Can I Be Successful Without Compromising My Integrity?
I’m a 25 yr. old Christian guy (former Casas member) living in Hollywood, and am establishing a successful career for myself in the popular music industry (I am a writer/performer of my own music as well as a writer for other artists). When I first entered the industry a couple of years ago, I felt like I was firmly rooted in Christ as my foundation. I sought Him for counsel regularly in regards to my career and whether or not this was the right field for me to be in.
I have watched over these past few years as God has seemingly opened door after door for me down this path. I have been amazed at the perfect timing of specific events that have led to these doors being opened. I’m glad this has happened because I really love making music.
Recently, I’ve noticed that I have become more and more focused on securing my own success. I realize that putting too much time and energy into securing success can be harmful because it can cause a Christian to place that above God in his life. But at the same time, I know that every career requires a great deal of hard work and dedication if there is any hope of establishing and maintaining a future in it!
I’m struggling to grasp how I can fulfill my duties as a follower of Christ and still put in the time and effort that my job requires. I think part of the issue for me is that I feel guilty when I spend a lot of time working on songs because there is no direct correlation between my work and God. By that I mean that my work does not produce results that are a specific fulfillment of commandments in Scripture the way that a pastor or missionary’s work would (I realize that I can (and hope to) be a witness of Christ to all of the people I encounter in the industry, but I am talking specifically about the end result of my work, which is a song).
I know that there are a great deal of occupations out there that don’t directly produce these “specific fulfillments” that I am talking about (accountants, plumbers, etc.), and I think I would wrestle with this concept in any one of them. But I guess it feels like a bigger issue in this instance because in the music industry, success leads to great wealth and popularity, and I feel a bit guilty to be capitalizing on that when my songs don’t proclaim the Gospel (although they don’t diminish it, either).
My questions are: Is it wrong to strive for success in careers like this, where the direct result of your work doesn’t really have much to do with preaching God’s Word? And in my case specifically, is it wrong to desire wealth and popularity in recognition of my accomplishments? Is desiring success in pop music sinful in and of itself?
Thanks, and I hope to hear from you soon!
P.S. I watched your “Ask Roger” sermons online. I was both surprised and encouraged to hear your “Favorite Song” answers… No Doubt, Avril and Adele??!! You’re the coolest 30 year old I know : )
Congratulation! I hope for you to have much success and recognition in your chosen field!
Let me begin with a simple answer to your primary concern. I find no spiritual or Biblical problem that your “end product” may not be a direct reflection of Christ or of spiritual things. Be at peace.
Now let’s deal with your other questions. It seems to me that how you personally answer these questions depends on the spiritual condition of your heart, and the choices you make.
Let’s make this simple.
First, you ask: “Is it wrong to strive for success in careers like this, where the direct result of your work doesn’t really have much to do with preaching God’s Word?” No, it is not wrong to work in a field where the end result is not “spiritual.” Most all people have jobs just like that—bankers, construction workers, administration assistants, school teachers and so forth. Your goals and temptations are no different than any one else’s.
Second, you ask: “And in my case specifically, is it wrong to desire wealth and popularity in recognition of my accomplishments?” No, not inherently wrong—as long as you know well the Biblical definition of wealth which we will discuss shortly.
Finally, you ask: “Is desiring success in pop music sinful in and of itself?” No.
In answering your questions more fully, I think it will be most helpful if I share several Bible verses that have direct bearings on what you want to know. I will first quote the relevant verse and then make a comment or two on each one. By the way, I don’t want my answers to sound negative; however, we both know that the temptations in the music world are powerful. So, while some verses will spur you on to become a great success. Others give dire warnings of allowing the distractions to pull you away from a powerful life in Christ.
To begin with, Jesus said in Matthew 6:33: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
As my pastor friend, Glenn Barteau, says, “The key here depends upon who in the driver’s seat of your life?” If you try to drive you will invariably crash and burn as you attempt to live for Christ in the music industry. On the other hand, if God is driving, you don’t have to worry or try to plan out every step in your career. Sit back and enjoy the ride. He will chauffeur you to His chosen destinations—however how great or small they might be! The key here is that your top goal is to become a spiritual father (1 John 2:12-14) at any price. With that prayer in place, you can be well on the way for God to freely fulfill your dreams.
