Christian entertainment: A borderline oxymoron. Christianity is about dying to yourself and entertainment is defined as affording pleasure. You might be thinking, are you saying that Christians cant be entertained? my response is absolutely not! But I am saying that we shouldnt be entertained in the ways we seek it out. Let me make my points, then you can argue with me. I have toured with bands since I was 16 years old, Im rolling up on 9 years of touring. Ive been a Christian filmmaker since I was 10 years old. I still dont claim to be the authority on the subject but Ive been very involved on both sides, the Christian entertainer and the entertained Christian and both sides seem to be silently screaming for a change and the two dont seem to understand each other (or seem to try to).
I know there are already a million blogs about Christian entertainment, mostly about music and about which bands arent Christians and which ones we should avoid like the plague, etc. I know this blog is just adding to the number. I havent seen any Christian entertainment blogs from the entertainers side but I have seen it from the consumer side and I have yet to see one that sees it through the Gospel. So I hope to do both, I hope to talk about it as someone that has worked and currently works in Christian entertainment industry and also as a church layman, a consumer of Christian entertainment. But mainly, I dont want to just address the problem, but hopefully pose a solution: the Gospel.
I write this out of love for my brothers and sisters that are on both sides. Get back to the Gospel. You are not going to be asked by God on judgement day what bands youve listened to. You arent currently making a movie of your life that God is going to replay in Heaven and hopefully be pleased with, because he cant be pleased without it with seeing it through the blood of Jesus. The only hope we have is Jesus Christ. The movie of our life will be repulsive to God without Jesus Christ, even if the movie of our life is G rated with no cussin and drinking.* This is the point I will try to make this entire blog.
Christianity has turned into a set of hoops to jump through. How to look like a Christian, do this and this. Whats sad is once it becomes a set of hoops and works, its not Christianity anymore, because its not about the Gospel of Jesus, which the Gospel says that you cant earn salvation. So we start making Christianity something that its not and start pushing it on others. So unfortunately this is the drum us Christian entertainment consumers beat all the time to the Christian entertainers, telling them what hoops to jump through before we buy their art.
15-16 years ago I didnt like music until my older brother brought home a Newsboys cassette tape and I heard Breakfast for the first time on a walkman my eyes opened. It was that moment I liked music. They were the gateway to other, better music. Next thing I know Im sharing a tour bus with Jeffree star in Europe and to think it all started with Newsboys song Breakfast.
After touring with countless bands I would love to walk you through the things that Ive learned about Christian entertainment.
1. People in Christian bands arent expert Christians (as if there is such a thing)
I used to think that Christian band members are some professional Christians or prophets from God or something. I think that people do this a lot with Celebrities. Its called occult of personality. When I was preparing for a drivers test some guy said something Ill never forget, all you have to do is drive perfect for 5 minutes, then you have your license for the rest of your life. This is how occult of personality works. People see you driving good for five minutes and the dont see how you drive when youre tired or when you are late for work. Thats why they dont do driving tests on the way to work. If you leave enough blanks about your life, people will fill in those blanks. This isnt just true with just celebrities, its with crushes too. You see how they treated you for 4 minutes and you just start filling in the blanks of who that person might be and start falling in love with a person youve created. This is what happens with celebrities and especially Christian celebrities. Because when you add Christianity to it, theres a whole new category of blanks that can be filled out in their favor.
I thought for a while that Christian band members were Christians that moved on from the church laymen. Like there are pastors, missionaries and band members. I thought them all one in the same, they all had to pass seminary and go to Bible college or something. That they have been knighted by Jesus Christ to rock for him or something like that. I hope to take Christian celebrities or anyone off the pedestal they dont deserve. Think of your youth group, Bible study, small group or church. Think of the people that you go to church with. Think of any five people at your church. There you go, thats Christian band members. They just hold guitars instead of hammers. They just have a different job than the people you go to Church with. At this point, you might have noticed Im not always saying Christians, because everyone knows that there are more people that you see at church than there are Christians. If you grab a handful of people that claim Christianity, some pursue works, some use God to hopefully accomplish their dreams, some claim it because its all they know and some are genuine about their pursuit of God. Thats Christian band members.
