A Thought or Two on “Learning to Like Contemporary Christian Music (the music I hate)”

If you read this blog with any regularity, chances are good you have already encounteredNeely jazz musician Adam Neely’s most recent video.  It had over 350K views this past weekend, so it’s obviously being shared frequently.  If you haven’t encountered it yet, it’s worth the 13 minutes, for there is a lot of substantial stuff here (so don’t feel guilty when the click-bait title does what a click-bait title is supposed to do in social-media circles).  The video is produced very well, and Neely has a lot of interesting things to say, including his dissecting the music-theory nuts and bolts of contemporary Christian music (ccm) and his discussion of the concept of “musicking.”

But a key blind spot in Neely’s approach here is his inability to differentiate between (ccm) and contemporary worship music (cwm).  The two are cousins, to be sure, and they share numerous family traits.  Moreover, the line between the two has become blurred in recent years as more and more songs that show up on K-LOVE one month show up in contemporary worship services the next.

Christian-music historians would tell us this has, since the dawn of ccm in the late 60’s and 70’s, always been the case to an extent.  But for every “Easter Song” the Second Chapter of Acts sang . . . for every “My Tribute” Andraé Crouch sang .  .  . for every “Great Is the Lord” Michael W. Smith sang–all songs that ended up in the hymnals of the 80’s and 90’s–there were scores of their ccm songs that never made the leap from the radio to congregational singing.  Contrast that with today, when a much higher percentage of songs seem to serve both functions: good tunes to listen to in the car during the week and good songs to sing in church on the weekend.

Particularly in Neely’s assessment of longtime worship leader Don Moen’s teaching video on the dangers of overplaying in cwm, we see the trouble of lumping ccm and cwm together indiscriminately.  If Moen’s band were operating with ccm in mind, then I would resonate completely with Neely’s frustration with Moen’s apparent stifling of his musicians’ impulses–in effect, neutering their musicianship and robbing their efforts of the kind of God-given joy that accompanies the creation of good art for the believer.

But since Moen’s band is, in fact, facilitating the people’s song in corporate worship, his admonition re: not drawing undue attention to the band members’ chops, a concept about which I’ve written elsewhere, is spot on.  You want to play like Phil Keaggy–who has long contended his ferocious efforts on his ax are meant as a personal offering to the Lord–do it on the concert stage, not in the worship service.  The music used in both might be almost indistinguishable at times these days; the end goals of both efforts, however, while linked in one sense, are by no means completely the same.  Failure to draw a distinction between the raisons d’être of each diminishes both.

Still, I applaud Neely for posting this and sparking some good dialogue.  I wish there were more cwm songwriters and worship leaders taking some of his overarching principles to heart.  Perhaps this video will help.

The Lord be with you!

About Warren Anderson

Emmaus Road Worshipers is written by Dr. Warren Anderson, Director of the Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts at Judson University (Elgin, Ill.), where he also directs the Judson University Choir. A Judson alumnus, he has served his alma mater in a number of capacities over the past 30+ years, especially the chapel ministry, which he led for 22 years. From 1982-2016, Dr. Anderson served six different churches--American Baptist (X2), Converge, Evangelical Free Church of America, Roman Catholic, and United Methodist--as a "weekend warrior" worship musician/pastor. He is a former member of the editorial board of Worship Leader magazine. The views expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of Judson University.
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