Second, Paul wrote in 1 Colossians 3:17: “ And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
“Whatever you do” means it is OK to be in the music industry and implies that you work hard at it and at being successful—just remember that true success originates with God and not with you. The practical manifestation of this verse is that at every opportunity, without being overbearing or obnoxious, with a humble heart, you reflect all you do and accomplish to Jesus Christ and not to yourself. Let others know that Jesus Christ is the key to your life and to whatever success you may have.
Third, Paul wrote in Colossians 3:23-24: “ Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.”
Work hard at your job and remember that Jesus Christ is in the driver’s seat—not you. Keep perspective, as you seek success and wealth, true treasures are in Heaven—not here on earth. Solomon advised in Ecclesiastes 7:18: It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all [extremes].” “b
“Balance” is an important word for all of us as we here as we negotiate the positives and pitfalls between career and commitment to Christ.
Fourth, Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 6:6-10: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
“A”, notice here that gaining wealth is not inherently a sin—especially if we know what wealth is for. Also notice that having money is not a sin. The problem is loving money whether we have not much or a lot. Again, notice carefully the Biblical definition of wealth: “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” Good Biblical economics teaches us that the ultimate purpose of earthly wealth is to meet our basic needs and then to give the rest away to the poor and needy. If this is your monetary goal, then make all the money you can to the glory of Jesus Christ.
By the way, the Greek words describing what happens to those who fall into the trap of greed and materialism refer to a person who is impaled (“pierced”) on a spit and are slowly roasting over an open fire. Using money and wealth properly can be a great blessing to you and others. Used improperly, they can bring ruin, destruction and misery to any life—no matter what the profession.
Fifth, Solomon gave advice on the danger of pride. He wrote in Proverb 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall;” and again in Proverb 29:23: “A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor.
Pride is an over concern with ourselves. Keep your pride under control. Most of us are not as important as we think we are.
Sixth, “A”, you didn’t ask any advice about the sexual temptations that always exist “just around the corner” in your chosen profession (and in all other professions as well). I want you to take out your Bible as soon as possible and read Proverbs chapters one, five and nine. Read them because of what Solomon has to say about the wise following the voice of wisdom and the fools ignoring her calls. Read it because of Wisdom’s clear powerful warnings about the seductive powers of sexual sins—and how to avoid them.
Finally, as you mentioned above, enmeshing yourself in the secular “Pop Music” world reminds me of what the legalists said about Jesus in Matthew 11:19: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. They meant it as criticism; but, we see their words as a compliment. As Christians we need to invade the secular world with the Gospel and not shy away from the tax collectors and sinners. We are the light of the world. (Matthew 5:14-16). I am glad that you are a light for Christ in a lost and dark world. May you shine brightly in every moment.
Well, “I hope my answers are helpful to you. I have already prayed for you to experience and enjoy all the dreams God has in store for you. Keep me apprised of your career. I hope to rejoice with you even more in the future.
P.S. Since my wife, Julie, has spent her entire life in the music world and has encountered all the issues you are now experiencing, I asked her if she would also answer your question.
Her answer follows:
Thank you for your question. Congratulations for your success. Here are a few thoughts that might assist you in navigating the turbulent waters of the entertainment industry.
First and foremost, remember that all creative gifts ultimately come from God. God’s given you a wonderful gift, thank Him for it and do your work with excellence. We need strong Christians in the secular marketplace. Write honest, truthful music that comes from your heart and express the human condition with integrity. Remain humble, let your life reflect the character of Christ, and don’t be crass or compromise your faith.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Colossians 3:23-24 NIV
Let’s discuss the issue of inspiration and creativity first.One of my favorite passages of scripture is Paul’s profound proclamation in Colossians 1:16: “For by Him all things were created….”
