Category Archives: Music

#95: Music Ministry Disconnect

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #95, on the subject of Music Ministry Disconnect.

I was recently invited to join a Facebook group created for Christian musicians to “network”.  I’m not sure whether it’s working–most of the posts I’ve seen thus far are the same kinds of self-promotions I’ve seen in other Christian musician discussion groups–but it prompted me to consider what a Christian musician network would do.  The top of my list was that it involve Christian musicians helping each other understand what they were doing and how to do it better.  I have some experience with that, which inspired me to start composing a miniseries here for the web log through which I might perhaps be able to share some of that with other musicians.

Before I get to the first step, though, it might help you for me to give a few credentials–who am I, that I would presume to advise Christian musicians in their craft?  Don’t worry; this article is about the first step, but I want to cover those preliminaries before I get there.

I have been a musician for so long that I tell people English is my second language–I originally spoke Music.  My kindergarten teacher noted it (she told my mother I was her “little songbird”).  By the time I started high school I played about a dozen instruments (piano, clarinet, saxophone, oboe, ukulele, guitar, fife, recorder, tonette, organ, bass guitar, that I remember) and the list has since grown–give me an instrument I’ve never seen, and in half an hour I’ll be able to play a tune I composed specifically for it.  I was also in choirs and choruses, often as soloist.  Twice I was in New Jersey All-State Chorus, and I also joked that I was in every musical ensemble my high school offered except the Girl’s Octet.  (I was student director of the Freshman Chorus when I was an upperclassman.)  I clepped out of three terms of music theory in college before deciding that I was going to major in Bible rather than music.  I also played in quite a few local rock bands and jam sessions, formally and informally.  With a group of friends I recorded an album of my original music (Genuine Junk Lives in Ramsey) in about 1968, but we never released it because we were concerned about copyright issues.  My credentials as a musician are fairly solid.

At the beginning of 1973, the last “secular” band I directed, a precision jazzrock group called BLT Down, made the decision to change to all Christian music and ministry, under the new name The Last Psalm.  Since then I have been involved almost entirely in Christian music, playing with or directing Jacob’s Well, Aurora, TerraNova, Cardiac Output, 7dB, Collision, and a number of other bands some of which did not have names, plus doing solo work.  Around that time I also took every opportunity to speak with artists after their appearances, to get their thoughts on what someone hoping for a career in Christian music ought to do.  These included Barry McGuire, Ted Sandquist, Phil Keaggy, Larry Norman–well, it was a long time ago.  In 1979, after college, I landed a job at WNNN-FM, then one of the most respected contemporary Christian music stations in the country, and had opportunities to speak with more artists, including Noel Paul Stookey, B. J. Thomas, Marty McCall, again Barry McGuire, Glad, Found Free, Scott Wesley Brown, Glen Kaiser, Chris Christian, Brown Bannister–we ran an artist interview show every week, and probably half of these were my interviews.  I knew quite a bit about what was happening in the Christian music world, and had plenty of opportunity to get ideas from people.

I also discovered along the way that I had a calling to ministry, specifically as a teacher.  If this series survives, we will discuss that.  For now, the fact that I am Chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild and author of several books should be adequate to support the presumption that I am a teacher; it thus makes some sense that I would take this opportunity to teach what I know about Christian music.  I hope at least some of you will benefit, and will let me know how you benefited at some point.

Also, although this is particularly targeted at musicians, I expect many of the principles will apply to those in other fields, particularly artistic and performance fields, and perhaps those in other kinds of ministry, although I don’t expect to be tackling those directly.

