Discernment in Mainstream Music

My partner’s recent rant about spiritual ambivalence in the music industry simultaneously rings true for me and causes me to pause. We are building One21music on meaningful music that others shun because of legalism, yet we are criticizing music without truly knowing the musician’s heart.

At the same time, Christian artists must represent our faith, not in our way, but in Christ’s way. Christian musicians face all of the challenges and temptations we face and maybe even more. One21music embraces the Christian musician who openly shares his or her struggles as a believer trying to follow their faith in a world of temptation. I do hope that Christian musicians understand that they hold a position of significant influence with new believers and struggling non believers and that they accept this responsibilty fully.

However, we can not, as a parent, youth worker and spiritual leader of growing Christians, abdicate responsibility for discerning uplifting, spiritually challenging or wholesome music to the Mainstream or Christian music industry. That is why it is incumbent on us, parents, youth pastors and other spiritual guides, to provide the discernment in music that young and new believers need.

Discernment is different than legalism. Discernment, in this case, is the careful consideration of music (and other influences) to determine its consistency with your beliefs and the beliefs you promote to those in your realm of influence. Legalism is the enforcement of those same judgments on the creators of the music, such that you attempt to force the musicians into creating within your set of values. It is not the artists’ responsibility to protect your heart, it is yours. New and developing believers sometimes need help in navigating that road.

Far too many Christian leaders concede the responsibility for discernment and allow their young believers to fully step into the malaise of the mainstream music culture. More than 90% of the Christian youth I worked with listened to music promoting horrific lifestyles and worldviews. It is difficult to battle the pervasive forces of popular music, but how can we effectively develop believer’s values when we endorse, through apathy, the influence of those glorifying ideas we reject?

Rather than face the beast of popular music culture many Christian leaders try to move Christian Youth to the “safe” confines of the Christian music industry. In my experience this does not work because the universe of quality music in the mainstremm Christian music scene is just too small and too isolated to sustain a music oriented youth through their music life cycle. At some point they will branch out from the Christian scene and they will have not developed the skills to discern those who are creating uplifting music from those who are promoting false doctrine from those who are spitting on our Christian values.

Discernment is difficult. It requires a meaningful understanding of the offerings on the market. It requires research on the artists. It requires reading lyrics. Discernment requires that you actually listen to a lot of music you will probably hate and you will probably even need to go to some concerts. I spent many nights in a room of people half my age trying to read a good book by the light of the merch table.

My journey of discernment, “How Christian Music Saved Us“, took me from ska to hip hop to hardcore and beyond. I laughed through teens skanking to The O.C. Supertones; encountered pierced, tattooed, leather sporting Christian bikers at a P.O.D. concert and was overwhelmed by the showmanship of Project 86.

One21music is trying to make your journey of discernment a little easier. We are doing the research. We are listening to the music. We will be encountering the musicians.

In doing so, we hope to help you focus on meaningful Christian music, that is wholesome and uplifting, that shares your faith and your Christian values. But make no mistake; you still need to exercise discernment. You will need to choose the One21 artists that express your faith and share them with others in your life.

Tell me what you think. How can we exercise meaningful discernment as Christian leaders without engaging in legalism?  Share with me your stories of trying to help you teens discern meaningful uplifting music from degrading music.


  1. Jim says:

    Greatly agree. Too often legalsim causes “Church” people to judge without understaning. Even when the facts are presented, we run into a stone wall of unChristlike rules and regs. Back in 1978, while doing a Saturday afternoon on-air show for Christian youth, I played Michael Omartian’s “Whatchersign” and immediately afterward received a phone call from a local advertiser condeming the song for promoting astrology and threatening to stop advertising on the station. Once I explained the song and showed how the lyrics only proved to mock astrology I realized I was not dealing with a rational Christian but rather one who was too wrapped up on her beliefs to listen to the voice of reason. I knew the lady but she never identified herself and I think she thought I didn’t know who she was. So to allow her to save face, I didn’t call her by name. She’s a good Christian lady, but this was the situation I kept running into. The best show I ever had was that day. Monday, my boss and his wife complained that they had listened in and it sounded too much like a local top pop station, which shall remain unnamed here. I almost took a step back as it floored me to think they were complaining about a professional sounding station. The real problem was that it wasn’t a Religious sounding station but that was never said. I had had enough and spoke my mind, reminding them that I had been promised freedom to program the youth show on Saturdays. Not long after, I was fired and left the broadcast industry, it’s hard to find work in Miami radio. But my replacement was soon let go and the station folded a short time after that. It’s a shame because the station was in a pretty good area and ministered to all people. My best friend was a Brother about 10 years my senior but his set was geared to Aftican American Christians. We loved each other’s shows and would share music with each other. His was a true understanding of Christian ministry through Contemporary Christian Music, no matter what genre. So, I know whereof though speakest. Press on my Amigo and may God Direct and Bless you.

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