2. A band with 4 members contains 4 different theologies, goals and doctrines.
You might have also noticed I have been referring to them as band members instead of bands. Because something I learned very quickly is that not every member is on the same page or in it for the same reason. Youve never met anyone that agrees with you 100%, so why do we start thinking that a band of four guys all agree 100%? This goes to part of my first points, is occult of personality, we assume things. Just because a guy is playing drums on a song thats about a break-up doesnt mean he broke up with the girl in the song. If there is a great lyric, it doesnt mean the whole band agreed with it or wrote it.
Funny thing is, you might be thinking, well the band might not agree, but they dont disagree. Thats not always true. I can think of at least 2-3 cases when a member released a song with lyrics that the the rest of the band didnt sign off or approve on the lyrics. So please get it out of your head that they all have meetings every day to make sure they have the same view on doctrine.
Ive had a friend of mine that is in a Christian band say I dont think the other members are in this band for the same reasons I am. I dont think they see this as a ministry. Ive also have seen a drummer from a secular band lead the Bible study at Warped Tour. So that shows that each member is in a band for different reason. This is so important to understand.
Which leads me to my next point...
3. Its their job.
Some people are paid to flip hamburgers, build houses, grow crops or shred on guitars. Remember how I said bands are like the people you go to church with? Do you think every Christian in your church will still be a Christian in 5 years? Sadly, no. Some people that professed the Christian faith five years ago in my church are professing the opposite now. So what happens if they are getting paid to profess that? It might have started out honest, but when they battled the deep doubts of their heart and lost, what happens? What if they have a family to feed? What if its the only way to make money for them? Im not condoning this, but Im trying to get you to understand the situation sometimes we put them in.
Ill explain on a more personal level. About four years ago I was getting noticed for my video work. People all over the world were watching The Really Real Show (a video series I did with Family Force 5). People were recognizing me, asking for my autograph, taking photos with me, drawing pictures of me, sending me emails and in some rare cases, cried when they met me. At the time that was my peak of success, fame, etc. I was writing blogs on Myspace that were making it on Myspaces front page and top blogs. I was getting thousands of views in a few days and around 30-50 comments each blog. My blogs were about Christianity, people knew I toured with a Christian band and I became a minor Christian celebrity (in some circles). Basically I started getting a lot of momentum not knowing where it would take me but I knew it could be good for my future film career.
In my pursuit of God, I came across some deep serious doubts. I think anyone truly pursuing God will come across these doubts. They say everyone that gets a motorcycle will crash at least once, mostly just a minor crash, that first crash weeds out people that dont think motorcycling is worth it and it makes the other cyclists better and more aware. I think like motorcycling, every Christian will have their deep doubts and struggles. Those doubts, either make you stronger or make you walk away from it convinced that its not worth it. This happened to my brother a while ago. His doubts got the best of him and he no longer has anything to do with Christianity. Slowly I saw our mutual friend circle close in on him, his chances to marry or even date the girls in our youth group disappeared and thats when I remembered everything youth group kept telling us when you are a Christian, your friends might dislike you, you might lose your job and your family might disown you. But I think that mostly applies to other countries where people are getting killed for their faith. I think its the other way around a lot of times here in America. Like my brother, everything he knew was gone, when he was honest with his doubts.
One night in November I was traveling apart from Family Force 5 working for ESPN, I was in my own hotel room in Florida and Ill never forget the strong feeling of doubt that I had in Jesus. Like being minutes away from loosing my faith all together. I was pleading with God saying, I just want to follow Truth, even if that means its not Christianity. In that prayer I realized if I leave Christianity I lose my fan base, my job with Christian bands (even my ESPN job was because I was a Christian), my girlfriend at the time, a lot of my friends (or at least our friendships wont be as deep or grounded on the same thing) and so much more. But I felt the question, would you be willing to give this up to follow truth? and after a lot of thought I answered in honestly, absolutely. It was that moment that I felt a renewed faith in Jesus Christ. Like a motorcycle crash, I got stronger when I got back on the bike.
In one case, Id say that as Christians our faith should be the foundation that everything else stands on, that when we take it away, our social life, pursuits, goals and dreams should all be forced to crumble or at least change. But then on the other side, if our faith is tied into everything we do and we do end up losing our faith, we maintain the appearance of faith. Which happens in the church all the time and if it happens in the church in happens in Christian entertainment.
I know someone thats in a worship band that lost his faith three years ago. He doesnt feel convicted to leave because he has a family he has to provide for. He also doesnt sing or say I love Jesus the singer does that. He just plays his instrument. So I guess its like a Christian playing drums for Brittany Spears, he wont agree with her lyrics but hes playing for a job.