Amy Grant, c.2008
Amy Grant, c.2008

When I began doing Christian music, the question should have arisen as to whether being a Christian and a musician automatically put me in Christian music ministry.  Because I lived in the northeastern United States in the early 1970s, that was not a question:  if you were a musician and a Christian, of course you were a minister, and were called to use your music for evangelism.  We did that not because we were particularly good at it nor particularly successful nor in a sense particularly led that direction, but because that was what Christian musicians did.  If you were a Christian and a musician, and you did not use your music for evangelistic outreach, believers in that part of the country at that time would seriously question your commitment to your faith.  We, that is, people in the Evangelical/Charismatic community, were aware that there were singers in Nashville doing Country Music who would throw in an occasional Christian song (usually Amazing Grace, but they would also produce Christmas albums with a mix of sacred and secular songs), but we assumed that they were not really Christian.  Somewhere I encountered the testimony of a man who had sung Black Gospel (that’s a musical style, not a racial denigration) for years before he had discovered that the gospel message was true and became a believer; singing an occasional Christian song as an audience pleaser did not make someone a Christian musician.

Yes, we were rather judgmental; we probably would have called it discernment, but it was really about applying our concepts and standards to other people.  We failed to grasp that it was possible to be a Christian, a musician, and an entertainer without being an evangelist.

Our mistake was in one sense defensible.  After all, every believer is called to “preach the gospel”, to “do the work of an evangelist”, to “have an answer ready”.  We therefore assumed that anyone who gathered an audience to hear some music was obliged to use that music entirely to deliver that message.  Yet even those who are called to ministry, such as pastors, don’t constantly talk about the gospel–sometimes they talk about what to have for dinner, and some of them even talk about favorite sports teams or music or movies.  Certainly a musician who is a Christian is going to mention it, and share his faith with others; that does not mean he is of necessity called to be a minister at all, let alone an evangelist.  I have known quite a few musicians who were called into ministry; I’ve known quite a few ministers who were never musicians and Christian musicians who have never been called into ministry.  It took me a long time to grasp that, but Amy Grant and B. J. Thomas are just two prominent examples of Christian musicians who have always been entertainers and probably never called to ministry.  B. J. Thomas severed ties with many believers because they couldn’t understand that.

Thus the first question a musician who is a Christian needs to ask himself is whether he is called to ministry at all, or whether he is just an entertainer who happens to be skilled in music.  Jubal, father of all who play the pipe, was a son of Cain, not of Seth.  God’s people do not have exclusive ownership of music.

In reaching this conclusion, it might help to have some understanding of the kinds of ministry that we can identify.  That’s part of what this series is going to cover in future installments, so you’ll have to read those for that kind of help.  It should also be noted that just because you do not have a calling to ministry does not mean you can’t play in a ministry band of some sort with people who do.  I sometimes am invited to play with local worship bands; I am not a worship leader, but that does not mean I cannot contribute support to the ministry of someone who is.  In the same way, if your church needs someone to play guitar for a service, you are not excluded from doing so simply because you are not called to ministry.  I don’t think Donna Summer ever claimed to have a ministry calling, but that did not prevent her from sharing her testimony during her televised concert special.  You don’t have to be an evangelist to share the gospel.  The point here is that you don’t have to share the gospel to be a Christian entertainer.  Obviously sometimes you are going to have to let people know that you are a Christian, and what that means; you do not have to build your concerts around it.  God wants us to enjoy life, and that includes having entertainment that is God-honoring; not everything that is God-honoring necessarily has to mention the name of Jesus.

The flipside of this is that if you are called into music ministry you must understand that not everyone is.  That’s distinct from recognizing that everyone’s ministry is unique, and that other Christian ministers are going to have different objectives and different methods for reaching them.  You have to understand that just because this guy is a good guitarist and a good singer does not mean he is called to be an evangelist or worship leader or other minister.  He might merely have a musical gift.  He might be able to support those other ministries, to play in your worship team or your evangelism band, but there’s no reason why he can’t use his gift to share some secular music he enjoys and thinks uplifting in some way.  If he plays in bars or coffeehouses or county fairs, he’s not being unchristian simply because he chose a secular venue and did not use it to sing a lot of Christian songs.

