Music is powerful. It can leave us feeling uplifted, encouraged, and joyful or bring us into the depths of discouragement and despair. It can lead us to worship God and contemplate His goodness or take our thoughts down the path of sin and destruction.
Music can do all of this and more. So it seems obvious that our music choices are important, and that as we seek to disciple teens, the topic of music needs be discussed.
Having grown up in church and the Christian school, I’ve heard lots of sermons, lessons, discussions, and debates about music. And if you talk to 20 different teens you’ll likely find 20 different philosophies. Lots of teens assume that the music they listen to doesn’t really matter. But that may be because they’ve never been given an opportunity to clearly analyze their music.
But I’m not talking about arguing with teens about the rhythm, the beat, the tone, or even the lyrics of a song. This would be fighting a losing battle because none of these things address the heart of the issue.
And what is the heart of the issue?
The central question that must guide our thoughts and discussions is not whether the music and lyrics meet the standards of a specialized checklist. The central question is this:
Does this music bring me closer to God or draw me away from Him?
It’s really that simple.
When we approach this issue with that question in mind, things become more clear, and we are able to help teens make wise decisions. Now the same song may affect people differently depending on their background, experience, and level of spiritual maturity. (I wrote more about this in my post A Biblical Response to the Christian music debate.)
But each person will find that they can have three types of songs on their iPod:
- Songs that draw them away from God.
If listening to a song causes you to think about or even desire sin, this song is drawing you away from God. If it makes you obsess about something that may even be good (like love) the song is helping you develop an idol that will draw you away from God.
Some songs are obvious, and all you need to do is ask a teen if the song brings him closer to God. If he’s being honest, he’ll have no trouble acknowledging the answer is no.
But other songs are not so obvious, and wise counsel may be needed for a young person to realize the effect a song is having on his heart. Songs that speak casually of premarital sex or encourage girls to follow their heart are speaking ungodly philosophies to their minds. And the problem is that while we’re listening to a song, we’re not normally thinking very critically. Typically we are enjoying the song, maybe even singing along – allowing the philosophies to mold our thinking. And that’s why we need to be so careful.
- Songs that are neutral.
There are some songs that are simply neutral – they’re not helpful or unhelpful. Think “Jingle Bells” or Aladdin’s “A World New World.” These songs will not bring us closer to God but they likely won’t draw us away either. (By the way, there really are very few songs that are truly neutral. Most songs have either a godly or ungodly philosophy undergirding them, so be careful about throwing too many songs into this category.)
So should we listen to neutral songs? The key is moderation. A few of these songs sprinkled in will do no harm, but if this is all we listen to, we are wasting the opportunity to focus our mind on God because the last category is life-changing and powerful.
- Songs that bring them closer to God.
Godly songs have the power to encourage us and to bring us into the very throne room of God. They allow us to worship Him, honor Him, and gain strength to stand strong against sin and temptation.
The Bible speaks about the importance of encouraging ourselves and others with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19), about praising the Lord with song (Psalm 150), and even about teaching each other through song (Col. 3:16).
I’ve found music to be a key component of my devotional life. Music helps me concentrate on God when my focus is wandering. It stirs my heart and reminds me of His goodness, grace, and power.
Teens need to be encouraged to listen to as much godly music as possible. Often teens want to be closer to God but they don’t know how. Listening to songs that edify them is a tangible decision they can make that will help them in their spiritual walk. But don’t lecture them about it – speak to their heart. Most teens want to grow and just need guidance to be shown how.
Many Christian teens desire to make wise decisions, but they need guidance along the way. Teach your teens how music can be a powerful tool in their relationship with God.
Do you agree that the key question in music is how it affects our relationship with God? How has music made a difference in your spiritual walk? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.
Photo by K. Sawyer Photography