Before we begin to talk about introducing positive, Christian music to teens, we should ask whether doing so is even necessary. Unfortunately, when looking at the lyrics and lifestyles of mainstream popular artists, I must contend that it is necessary to assertively provide positive music alternatives to teens. As a schoolteacher in our synodical elementary and high schools, I have opened many discussions about the music my students listened to. I know how important it is to discuss this topic with youth, and I have seen firsthand the change discussions about this topic can bring about.
As youth leaders in positions of authority over youth (Christian or non), we are responsible for who and what those youth are and become under our care. Phil Chalmers, in his book The Official “I Don’t Listen To The Lyrics!” Handbook, asks the thought-provoking question: “Could you ever imagine Christian teens listening to artists that promote perverted sex, bestiality, rape, murder, and strangulation?” Unfortunately, these themes are all too integrated into the “top 40” message of pop music. This is cause for concern, because the worldview espoused by popular artists and producers is not often healthy, and is very seldom the view youth leaders and parents wish their teens to hold. Even the messages promoted to the youngest children (by Disney and the like) rage with sexual innuendo and greed. Furthermore, it is evident that the most “wholesome” faces many corporations have to offer (think Lindsey Lohan) are ultimately motivated to do little more than turn a buck at the expense of our children’s innocence.
The Bible promotes a different worldview. Christians know that we are to behave differently than the world. God’s Word shares with what we should fill our minds: Phil. 4:8; Col. 3:15-17; 1 Peter 1: 13-19, 2:1-2; etc. So, does this mean teens have to throw out their CD collections? How do they keep their minds whole AND listen to some ear-pleasing music on occasion?
God has called many of us to be the leaders of the current generation of youth. As leaders, we must remember two things: 1) Leaders challenge the process and will be loved and hated for doing so; 2) Leaders are under authority and must challenge in love with patience. With this in mind, let’s look at what we can do to introduce positive music into the lives of our youth:
1. Get to know your teens and help them get to know themselves. A good way to help them evaluate themselves is this simple exercise: Begin a phrase found in a popular musician’s lyrics and let them finish it. Do this with several phrases. Then ask them to look you in the eye and say, “I don’t listen to the lyrics, I am only listening for the beat.” Satan infuses his ‘knowledge’ in the exact same way Sunday schools do when assigning memory work. Youth need to be aware of this, and they need to be on guard.
2. Tackle the issue head on, but do your homework. Kids aren’t stupid. You must show them exactly where your concerns lie. (Don’t forget to put yourself under the same scrutiny you plan to use for your youth!)
3. The family meeting. You could be referring to the “family” you share together as a youth group, but the best way to handle this is to get parents involved. Luther was a huge fan of parental teaching and encouraged the mother and father to train their children as a priest trains the members of a congregation. A list of Scriptures (not exhaustive by any means) upon which you could focus when speaking about establishing a Godly view of entertainment includes: 2 Chron. 19:2; Ps. 11:5-7, 101, 119:37; 2 Cor. 10:5; Eph. 5:1-2, 6:10-18; Phil. 4:8; Col. 2:8, 3:2-10; 1 Thess. 4:3-8; James 1:14-15; 1 John 2:15-17; Ex. 20:1-17.
4. Be open to partaking of the areas of entertainment that interest your youth (in this case it would certainly include music, but might also include movies, games, etc.), but set guidelines, and allow the youth the chance to set a few guidelines of their own. Be willing to meet their ideas without compromising the truth of Scripture. For example: Be available to listen and enjoy different genres of music, but only groups with positive messages. Help youth generate discussion and set guidelines by asking probing questions about the groups proposed:
- Why do you like these groups?
- Let’s look at their lyrics and imagery and see what they are promoting. Do they have any lyrics or themes that could be against what God teaches in the Bible?
- Is there anything inappropriate? Would Jesus …?
You get the idea. Your goal is to provide youth with a safe environment wherein they are empowered to make choices consistent with God’s Word.
5. Have music ready. There is plenty of ‘good sounding’ Christian music out there in all possible genres. A variety of sounds can be found at Christian book stores with the use of their CD sampling capabilities.
6. Help youth be discerning. Different resources are available to help you do this quickly and safely. Some Websites you can use to retrieve lyrics and other reviews include:
- www.screenit.com movie reviews and more
- www.pluggedinonline.com music, movie reviews, and more
- www.almenconi.com video game reviews and more
- www.lyrics.com lyrics search engine
- www.azlyrics.com lyrics search engine
- www.reallyrics.com lyrics search engine
- www.ohhla.com great rap lyrics site
- www.interlinc-online.com positive music
7. Be a role model. We must be honest in setting boundaries for our youth and in evaluating our own lives. God isn’t just calling youth to lead holy lives (1 Peter 1:15-16). Good role modeling will have lasting effects on youth. Thankfully, our Lord forgives us when we fail. Don’t be afraid to ask for forgiveness. Then clean up your act.
Empower your youth and their parents. Do your homework. Opening this sort of discussion can bring a strong “defense mechanism” out of your youth. Have a plan ready. Don’t give the Devil a foothold. Involvement in the world is a slippery slope, one from which we as Christians are called to remain free. Lord, help us!
Some good things to keep in mind during this process include:
- Not all secular music is bad and not all Christian music is good (either musically or doctrinally).
- We are not “more spiritual” than other Christians, but everyone is called to live a holy life.
- Do your homework and only discuss facts about an artist, not rumors. Trust me, all you will need is the facts, and usually their lyrics tell all.
- Point out the negative aspects of the bands.
- Don’t have a problem with “styles” of music, but with messages of music.
- Help your youth be honest with themselves and with God’s Word. In most cases, the answer will be obvious.
The war for our teens’ minds and spirits is being fought in many corridors. One of the most obvious battles is being waged in the halls of music. Strap on the armor of God and join the fray. Your youth will one day thank you for it. ________________________________________________________________
1. For a brief reminder on what it means to be a teacher, please take a look at Matt. 18:6; Matt. 7:29, 21:23-27 for the authority that Jesus held (under the Father); Prov. 20:7 for the instructor’s life; Deut. 6:1-9, 32:46-47; Judg. 2:10-13; 1 Kings 2:2-4 and Eph. 6:4 for what to put into our children’s heads.
2. Yes, this is the same Phil Chalmers who did a music seminar for the 2004 National LCMS Youth Gathering.
3. Chalmers, Phil The Official “I Don’t Listen To The Lyrics!” Handbook (Joplin, MO: College Press, 2001), xi.
4. See Luke 7:8 for a good example of one ‘under authority.’
5. Dr. Tim Elmore has a great section on this in Ch. 3 of his book Nurturing the Leader Within Your Child.
6. In a 2000 teacher’s conference, a psychologist estimated that the brain retains about 3 billion “Websites” full of information. This powerful gift from God is working even when we don’t want it to.
7. For more on why this is so important, see Ch. 3 of Nurturing the Leader Within Your Child.
Tom King is a second year seminary student at Concordia Seminary, St Louis, MO.