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Gospel music: Out of the church, into the streets

 

Gospel music: Out of the church, into the streets. (1991, December 22). The New York Times.

OVERVIEW

Numerous groups, over the past few years, have crossed the line of strict gospel music into the mainstream, contemporary gospel music. Yet, is mainstream gospel music is having an effect on young people while staying true to its essential message?

Musical groups who are able to attract large numbers of listeners, especially young, are to be lauded. Mr. Nash Schaffer, a host for a traditional gospel program in Chicago and music minister at Vernon Park Church of God in Chicago says that "the reason young people like contemporary gospel music is because of the rhythm and its secular appeal." Yet he says that it is because of this rhythm and beat that the true message is vague, void, and lost.

Talking with young, city-grown kids in Pasadena and Altadena, California, the author of this article review believes that beat and rhythm are very important to kids when selecting music. When shopping at a local record store with some of these kids in his youth group, this article review writer and the group all sampled different albums. Some of the first words that came out of the kids’ mouths were "this has a jammin’ beat." The kids are not listening to the words, per se, but are looking for music that will grab them and get them into the song. The author has talked with many kids about the reasons they like gangsta rap artists such as Snoop Doggy Dogg. The kids can repeat the exact words from songs, but they do not conciously understand what the words mean when put together.

Many adults and psychologists agree that the word of any musical artist have some effect—positive or negative—on those who listen to them. Consider Christian groups such as BeBe and CeCe Winans or Take Six. Critics say that music does not have "enough references to Jesus," "has strayed too far from the church" or that they "water down the lyrics." The author of this article review disagrees with the critics noted in this article, finding that these groups clearly speak of Jesus and Christianity. Lisa Collins, a writer on gospel music for Billboard magazine says that "if you go to their concerts, there is no doubt it is a ministry."

Alternatives must be presented to young people. Kids may not know what they are exactly listening to, but they do desire music that they enjoy. Groups such as BeBe and CeCe Winans are getting airtime on mainstream radio "without having any less quality than mainstream artists." Kids who may never have an opportunity to hear these groups will hear them interspersed between other typically mainstream tunes.

These popular contemporary gospel music artists are able to have an impact on young people greater than many churches. There is a belief that the church is unable to "address contemporary cultural issues" today. This is what contemporary gospel much is beginning to do now. Young people are being reached through this music. Instead of hearing songs about sleeping with the "b----es and the hos," "packing the revolver," and "drinking the 48s," they hear words in these songs such as, "the Savior is waiting to enter your heart," (Take Six) "put Him first in everything," (Take Six) "I found a high way...and it’s a better way." (Bebe and CeCe) These words come through songs that have the rhythm and beat that young people want to hear.

There will always be critics who believe that "those who want to rock will inevitably roll into hell," says Harold Bailey, who works with former prisoners in Chicago. Yet, those young people—especially those who grow up in urban America—need messages of hope and love. Contemporary gospel music is beginning to give this to them in a world that is not full of hope and love.

What more must be done? Contemporary gospel music must go further. New groups must form that appeal to the style of music kids like while still giving good messages. These groups must continue to push for airplay on mainstream radio, for this is the only way the largest sections of young people can be reached. Parents, youth workers, and other adults should encourage, but not force, kids to listen to such groups. Kids need to take ownership of their own music tastes. Music is indeed sacred to youth today, and steps must continue to offer contemporary gospel music as a part of their lives.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION

  1. Do you think that contemporary Christian music today is as attractive to kids for the beat and rhythm as mainstream music? Why or why not?
  2. Can contemporary Christian music truly appeal to a mainstream audience? Why or why not?
  3. Are kids better kids if they listen to Christian music?
  4. Is it possible for contemporary Christian music to get airtime without watering down the message? Where is the balance between appealing to a secular crowd and maintaining a Christian stance?

IMPLICATIONS

    • Contemporary Christian music appears to be attempting to key into the preferences of today’s young listeners.
    • Many types of music are spiritual to kids. The beat, rhythm, power, and emotion in music transform into a spiritual experience for kids.
    • When introducing contemporary Christian music to kids, it is crucial to do it in a nonjudgmental way. Do not force them to listen to it if they do not want to. Allow the kids to assume ownership of their music.

Jeff Maljian and Kathryn Q. Powers cCYS