I would expect that a Christian entertainer would give thought to the messages his music conveys.  You don’t always have to be preaching the gospel openly, but you should be careful about preaching that which is against it.  Certainly a minister should prayerfully consider what he intends to sing and say, but the fact that you are not a minister does not excuse you from prayerfully considering your own performances.  Indeed, you might discover that you are called and simply failed to recognize it.  On the other hand, you might be an entertainer who happens to be Christian–and the world needs those, too, because we are to be lights in all the worlds.  The Christians I know in the hobby game industry make a difference in the lives of the people around them without all being pastors or preaching sermons.  The same is true in the music world:  we need musicians who are Christians interacting with people who are not, and music ministries generally have a lot more trouble reaching unbelieving audiences than good entertainers who happen to be believers.

There are two points to take from this.

The first is to remember that all believers are called to do all things to the glory of God; that includes the entertainment we enjoy and the entertaining we provide.  Just because you are an entertainer but not a minister does not mean you are not responsible for what you say and sing.  We are all called to minister, in the fundamental sense of serving others, but it seems only a small number of us are called to be ministers in the somewhat technical way we have come to use the word.  That is the second point:  Christian musical entertainer is the default; it’s what most Christians who are musicians should expect to be.  The calling to ministry is something else.

I can’t give much more advice to Christians who are entertainers beyond what I give to Christians generally, because I am not and never have been in that category.  I have always been in Christian ministry–but it took a long time for me to figure out how I should do that.  Next time we’ll start talking about kinds of ministry and how to know if you are called to one.

Next in the series:  Ministry Calling

#90: Footnotes on Guidance

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #90, on the subject of Footnotes on Guidance.

Recently I have encountered someone several times who appears to me to be struggling to find God’s direction.  I could be wrong, and in any case we have no relationship which forms a basis for me either asking or advising.  Yet I was considering what advice I might give, and a number of thoughts came to mind.

There is a significant chapter on Guidance in my book What Does God Expect? which is in the main a reworking of the earlier web page Objective and Subjective Christian Guidance.  This present work does not touch on that significantly, and I still regard that an important part of finding God’s direction in our lives.  This is rather a more informal collection of observations about that direction as we experience it.


The individual in question was suggesting an interest in a particular direction; I asked why, and was given a reason which seemed from my experience to be inconsistent with reality–that is, it was thought that this direction would make money, and I have been down that path many times and never profited financially from it.  Since I take it as essentially a ministry direction (although not everyone would) I was a bit repelled by the reason.  Yet as I contemplated it I realized that there were aspects to this I had not considered.  One is that I have often pursued what I perceived as a ministry direction with the notion somewhere in mind that it might incidentally make money; I just had not listed it first on the expectations in most instances (although sometimes it may have been second or third).  The other was more complicated, but I think, too, more important.

It seems to me that God sometimes directs my path by letting me see reasons for something which ultimately have little or nothing to do with why He sent me that direction.  That’s not to say He lied to me; it’s more to say that I don’t get to know the plan, only my next task within it.

The example that springs to mind occurred when I was in college, having finished two years at Luther and started at Gordon.  I had placed out of the first three terms of music theory and had not yet decided whether I should be a music major or a Biblical studies major.  My career objectives were to become a Christian rock recording artist and performer, and I could see that either direction might be valuable.  Yet at some point I came to the conclusion that a degree in Biblical studies would aid my career in Christian music more than a degree in music.  I thought it might open doors, that people would be more interested in a Christian singer with a degree in Bible than a musician who happened to be Christian.

I am certainly not going to say that the degree in Biblical studies did not help my career as a musician.  It has contributed significantly to the lyrics of my songs and “patter” in my stage presentation.  However, that “career” has been at best spotty, and I do not think anyone ever asked me about my theological degrees (I got one from Luther also).  Having a degree in Biblical studies did not do much for that career.  It did, however, open the door for me to work at WNNN-FM, and gave me a solid foundation for the beginnings of my public teaching ministry there.  That in turn, in a very odd way, began my notoriety as a Christian defender of role playing games, and the combination of my degrees and my role playing game connections brought me to the place of being Chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild, writing several books, and writing for many web sites including this web log.  God was indeed preparing me for ministry; He just was not preparing me for that ministry.

