By Patricia Engler, Crosswalk.com
Picture this: one beautiful Saturday morning, you’re making breakfast with your kids when the doorbell rings. Opening it, you meet two rather—um, striking characters sporting heavy eyeliner and shiny clothes. Well, one of them is wearing clothes. You’re averting your eyes from the other’s wardrobe.
“Hello,” the second visitor croons, “we’re here to teach your children!”
“Your kids. We’re here to spend time with them and teach them.”
“Teach them about what?”
“You know—how to express their individuality, rebel against authority, explore their sexuality, follow their own truth…”
At these words, you sense a nameless weight constricting your chest. Something feels dreadfully wrong.
“I’m sorry,” you gently respond, “but our children already have wonderful people discipling them. Have a lovely day though—”
“What do you *expletive deleted* mean?” the other newcomer asks, pointing to the earbuds your kids are wearing. “We’ve already been teaching them all morning.”
Paling, you turn towards the speakers. You knew these visitors’ voices sounded familiar…
Let’s Talk about Music
When it comes to music, the messages we feed our families’ matter. Many secular musicians are wildly talented, yet may promote messages which completely contradict God’s word. Not all secular musicians or songs glorify unbiblical principles, however, complicating the question of music choices.
How can families exercise biblical discernment regarding music? What are some pros and cons of letting kids (and parents) absorb different types of secular music? And how can families who want to rethink their music choices change not only their household rules, but their kids’ hearts?
These questions are vitally relevant to shaping the hearts and minds of the next generation, so let’s dive into these topics, beginning with what God’s word says about music.
Photo Credit: ©Pexels/Andrea Piacquadio
God’s Design for Music
The Bible burgeons with hundreds of references to music, which overwhelmingly appear in the context of worship. The longest book in Scripture is a hymnal of 150 Psalms right in the middle of the Bible, reflecting just how spiritually significant God created music to be. Take, for instance, the following verses:
- Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music. (Psalm 98:4, NIV)
- Praise the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre… (Psalm 150:1-3 NIV)
- Speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19 NIV)
These passages let us glimpse God’s intended role for music within the life He created us to live—a life of relationship with Him. Yet our fallen world often corrupts what God designed for good, including music.
We see this happening even in the Old Testament, when King Nebuchadnezzar mandated music-accompanied idol worship (Daniel 3:4-6).
Still today, much secular music extolls the idols of our culture. This reality bears major implications for raising kids, because Scripture suggests that part of music’s purpose involves discipling upcoming generations.
For instance, before Moses died, God gave him a song to teach the Israelites so that their descendants would remember God’s words (Deuteronomy 31:19-22). Ultimately, families are biblically responsible to ensure that their kids are being discipled—including by music—to stay in tune with God rather than to worship their culture’s idols.
Tips for Making Music Choices
So, does all this mean that Christian kids must never, under any circumstances, be exposed to anything but worship music? Not necessarily. Being “in the world but not of the world” means that while kids will naturally overhear secular music sometimes, ungodly anthems must not become the musical fodder for their spirits. However, not all secular music promotes ungodliness. How can parents make wise decisions about what music disciples their kids? The key is to ask two questions:
1. Who’s producing this music?
One way or another, the musicians we listen to are our role models. Even artists who don’t produce blasphemous music, yet who embrace ungodly lifestyles, will likely not be ideal role model candidates. Nobody’s perfect, but the choices which add up to lifestyles do matter. That’s why Paul told the Corinthians, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1, NIV).
Of course, not even everything labeled as Christian music is produced by artists who follow Christ’s example. Whatever the music’s label, then, it’s worthwhile to think about what kind of Christian or secular artists your kids enjoy.
2. What does the message say?
On the same note (no pun intended), even some Christian music may promote unbiblical messages. So, the central question to ask about any music—whether Christian or secular—is, how does this message align with Scripture? Often, the answer will place the message within one of three categories:
- Moral messages promote something the Bible teaches, like the importance of family or the beauty of marriage.
- Amoral messages discuss something that’s neutral compared to biblical teachings, like the excitement of traveling or the nostalgia of coming home.
- Immoral messages glorify something that’s contrary to God’s word.
Clearly, it’s the immoral messages which pose the most concern for Christian families, for as Philippians 4:8 (NIV) commands, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
3. Pros and Cons to Keep in Mind
Now that we’ve identified what Scripture says about music’s purpose, and how to think about music based on biblical teachings, let’s look closer at some pros and cons of letting kids listen to different types of secular music.
- PRO: Enjoyment
Secular music is often fun to listen to. Who doesn’t love getting lost in a great tune? If the musician is someone you’re comfortable with as a potential role model for your kids, and if their songs aren’t promoting immoral messages, there’s nothing necessarily unbiblical about jamming to a catchy song.
Still, listening to only catchy but amoral songs when God wired our spirits for worship would be like living on empty calories when God designed our bodies to need wholesome nutrition. Filling our heads with meaningless music can keep our hearts from echoing the praises we’re created for, just like filling up on junk food prevents us from wanting real, essential sustenance. It’s great to have fun, but remember to also feed your family’s spirits what they need.
