538 million (33 million units). In 1997 sales were up again with 44 million units sold--a 30% increase from the year before.     In 1997, Christian singer and songwriter Bob Carlisle had the top-selling recording in America--not the number one Christian CD but the number one CD period. "Butterfly Kisses" became a smash hit on adult contemporary radio stations, driving album sales to more than three million units. At one point the recording was outselling its nearest competitor, the Spice Girls, by 50,000 copies per week. Amy Grant, dc Talk, Jars of Clay, Kirk Franklin, and other Christian artists have seen similar success in the mainstream market, and the trend continues.     Given this kind of success, what is there to imply that contemporary Christian music is at a crossroads?     The problem isn't concert attendance or cash flow--at least not yet. The problem is with the spiritual foundation of a musical form that is completely dependent on that foundation for artistic direction and ultimate commercial success. From modest beginnings in the 1960s, contemporary Christian music, or CCM, has grown exponentially both as a business and as a ministry. But today it stands on shaky ground. Artists, promoters, record companies, radio stations, and millions of listeners are deeply divided over the purpose of CCM, its mission, and even its exact musical definition.     As the Cheshire Cat told Alice in Wonderland, "When you don't know where you're going, any road will do." Until we lock onto a God-breathed direction for our music, we're stuck in the middle of the intersection tapping our feet. Spiritually, we're at the most important crossroads in the history of the industry. A Din of Voices     Contemporary Christian music is filled with the sound of many voices offering opinions and shouting questions. Like the music of the church throughout the ages, CCM is subject to the criticism of the church and the culture. For many Christians, CCM is a blessing--a gift from God. For some, it's an embarrassment. Others have never heard of it. CCM fans, parents, teachers, cultural critics, pastors and priests, people eager to be a part of the CCM community, and gifted young artists committed to taking their music to an unbelieving culture--all are looking for answers.     Many simply want to know where Jesus fits in amidst all the showbiz buzz and hype. In response to this kind of questioning, record companies spend a good deal of time and money to assure listeners that Jesus is at the heart of the music and of the artists they promote.     Others argue that CCM is nothing but vapid Christian subculture clichés set to the beat of what they term "secular" culture. Often their mission is to redirect CCM lovers back to the riches of hymnody and to warn their listeners and readers that CCM is substandard and trivial. Others are even less charitable. For them CCM is nothing short of the devil's handiwork. As one Christian mother has said, "You will never convince me that this [CCM] is of the Lord."     Which road leads to the truth?     Over the last few years, the CCM community has addressed key issues in various public forums to a greater extent than any time in its thirty-year history--issues such as the near-wholesale buyout of Christian record companies by mainstream corporations, and the debate over what makes one lyric "Christian" and another not. Questions are everywhere. Opinion is queen of the world. Competing voices of people within the church cry out, hoping to capture hearts and minds. Listen. Can you hear the voices of criticism saying in no uncertain terms that money, success, and business have become the only bottom line that CCM respects? Can you hear them say that evil spirits plague and control us and that we've all but abandoned Christ? Who and what are these voices? These are not imaginary voices. They are the voices of real people--people wanting to be heard. What's That Sound?     The voices of criticism are those which simply cannot affirm CCM as it is presently constituted. Their criticism is meant to lead to greater faithfulness. Other voices say CCM has drifted so far from the shore of truth that it's time to abandon the cursed ship. Still other voices come from critics outside the church.     If we listen further we'll hear voices of debate wrestling with two ongoing issues that have defied resolution: the crossover debate over the present means by which CCM companies market their artists to the mainstream pop audience; and the lyric debate concerning the role of the lyric in contemporary Christian music. The fact that we've continued to debate these questions is a good sign. Debate allows us time to learn from one another, challenge each other, and test our own understanding against true understanding--the voice of God revealed in the Scriptures.     Finally, there are the voices of success trumpeting ministry faithfulness and the recent achievements of CCM, telling of awards and honors, arenas filled to capacity, souls saved and lives changed, Christian artists at the top of the pop charts, unprecedented market share, and much more.     