So a lot of people know that Katy Perry used to be a Christian singer with the name Katy Hudson. Her albums didnt sell. So when her doubts got the best of her, she was free to move on and sing about kissing girls. A lot of Christians have given her a hard time calling her a sell-out etc. Well heres a question: If she made it big as Katy Hudson, do you think shed be Katy Perry? While you think about that, think about this: How many Christian band members are still in the band they are in because it made it big before their doubts got the best of them? I think Katy Perry is the more honest sell-out than a Christian band member that just stuck around because it was successful for them.
It happens. Some members just stay quiet and play their instrument. Some continue to fake it because its part of paying the bills go on stage to pray over the crowd to go back stage and have no pursuit of God outside of that. (Luke 20:46-47 talks about people that make a pretense of lengthy prayers in public, love the best seat in the house and love being recognized in the market. They like fame and they like fame for appearing godly. Jesus says they will receive greater condemnation. Im not writing to rejoice, but to plead and warn my friends and brothers to take God a bit more seriously and remind me to do the same.
This all applies to pastors and religious leaders too. You think that every pastor on the pulpit believes what he says? We have to start humanizing leaders and exalting Jesus Christ.
4. Pray for them, dont judge them.
This is the biggest problem with all of this. I know members that are honestly seeking God but feel so pedestaled that they cant admit their flaws, their faults or be real. In fact, I also know some that have been more honest with their struggles or lives and they lose record sales because of it. So they learn to keep it to themselves which is so unhealthy for Christian growth. Its sad because most of the Christians they are exposed to are Christians that worship them and their art instead of the creator God. Ive also seen Christian promoters take more money than agreed on, Christian events using a bands name to draw fans and then lying to cancel the show last minute, Christians trying to undercut, gossip about the band and a lot of times just waiting for them to slip up. So the members rightfully separate their worlds. The gap between entertainers and the entertained gets wider and wider.
Guess what can fix this? Of course, the Gospel. We need to remember that we are all sinners, all undeserving of Gods grace and we have no right to boast. We shouldnt submit to leaders we know nothing about. We should test the spirits. We might enjoy someones music but that shouldnt mean we instantly follow them as people and especially Christians. We should submit to leaders and find good mentors, but we cant do this because they are good at playing guitar, we should do this if they are good at humbly loving God and loving people and confessing their flaws. We need to realize our own flaws so we dont get so shocked when we see it in band members. We need to stop thinking that there is Christian Music and Secular Music. Music cant accept Jesus Christ as its savior. I can show you worship albums that were written under the influence of weed, living with their girlfriends, or whatever else. Just like you can probably point out the Christian in your church that does those very things. Why do we think that Christian entertainers are immune to that? You need to listen to music that stirs your affections for Christ and stop listening to music that robs your affections for Christ (Matt Chandler has a great sermon on this). For me, the music that makes me stirred up for Christ is instrumentals or dance music. Ironically, some poorly written worship music robs my affections for Christ because there is horrible theology behind the lyrics. Ive heard of many bands that used the Christian music route to get their name out there, because its way easier to make it as a Christian act.
We have so much judgement on Christian performers, that it creates secrets, even if theyre not sins, just secrets which takes away the accountability we could be offering. I know members in bands that smoke, but they have to hide it, some that have quit but had to do it alone, because they couldnt be honest with their struggles, they couldnt ask anyone for help. Or with alcohol, a controversial action, which Biblically is meant to be taken in moderation, but since so many Christians dont see that, the performers have to do it in secret, which makes it so there is no accountability to keep them from drunkenness and loss of control. This applies with so much, but so much remains in the dark, so it grows in the dark as a sin. When we should be safe to bring things to the light to get help, or accountability or whatever else.
The point is, dont worship something thats not God. Enjoy it as a gift from God, but dont follow it off a bridge. Once you realize they are people, some not even Christians, youll think about how you treat them and how you judge them. Youll stop assuming they are Christians and maybe trying to love them like Jesus asked us to. I know a few non-Christian friends that work for different bands and they are just getting push away from the Gospel every time they deal with Christian promotors, fans and industry. Dont add to the enormous number of the Christians that fail to interact with the entertainers out of love. Its not about you, the point of Christianity is that youre not the point. That applies to both sides.