- PRO: Fitting in
Another reason families may seek after secular music is to fit in with culture. Some might argue in favour of listening to secular music to understand song references, talk about music with non-Christian friends, or keep a finger on the culture’s pulse. Being socially wired creatures, we have a natural desire to conform with others. And kids are no exception.
CON: Joining in
However, the Bible makes it clear that there are some aspects of culture we don’t want to relate to. Paul wrote in Romans 16:19 (NIV), “I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” Being innocent about what is evil may mean missing a few pop culture references, but some aspects of culture just aren’t worth fitting in with. That’s the whole point behind the biblical doctrine of being set apart for God rather than being conformed to the world (Romans 12:1-2), for as James 4:4 (NIV) says, “anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”
- PRO: Discipling others
But wait—if we don’t listen to secular music, how can we engage our culture when sharing the Gospel? After all, didn’t Paul quote secular poetry when he preached on Mars Hill in Acts 17?
Yes, familiarity with certain elements of culture can help us build bridges for sharing Christ’s love with others. But that doesn’t mean we need to participate in elements of culture which can be spiritually destructive to our families or create tension in our relationships with God. Instead, parents can look up lyrics to the latest hits, browse entertainment headlines, and use these items as opportunities for teaching kids biblical, critical thinking skills. Along with promoting kids’ discernment, this lets families connect more to culture without consistently feeding their spirits distasteful messages.
CON: Being discipled
If we’re perfectly honest, how often do we really leverage secular music to reach our culture anyway, compared to the amount of influence the music exerts on us? Proverbs 13:20 (NIV) says, “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” And, as I once heard someone point out, media is a type of companion. We become like who we hang out with; who we listen to. Music is a mentor, and parents have a God-given responsibility to ensure their kids’ mentorship influences are drawing them closer to God, rather than further away from him.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/YakobchukOlena
What about families whose members already crave music with immoral messages? Simply banning the music won’t change families’ hearts; likely, it’ll just make for angry kids. An effective media reset requires a heart-level lifestyle change, not just another list of rules. That’s why it’s so important to talk with kids about the purposes behind biblical media standards, and about why the Bible is the foundation for our everyday decision-making.
As a family, you can explore what the Bible says about music, purity, and discernment. You can take time to help kids think critically about the artists and messages they’re listening to, using questions like, “Do you think this musician is someone you should be like? Why (not)? How does this message compare with God’s word? What do you think listening to it might do to your heart, mind and relationship with God?” Meanwhile, parents can also model the lifestyle changes they want to see by making biblical media choices themselves.
Of course, talking about family discipleship is one thing. Carrying it out is another. I’m not a parent, so I asked for practical suggestions from someone who’s not only the father of 10 kids, but also founded a family discipleship ministry called Malachi Man. He graciously replied,
When it comes to parenting, more is often caught than taught. Kids watch much closer than we think. They typically know if their parents compromise biblical standards or not. If kids think parents are compromising (even if they’re not), the kids are likely to consider this hypocrisy. Few things erode a child’s faith quicker than hypocrisy; real or perceived. For these and other reasons, media is best addressed by transparently showing kids rather than telling them. Here is a sample process to illustrate how:
Start with leading a dedicated, robust, family Bible study on biblical media standards. Don’t be in a rush, it may take several weeks or even months. Be sure to include key media-related passages such as Ephesians 5:1-21; Philippians 4:8; and 1 Peter 4:11. Let your children see that you sincerely seek to know what God says about media choices. Engage the kids in age-appropriate ways. Use your own media choices (past and present) as both positive and negative illustrations. Avoid using your choices as good examples and your kids’ choices as bad examples. If kids get the sense that you’re using the Bible as a tool to make them stop listening to music that you don’t like, the walls will go up in their hearts. Write down your concluding biblical media standards for your home for the whole family to see.
Then, demonstrate full and joyful submission to God’s Word as you make any necessary changes to your own media choices. Repent of any willful or rebellious choices that you may be convicted of and let the kids see your humble prayers. Now that you’ve explained why biblical standards matter, demonstrated humility, and modeled wisdom, you’re finally in the place to review the kids’ media choices and maintain the same household standards.
Ultimately, family discipleship about music choices requires time and effort, but sowing any worthwhile harvest always does. Then, if the doorbell rings again on a Saturday morning, the conversation will ideally sound a little more like this:
“Hello,” says the friendly-looking musician couple standing on your front step, “we’re here to teach your kids!”
“Teach them what?”
“You know—how to draw closer to God, know his word, love their neighbors, follow Jesus…”
You smile. “Come on inside!”
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/nicolesy
Patricia Engler is a Christian apologetics speaker, writer and Youth Outreach Coordinator for Answers in Genesis Canada. After 12 years of homeschool and a B.Sc. degree, she backpacked 360°around the world documenting how Christian students keep their faith at university. You can follow her stories and get connected at www.patriciaengler.com or answersingenesis.org.