Regardless of the artistic medium you utilize, everything you create was gifted to you by a loving Creator. He gave you a unique voice to speak to the world, and what you say, sing or play is His. That does not mean that all musical texts must be sacred, but they should be composed with a deep understanding that God inspires and speaks through you. In my experience as an artist, this underlying truth is very significant. If you cull through the Billboard charts since their inception, there are very few artists that have more than one or two hit recordings-about sixteen songs, and then they begin to sound like bad sequels to a hit movie. If you look at God’s world, no snowflake, no plant or animal species is identical. We must tap into His infinite creativity to continue to have a voice that lasts over time.
Secondly, remember-you can’t paint a masterpiece without the right tools. Some Christians say that training and careful skill development is contrary to “spirituality.” Paul contradicted that premise in Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. An oft’ told tale is the scene of a wobbly soprano who prefaced her church solo with “God gave me this song.” A tenor in the back row of the choir mumbled, “Please lady, give it back!” Remember the psalmist’s words in Psalm 33:3 “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.” God does not need our mediocrity. He delights for us to hone our craft and to be excellent musicians. He also wants us to enjoy performing!
The price of fame is a heavy one and pride is the keenest of temptations. Some celebrities manage to remain unchanged by the press and the glitz, but most do not. They fall victim to the sin of pride. Satan fell because he became proud. Pride can take two forms. The first is to believe your own press releases, to become arrogant and forget your walk with God. The second is to be riddled with self-doubt and quit. Lucifer was a cracker jack worship leader, the best in the business. But he became proud and he lost it all. Isaiah 14:12-15 says: “How you have fallen from heaven, (Lucifer) O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God…”
Pride can also be manifested in perfectionism and self-doubt. When I attended graduate school, the basic goal for a professional musician was to develop a “critical ear.” Although musical discernment is essential, most musicians can never do enough. The joy of performing is lost in a perfectionistic drive that can never be satisfied. Nothing is ever good enough. I have to confess that I spent so many years producing, performing and analyzing music, I can’t listen to music and enjoy it anymore. Listening is always work to me. Were the vocals pitchy? Was the mix dynamic? Did the drummer do too many fills? Were the lyrics mediocre? My husband can listen to the radio and whistle by the hour. I want to turn it off and enjoy some peace and quiet. My critical ear took away my love for music. Paul again has a nugget of wisdom in this regard: Romans 12:3:“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” NIV
It’s okay to know you are good at what you do. Don’t overestimate your talent, but don’t underestimate it either. Recognize who you are as an artist and enjoy the level where you are, knowing that God is always maturing you and growing you up as a musician and as a person.
You asked another penetrating question. Can you live in Hollywood and not be tainted by the godless influences that permeate the “Hollywood culture. Remember, sex sells, money is the bottom line and fame has its price. Carrie Underwood and Kristin Chenowith are open about their faith in Christ and, as far as I know, seem to stay true to their spiritual convictions. Tom Hanks and Brad Pitt grew up in Christian homes and neither claim to be believers at this point in their lives. Katy Perry was a pastor’s kid and even made a Christian album. She regularly flaunts her godless lifestyle, and scoffs at Christian beliefs. Joe Simpson, the father of Jessica Simpson and Ashlee Simpson Wentz, was a Baptist pastor before he began managing his daughters’ careers. His famed statement about Jessica was an affront even to the secular press: “She’s got double D’s! You can’t cover those up!” How did a man who surrendered his life to God come to live such a reprobate lifestyle? He just got sucked into the mire that is Hollywood. Instead of being a light to the world, he personified the guy who sold his soul for fame and fortune.
I can’t imagine that being in the Hollywood spotlight will be easy for you. I can assure you that fame is both fleeting and fickle, so make the most of those moments to honor God by your attitudes and lifestyle. Fame can be an opportunity or a temptation. Be sure you have godly people in your life that will be honest with you and hold you accountable for your behavior and relationships with others.
I prayed Paul’s prayer for many years and find it to be a wonderful way to keep my life and work in perspective:
For a more complete discussion of the challenges of being a Christian artist, check out http://www.heartoftheartist.org/.