When contemporary Christian music got its start, it wasn’t immediately accepted by the entire church. If a piece of music wasn’t a hymn, some thought, it didn’t honor God. Some believed it was irreverent to get a little excited about Jesus. But what was considered outlandish back then is a normal part of today’s typical worship service.
Someone who experienced the initial controversy surrounding CCM first-hand, and one who went on to win more than two dozen Dove Awards, is gospel music legend Bill Gaither, a 1959 Anderson College graduate and resident of nearby Alexandria. Gaither is known not only as a singer and songwriter but also as a producer; he’s worked with Sandi Patty and Steven Curtis Chapman, among many others.
But things have changed since Gaither and his wife, Gloria, started in the CCM business. He remembers when churches were slow to accept new musical styles and when people refused to attend his concerts.
“The question that always comes up,” Gaither says,”is, ‘Are you trying to look and act like the world?'” And the answer probably is yes, he notes, because Christian artists are trying to get the world to listen to their message.
Gaither frames the issue in terms of the effective
use of communication tools. “First of all, the historical picture has been pretty much the same from the beginning, and that is, [CCM is] not that much different than secular music, except for the lyrics,” he says.
And since the artist is trying to use music “to
communicate something that he feels very passionate
about, very deeply about,” Gaither continues, “he’s
using microphones [and] instruments just like the
secular artists are using because he wants to
communicate.” Gaither adds that if anyone is open-minded to
different styles of music, it should be Christians.
The Gaither influence on music is now extending to a
second generation. Bill and Gloria’s son, Benjy, a
1992 Anderson University graduate, had his own band at
one time, and now writes songs for both the Christian
and secular markets.
According to Benjy, who has his own production
company called “Live Bait,” CCM started as an
alternative to ‘secular’ music. But he doesn’t like
to define CCM too narrowly.
“For me, a group like U2 can do just as much, if not
more, spiritually, like some other groups that have
decided to go the pop route,” says Benjy. “Just to
write about God – it’s not all you deal with every day.
You deal with relationships, divorce, raising kids.
It’s ludicrous to say, ‘Well, you’re a Christian, you
should just sing Christian songs.’ I’m a writer too,
so I write wherever my heart is, sometimes struggling
with Christian things, and I write about that as well.”
Benjy states that many of the Christian artists he
knows would love to be in the pop field. “It’s a
bigger influence, but the Christian music industry is
a lot easier to get into, and smaller,” he says. He points out when he was in his own band, most of
the ministering went on after the show, offstage.
“Only a tenth of [the ministry] was on stage,” he
The elder Gaither admits he doesn’t always know what
many of the younger artists are doing on stage, but
because he knows them personally, he likes them.
“I think that’s probably pretty true across the
board, and I think honest people need to admit that,”
he says. “I can’t admit to being a specialist, and
when I get with Toby (McKeon of dc Talk), I kid him
and say, ‘I don’t have a clue as to what you are
doing’ and I ask him why in the world would he want to
be in this business with me. He says, “Well, when I’m
65, I want to be having as much fun as you’re having,
and evidently you have learned how to survive, and I
want to survive.”
Bill Gaither’s experience in CCM tells him that the
music can address the cultural void that materialism
has not filled. “There’s an aching need for meaning of life in the culture,” he says, “and I think when somebody comes along and says something that is attractive and
demanding, kids will look at it.”
Gaithers on “Touched by an Angel”