Getting back to that young believer who appeared to be seeking God’s direction, I wrote a note suggesting a possible path, and after a week or so received no reply.  I had written previously, a month ago, on a similar subject, and that had not progressed far, so it is possible that my correspondent had decided not to pursue anything I suggested and also decided not to tell me this.  I am not offended; there is no obligation to me.  However, that caused me to think of another observation:  God often leads us where we had no desire to go.

It was 1997.  I was struggling to get Multiverser into print and promote it.  As part of that promotional effort, I polished up an unpublished article I had written almost a decade before, entitled Confessions of a Dungeons & Dragons™ Addict, and found a space on the Internet to post it.  It got a fair amount of attention, and I received an e-mail from a Reverend James Aubuchon, who together with two others had launched an organization named The Christian Role Playing Game Association.  He was inviting me to join.  I declined politely.  I am not a joiner, I was on dial-up and needed to spend whatever time I had online to promote the game that was expected to make me if not rich at least solvent, and I wasn’t particularly interested in such a group.  However, within a few weeks someone who was playing the game wrote to tell me that someone in that group was making negative statements about it, so I felt it necessary to join and address these (which were apparently entirely resolved before I got there).  Once I was a member I began to become involved, I became interested, I got asked to do one thing and another and wound up temporarily stepping into the Chaplain’s office when it was vacated by the original Chaplain who felt that it was incumbent upon him to step into the Presidency when both the President and Vice President had resigned.  Along the way the outgoing President changed the name to the Christian Gamers Guild.  I don’t know what I did as Chaplain that first year, but apparently they liked me and when finally elections were held I was elected to continue as chaplain–and re-elected to the two-year position every even-numbered year since.  It has opened doors for ministry in places I did not know existed, some of which in fact did not exist when I was in college.  God has taken me on an unexpected path that caused me to think about issues no one else was addressing, write articles and books no one else was writing, and minister to people no one else was reaching.  He did it by pushing me into a place I did not want to go.

So to any young believer seeking God’s direction, let me give this advice.  God is going to lead you.  He is not necessarily going to lead you where you think you are going, nor tell you the plan in advance, and sometimes He is going to open doors to possibilities you did not foresee and which you think are not where you want to go.  If there is not a very good reason not to go there, take the open door, explore the possibility that does not sound like what you wanted or expected, because that’s often the way God is taking you to get you to places you never imagined going.

That, anyway, has been my experience, and while I have disappointments in my own hopes and expectations not having been realized, I ultimately must admit that what God has done with me has been very special, unique as far as I am aware, because I let Him take me where I did not intend to go and went for reasons that ultimately proved to have nothing to do with His plan.

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#77: Radio Activity

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #77, on the subject of Radio Activity.

A very long time ago when The Doors were popular, someone said to me that if the only Doors songs I knew were their hits, I did not know what they sounded like.  I thought at the time that that was ridiculous.  After all, wouldn’t a band’s hits be their best songs, and wouldn’t their best songs be those that were most typical of their sound?  But then, despite the fact that I already anticipated being a famous rock musician (right, me and thirty million other kids) I was only in middle school and had never heard anything by The Doors that didn’t play on pop radio.

I began to understand years later, when I was a disc jockey (and eventually program director) of a radio station and got to listen to all the albums that had any chance of getting airplay in our format–which was a broadly defined and eclectic contemporary Christian music sound, when Amy Grant was probably the biggest name, The Imperials were still popular, Glad debuted as a rock band, and Resurrection Band and Servant were cutting edge.

