I am disappointed with a great deal of the "Christian music" that is being produced today. We are inundated with "Jesus is my boyfriend" type songs, as well as Christianized knock-offs of secular artists. (Ever notice how often the next big thing in secular music finds its Christian equivalent in about six months? The Christian look-alike/soundalike artist is just a cleaned-up, Jesus version of its secular counterpart and is often marketed as such. I find this laughable at best and really pathetic at worst.) We who walk in new life and commune with the Creator of the universe should be free to create and innovate in new, different, and better ways. We don't need to copy someone else's formula.
Much of this happens, of course, because Christian music is an industry. It is run like a business, not a ministry. There are many, many Christian musicians out there who are being new and different and innovative, but generally they aren't the ones getting signed to labels. Christian labels (often run by secular music labels) want to make money and be successful--that is their primary goal. We shouldn't be surprised or shocked by that. I do think ministry does happen through this avenue, by God's grace. But part of me wonders how much more beauty and worship we could be creating if we weren't squeezing ourselves into the secular music model for recording, distribution, and consumption.
To top it all off, much of the "good" Christian music, or at least popular Christian music, is full of bad theology. (To be fair, there are a good many hymns with bad theology as well, so this isn't necessarily a new phenomenon.)
N.T. Wright has some great insight into the role of beauty and creativity in the mission of the church:
"I believe that taking creation and new creation seriously is the way to understand and revitalize aesthetic awareness and perhaps even creativity among Christians today. Beauty matters, dare I say, almost as much as spirituality and justice" (Surprised by Hope, p. 222)."But we don't live in the Garden of Eden, and art that attempts to do so quickly becomes flaccid and trivial. (The church doesn't have a monopoly on kitsch or sentimentalism, but if you want to find it the church may well be the easiest place to start.)" (Surprised by Hope, p. 223)"When art comes to terms with both the wounds of the world and the promise of resurrection and learns how to express and respond to both at once, we will be on the way to a fresh vision, a fresh mission.... This will take serious imagination, imagination fueled by reflection and prayer at the foot of the cross and before the empty tomb, imagination that will discern the mysteries of God's judgment on evil and God's reaffirmation, through resurrection, of his beautiful creation" (Surprised by Hope, p. 224).
That's a pretty high charge we have been given. As a songwriter, I feel completely inadequate to do such a task. I don't want to write songs for the Lord and for the church that stink. On the other hand, I don't want to be lured into the trap of capitalizing and profiting on ministry (yet another reason I am reluctant to be a "Christian artist"). There are a lot of sticky issues that a Christian artist today needs to consider, not the least being maintaining one's integrity in an industry driven by money and fame. Many Christian artists have navigated this field brilliantly and have been a blessing to the church. Many more... well, not so much.
I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all guide for musicians and songwriters who want to glorify God with their music. God uses all types, styles, and presentations for His glory. But rather than having "hit-making" as our goal, or radio airplay, or big royalty checks, our goal should be solid theology, creative melodies, and top-notch musicianship. I have kept my praise and worship songs "to myself" for the most part, because I'm afraid that I'm not ready to navigate this balance with integrity and honesty. I know my own selfish heart, and I've tasted the cut-throat world of Christian music firsthand. But I also know that keeping my gifts and creativity to myself and withholding that which could benefit the church is also selfish. Still thinking and praying through this one...