Caught between the voices of criticism and the voices of success, it's no wonder we have so many questions. Before we can get to the truth, we have to get our hearts and minds wrapped around the ideas that shape the Christian music community and the issues that concern it. We must listen to the voices, and be prepared to rethink and reimagine our own image of Christian music. Not Enough Songs Mention Jesus Anymore?     In April 1996, the board of directors from the WAY-FM Media Group Inc. placed a full-page ad in CCM Magazine titled "An Open Letter to the Christian Music Community." The letter focused largely on the importance and historical precedent of using CCM as a tool for "winning young people to Jesus and discipling them in their walk."     "Not enough songs mention Jesus anymore," observed the writers of the letter. "Has the `J' word all of the sudden become non-hip, or have we found that `you' or `he' has more power?"     "Yes ... we believe there is a place to address social issues and love between two people occasionally. However, we hope that all of us involved in CCM will remember that our first priority is to be a lighthouse of truth in an ever increasing spiritual fog."     Live concerts gave WAY-FM reason for concern as well: "In our opinion, the gospel also has been diluted to some degree in live concerts. We have been disappointed in the last few years with some of the concerts our stations have promoted. In some instances, there has been little or no ministry throughout the entire event."     The letter closed with this request: "We are asking all of our friends in this `industry' and the body of Christ at large, to pray for the songwriters, artists, managers, producers, labels and radio stations. Pray that we will experience a fresh anointing and that the message in our music will clearly and creatively communicate the gospel." Evil Spirits Plague and Control CCM     In early 1997, Scott MacLeod, a musician associated with a "prophetic teaching, vision and worship" ministry, published a forty-six--page book titled Snakes in the Lobby . The book, mailed out free to many industry insiders, described in MacLeod's words, "a vision that I received and the interpretation that unfolded regarding it." MacLeod published the vision hoping that it would help those who "have been confused, disillusioned and wounded by the condition of what is now called the Christian music industry." According to MacLeod, "The vision was received while a small group of us were praying about this condition, and against the powers and principalities that have, and still do, control and manipulate much of what is called Christian music."     The lobby in MacLeod's title refers to the lobby of the Nashville hotel/convention center where the annual Gospel Music Association convention is held each April. MacLeod recalls his vision: "The people were busy talking and going on with their business (what is commonly called schmoozing), each one dressed up in appropriate music attire, when much to my astonishment and horror I saw what looked like a massive snake lying on the lobby floor." MacLeod described the lobby as "full of people who were busy `lobbying' for position, power and their own agendas."     The snake, MacLeod says, represents "the powerful evil spirits that plague and control much of the Christian music industry and much of Christendom." The Snake Keepers are described as "the people who have been in power and have, knowingly or unknowingly, let the ways of the world enter into Christian music." The Bottom Line: Money and Success     In November 1997, the People's Church of Salem, Oregon, announced its plans to terminate Jesus Northwest, the Christian music festival it had operated for the last twenty-one years. The announcement came in the form of a letter of repentance written by People's Church pastor and festival executive director, Rev. Randy Campbell. Seeking forgiveness, Campbell wrote: "We humbly repent before the Lord and ask the forgiveness of the body of Christ for inadequately representing Christ in our ministry, message, and methods."     While the letter clearly expressed responsibility for specific sins for which the People's Church claimed guilt, the letter also revealed that problems with CCM and others were contributing factors in the decision to terminate the festival: "Although the Lord is changing us, many problems still remain in the greater working of the contemporary Christian music industry, the Christian publishing industry, and independent ministries we have worked with over the years. These issues prevent us from being involved with the type of festival we've been providing. We feel that within these industries and ministries much of what is done (for example, ministry direction, decision-making methods, even the message itself) is often driven by marketing--not the mind of the Lord. It is driven by analyzing demographics, not His anointing, by audio/visual production, not His power or presence. Money, success and business have become the bottom line." Reform and Return the Money     On October 31, 1997, veteran CCM recording artist Steve Camp, describing himself as "burdened and broken over the current state of CCM," released an essay in poster form accompanied by 107 theses entitled "A Call for Reformation in the Contemporary Christian Music Industry." Of all the voices of criticism, Camp's is arguably the most provocative. Along with studiously detailing CCM's shortcomings, Camp outlined specific steps he felt must be taken as well: "True revival is marked by repentance; true repentance brings restitution; true restitution demands that Christian music be owned and operated only by believers whose aim is the glory of God consistent with Biblical truth. This means that the current CCMI (contemporary Christian music industry) labels must return all the money that they have received to their respective secular counterparts that purchased them and divorce alliances with them" (emphasis mine).     