The Collision Of Worlds album
The Collision Of Worlds album

I probably should have realized it when Petra released Washes Whiter Than.  It was a wonderful Christian rock album, but it had one song on it that was atypical, acoustic guitar picking with multiple vocals in a gentle neo-folk style, called Why Should the Father Bother?  It was the kind of song any Christian radio station could play, even if they were committed to Doug Oldham and The Gaithers or The Speers–and apparently quite a few did, because it shot up the Christian contemporary and MOR (that’s “middle of the road” and is regarded a genre in the radio business) charts.  It was a good song; it was not like other songs on the album, such as Morning Star.  I didn’t get it then, though.  It wasn’t until they released Never Say Die two years later, with songs like Chameleon, Angel of Light, Killing My Old Man–and again one song with acoustic guitar picking and great multiple vocals, The Coloring Song, which jumped to the top of the charts and was heard on radio stations throughout the country.

It was shortly after that that it connected.  We rarely played any Resurrection Band, and had to fight for just about every track.  DeGarmo and Key had some great stuff, but most of it wouldn’t get past our management.  We had been one of the leading contemporary Christian radio stations in the country, but the new management did not think that Christians listened to that kind of music and wanted us to shift toward the mellow.  (They somehow also thought that anyone who liked Christian music was also in the demographic that would love to have a Big Band show in the evenings; that failed dramatically.)  What Petra was doing was releasing an album that primarily appealed to its Christian rock fans, but including one song that would get massive airplay on all those more mellow radio stations, alerting their fanbase that there was a new Petra album out there.  They did the same thing with the title track of More Power To Ya, which had such great rock songs as Judas Kiss and Rose Colored Stain Glass Windows.  Being the eclectic sort of musician that I am, I love those rock songs–but I also love the gentle ones, and recognize that even when we won the battle with our management and got the rock songs back on the air, there were still stations all over the country that could only play the gentle ones, and that’s how news of the new release reached the fans.

It also makes more sense to me now as I consider Collision’s album, Of Worlds.  The two songs which I think are most exemplary of the band’s style, Still Small Voice and Heavenly Kingdom, are also the only two on which Jonathan, not I, sings the lead vocal.  The one that was always most popular with the fans, Passing Through the Portal, is probably furthest from our norm.  The one I was told would probably be the most successful radio hit, Stand Up, isn’t even one of mine.

Of course, in the time since The Doors had hits on pop radio, the music industry and the radio industry have both changed several times.  Today the very concept of buying an album is becoming a relic of the past–people don’t buy albums, they buy the songs they want to hear.  The strategy of getting a song from the album on the air by specially crafting it for airplay is losing ground; people don’t listen to such radio stations as much anymore, and airplay does not have the importance it once did.  The music world is fragmenting, and it is becoming harder to become a world-famous musician simply because it is easier to listen to the music you want to hear and never know anything about the artists who don’t play what you like.  Finding out about new music from your favorite artists is easier, because you can bookmark their web sites; finding out about new artists you might like is more difficult, but you can still join Facebook groups that share your interests, listen to podcasts, and otherwise keep track of very narrow preferences.  I don’t know that I understand the music world anymore; I only understand music.

I’m not quite sure how that helps me now–but maybe it does.  There have been a few times when I have received notes from people who found me because of my time travel movies materials (probably the part of the regular site that gets the heaviest traffic) who then were pleased to discover my gaming or Bible materials; the same can probably be said for those sections, that people who find one part of the site sometimes then discover other parts, and become, if we can use the word, “fans” of my writing more broadly.  Quite a few people are enjoying the serialization of the novels, whatever their original interests in me might have been.  This, then, has the potential to grow the base; if readers link articles on one subject or another on their social media sites, their friends and contacts discover what I’m writing, and some of them discover more than just that article.  In the long term, it might mean more support through the Patreon campaign.  If one web log post gets attention, it inherently promotes other web log posts.  If one law and politics article draws interest, readers find their way to more.  If something goes viral, it’s a shot in the arm for everything–at least a few readers out of thousands will return to see what else is here in the future.  All of that is good.

So here’s hoping that something can become “internet active”.

Thanks for your encouragement and support.

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#75: Musical Influences

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #75, on the subject of Musical Influences.