To further illuminate his position, Camp explains in Thesis 86 that separating from the world does not mean avoiding the use of an unbeliever's services or skills:     "For instance, it is not unbiblical to consult non-Christian experts in matters of business, craft or trade ... but we can never engage in intimate binding--indissoluble relationships, alliances or partnerships that result in shared responsibility or authority for ministry purposes" (Deut. 22:9-11; Phil. 2:14-15).     On the subject of music itself, Camp, citing 1 Chronicles 15:37, 42, takes a definitive position: "Music, by biblical definition, is a ministry." He concludes his essay by urging the reader to "come away from an industry that has all but abandoned Christ and forge, by God's grace, what it was always meant to be ... a ministry. Pray on this. Pounding on Wittenberg's Door, let us come together to make history--to make Contemporary Christian Music ... Christian again." Debating the Lyric     On September 8, 1997, CCM Update published an article entitled "Album Lyrics Raise Questions: Lack of `Christian' content complicates Dove Award eligibility, chart placement decisions." The article served to make public a number of issues the CCM community had struggled with since Amy Grant's 1991 recording, Heart in Motion . Chief among them was what makes one lyric "Christian" and another not, and when, if ever, does the work of a Christian artist cease to be categorized as "Christian"? Predictably, Amy Grant received prominent mention, beginning with the lead paragraph: "Amy Grant's new album Behind the Eyes , and others like it that don't necessarily reflect `evangelical' lyric content, have spearheaded an industry discussion." The article also noted that the "Gospel Music Association (GMA) and Christian Music Trade Association (CMTA) have recently taken action to create new criteria and re-evaluate existing guidelines used to determine placement on sales charts and Dove Award eligibility."     Sales chart placement and Dove award eligibility are important and complex issues to many industry insiders, especially when mainstream artists are starting to find their way onto the CCM charts. Nevertheless, the issue for people like Rick Anderson, music buyer for Berean Christian Stores, is very simple: If there's no Christ, it's not Christian. Anderson appraised Grant's album Behind the Eyes by saying: "It's not a Christian album. A Christian album should be clear on the person of Christ and these lyrics are not." The directness of his statement illustrates the intensity of the lyric debate: People have strong opinions about what makes something Christian, especially when it comes to lyrics. As further example, consider that both the WAY-FM Network and the AIR 1 Radio Network declined to play Grant's single, "Takes a Little Time," citing a lack of "lyrical relevance" and failure to meet "lyrical criteria."     The GMA contacted a list of people "with diverse expertise and experience" in hopes of gathering various working definitions of gospel music . Frank Breeden, GMA President, told CCM Update : "I have no prediction for the outcome. It could be anything from `we can't arrive at a definition' all the way to `here it is.'"     In July of 1998 the GMA Board of Directors and the Dove Awards Committee approved the following definition:     "Gospel music is music in any style whose lyric is: substantially based upon historically orthodox Christian truth contained in or derived from the Holy Bible; and/or an expression of worship of God or praise for His works; and/or testimony of relationship with God through Christ; and/or obviously prompted and informed by a Christian world view."     Release of this definition unleashed a new round of criticisms and concerns. A sincere effort to resolve the question only added more fuel to the debate. Debating Crossover     The issue of whether the music of Christian artists should cross over into the mainstream, and by what means, continues to stir debate. In a Billboard guest editorial, Mark Joseph called the CCM industry "the modern-day equivalent of the Negro Leagues." If that's true, then like baseball's Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, there is a deserving new generation of CCM artists aptly described by Joseph as "artists of faith who refuse to be silenced or sidelined."     Drummer David Carr of Atlanta rock band Third Day spelled out his band's desire to take their music outside the Christian community. "We want to see people who aren't gonna get the gospel anywhere else; they're not gonna go to a church ... or to a Christian festival, or walk into a place where the gospel's getting preached. We want to see lives changed, lives that haven't come close to seeing God."     Third Day, and other younger Christian artists who have tried or are presently trying to contribute to mainstream pop music (for example, Sixpence None the Richer, Sarah Masen, Jars of Clay, Flick, and MxPx) realize "lives that haven't come close to seeing God" are not generally found sitting next to them in church. These newer artists, in the same way as Amy Grant, dc Talk, Michael W. Smith, The 77's, Vigilantes of Love, Over the Rhine, and others before them, believe that reaching people with the gospel, with compelling music, with a conversation, or with anything that is simply good, requires taking it to them. While most Christian labels do some limited marketing of select artists to the mainstream community, it is neither their mission nor their priority, a stance to which Billboard columnist Deborah Evans Price takes exception. "I can't tell you how many interviews I've asked about mainstream plans for a particular artist or song and get the response that the company is `exploring options,' and nothing ever happens."     "It seems," says Matt Slocum of Sixpence None the Richer, "like the Christian community doesn't really understand what it means to go over into the mainstream and try to be a light in that market."     Yet the leadership of Christian music does understand what it means to go over into the mainstream, even though it's not necessarily to "try to be a light." Music critic Tom Roland of The Tennessean reports that "Christian executives attribute much of the growth (in 1997) to increased exposure in mainstream outlets." According to Roland, "Nine of the year's Top 10 albums received exposure on mainstream radio." A Flood of Success     That leads us to the other side of the discussion. While some voices are those of woe and warning, others celebrate CCM's robust financial health and growing popularity. Publicity and promotional muscle have secured Christian artists major national media exposure through The Wall Street Journal , National Public Radio, Time, USA Today, Live With Regis & Kathie Lee, Good Morning America, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, ABC World News Tonight , and others. Marketing to ancillary markets has also played an important role in CCM's success. For example, partnerships with record clubs Columbia House and BMG, and TV shopping programs such as QVC and the "Keep the Faith" infomercials have all proven profitable, increasing the consumer base of Christian music. God's Property with Kirk Franklin scored a big hit in 1997 with the single "Stomp," receiving radio play across the board as well as strong video exposure on BET and MTV.     Music publishing has done its part as well. The 1996 Grammy Award for Song of the Year went to three of Christian music's most gifted songwriters, Wayne Kirkpatrick, Tommy Sims, and Gordon Kennedy, for their song "Change the World," recorded by Eric Clapton for the Phenomenon movie soundtrack. The 1997 Grammy Award for Country Song of the Year was awarded to Bob Carlisle and Randy Thomas for "Butterfly Kisses." Through music licensing agreements and writing for specific feature films, songs by Christian artists have appeared in films such as The Apostle, Speechless, Dr. Dolittle , and That Thing You Do , on television's Party of Five , and even the Super Bowl telecast.     Live performances by Christian artists have had considerable impact as well. Christian concerts have become increasingly more professional and competitive with their mainstream counterparts. For sheer numbers alone, both Carman (Texas Stadium, 71,000 attended) and The Young Messiah tour (1.25 million attended over 18 dates in '95) have set remarkable attendance records. Moreover, Kirk Franklin, Amy Grant, dc Talk, Jars of Clay, The Newsboys, The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, Michael W. Smith, and Steven Curtis Chapman draw thousands of people a night to their concerts, selling out major venues from the Tacoma Dome to Madison Square Garden to the Hollywood Bowl. Jars of Clay racked up a remarkable 300 tour dates in 1996 alone. A Million First Time Commitments     Finally, artists like Carman, Geoff Moore, Rebecca St. James, and NewSong continue in the tradition of Keith Green and Mylon LeFevre--they are musicians, but musicians who share the gospel from stage and who offer altar calls at their concerts. Some, like Carman, receive a large response. According to Carman Ministries Inc., headquartered in Nashville, from the inception of Carman's ministry to date, they have registered "a million first-time commitments" to Christ. Conclusion     There are many voices eager to be heard in the CCM community--voices of criticism, debate, and success. Many other examples of representative voices could have been used. I chose these specific examples because I believe them to be definitive, in that the ideas contained within them define the general ideological climate of CCM. These are, I believe, the ideas which have influenced CCM from its beginning to the present. It is these ideas that I want us to hear, transcribe, analyze, and test for truthfulness, quality, and kingdom perspective. Copyright (c) 1999 Charles Ashworth pka Charlie Peacock. All rights reserved.