I don’t know why I’m writing this; I don’t know whether anyone is interested in reading it.  However, I recently heard that a not-quite-local Christian blues band (is that an oxymoron?  No, probably not) was seeking a bass guitar player, and they politely said they were not interested in me without giving a reason.  It might be, though, because I’ve never done blues; it might simply be that I am too far away from them.  However, it got me thinking about what kind of music I actually do, and the answer is I’m very eclectic, but the reasons for that undoubtedly at some level relate to my influences.

Anyway, even though in the scores of artists I have interviewed I don’t think I ever asked one of them this, it strikes me as the kind of question interviewers ask musicians (or at least they do if they think anyone cares):  who are your influences, what artists or musicians have led you to do the kind of music you do?  The answer is never simple, of course, but it’s worth considering.


Of course, anyone in my generation, and probably anyone since my generation, who does this really has to acknowledge The Beatles.  It isn’t just that I have probably heard, and maybe even learned, more Beatle songs than any other single artist or composer, it is that they in essence redefined music for a generation.  They would have influenced me directly, but also through the fact that they influenced just about every other artist who influenced me.

The same could be said–and probably is not said often enough–about Johann Sebastian Bach.  Face it, he might not have invented anything, but his mastery of both block harmony and counterpoint means that most of western music theory was developed by studying his work.  I learned a great deal about vocal harmony from that, and also attempted feebly to emulate some of his wonderful counterpoint.  I probably do more counterpoint than a lot of other contemporary artists, simply because most contemporary artists don’t even attempt it, and I love it when it works.  I got most of it from him.

I was always heavily influenced by just about anyone who did anything significant with multiple vocals, but particularly (in chronological order) Simon and Garfunkle, Three Dog Night, Crosby Stills and Nash, Second Chapter of Acts, and, very late in the game, Glad.  Glad also had some influence on me otherwise, because they were so like Chicago, whose influence on my instrumental approach probably goes back to their first album.  They, too, were eclectic, with strong jazz and rock influences.  I played saxophone and guitar at various times in the high school stage band, and always admired bands like them, Blood Sweat and Tears, and Lighthouse, who mixed jazz into a rock sound.

I was also strongly influenced by Randall Thompson, the twentieth century choral composer whose work is so remarkable.  I don’t often achieve anything I think worthy of him, but sometimes my vocal arrangements owe a lot to him.  I should also mention Charles Ives, whose modern dissonances often find their way into some of the songs with which I’m most pleased; Francis Poulenc should also be mentioned there; although my exposure to him is significantly less, it was confirming some of the insights I learned from Ives.

There are undoubtedly hundreds of others who impacted me in one way or another.  I heard, learned, and performed works by Dvorak and Holst and Mendelsohn and Mozart, Led Zepellin and Iron Butterfly, Peter Paul and Mary and The Mamas and the Papas, and countless others.

I do not remember the names of all the music teachers I have had over the years, from Mrs. Poznanski (hey, I was in grade school, I have no idea how she spelled it) and Mr. Tronolone back in elementary school and others along the way, but most particularly Ramsey High School’s choral director Edwin Cargill (who taught me how to sightread, much about proper vocal technique, and ran drills for listening to four part harmony and writing out the parts) and band director Robert Bednar (who taught an advanced music theory class and took the time to explain a lot about theory and performance along the way).  My father and Mr. Bednar both played jazz saxophone, but I don’t know whether they ever knew that about each other.

It occurs to me that I should also mention John “Jay” Fedigan, who really demonstrated for me how to write a song instead of a symphony; Art Robbins, with whom I wrote a few songs in the early days; Jeff Zurheide who at least inspired quite a bit if he didn’t actually work with me on any of it; and my parents, who never wanted me to be a musician but did want me to learn to play an instrument and indulged my interest in playing all of them and singing as much as possible, and who exposed me to a considerable variety of other artists and styles from Benny Goodman and Mitch Miller to the early classical composers and the pop music of the early twentieth century.

A complete list would be impossible, but these seem to be the highlights.

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