Pointing People to Jesus
Exploring the Power of Music in Evangelism
September 1, 2003 - Nicole C. Mullen stood before 21,000 people at Salem Stadium, in Virginia, and boldly proclaimed her faith, singing words inspired by Job 19:25: "Now I know my Redeemer lives/ I know my Redeemer lives/ Let all creation testify/ Let this life within me cry/ I know my Redeemer lives."
by Simon Gonzalez
After Mullen left the platform, Franklin Graham told the crowd more about the Redeemer: Jesus Christ, the only way to salvation. "If we put our faith in Him, God will forgive us and cleanse us and set us free," Graham said.
After hearing about Jesus in song and in the message, hundreds of people attending the Southwest Virginia Festival came forward to make decisions for Christ.
Later, Mullen reflected on the role that music had played in leading people toward the Redeemer. "It says in the New Testament, 'by all means save some' (1 Corinthians 9:22, NKJV)," she said. "I look at music as one of those means. I definitely believe that songs can sway the heart toward salvation."
Mac Powell, of the contemporary Christian band Third Day, agrees. "Ultimately it is the Spirit of God that really draws people," Powell said. "However, He can use music as a vehicle to do that, to touch people's hearts. He does it in different ways: through the spoken word, through music, through a visual medium. There are so many different ways that God can work, and music is just one of those. But it's a powerful one."
From Biblical times to the present, music has played an important role in evangelism. In Psalm 96:2, God's people are told, "Sing to the Lord, bless His name; proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day" (NKJV).
Paul urged the Colossian church to, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" (Colossians 3:16, NKJV).
Martin Luther, author of the great hymn "A Mighty Fortress," considered music one of God's greatest gifts. "Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world," said the leader of the Protestant Reformation. "This precious gift has been given to man alone that he might thereby remind himself that God has created man for the express purpose of praising and extolling God."
Music remains a valuable tool today. Whether heard at an evangelistic crusade, in a church service, during a concert or on the radio, it is a powerful force for conveying the substance of the Gospel and leading people into a relationship with God. It is an important component of Billy Graham Missions and Franklin Graham Festivals.
"It can be a mighty force and can be used by the Spirit to really prepare for the preaching of the Word and to allow the Spirit of God to work in the hearts of people," said Cliff Barrows, the music and program director at Billy Graham Crusades for more than 50 years.
Many singers and groups have appeared at Billy Graham Missions over the years, but there has been one constant: Mr. Graham's messages are preceded by hymns sung by George Beverly Shea.
"The simplicity, the humility, the sincerity and the clarity of Bev's ministry in song has been absolutely vital to Billy's own heart in preparing him as he preaches—and in preparing the people as they listen," Barrows said.
In addition to setting the appropriate mood for the message, music can attract people who aren't saved. One young man attended the Franklin Graham Festival in College Station, Texas, last year because a friend told him that Jars of Clay was a great band.
"I didn't have any idea that it was this kind of conference, but the music moved me and I decided to stay and hear the rest of the program," he said.
He had been on a quest for truth—and found it as Franklin Graham was speaking.
"All 19 years of my life I've been searching for God," the young man said. "I've been to church after church, and I've studied different religions, but I hadn't found Him. Tonight, it started to make sense to me."
Music is also an important part of most church services. Just as at an evangelistic crusade, music in church can serve to prepare the way for an evangelistic message, according to Donnie McClurkin, an urban Gospel singer and pastor of Perfecting Faith Church, in Long Island, N.Y.
McClurkin tells of one person who recently attended Perfecting Faith Church. The music there helped change his life. "He came just to get his mother off his back," McClurkin said. "He was a street guy, a gang member. We sang and we worshipped, and even before the sermon he walked up to the front. I ministered the Word to him, and he came to Jesus. It's not just the music. It's the power of God in the music."
Darlene Zschech, worship leader at Hillsong Church in Australia and writer of the worship anthem "Shout to the Lord," also has seen worship music bring people to Jesus. When those who aren't Christians see and hear God's people praising Him, hearts are changed.
"The passion in the notes—resonates with hurting and broken people," Zschech said. "Time and time again, at the end of a time of worship, we will have an altar call. I've seen thousands of people come to Christ like that. They're not carried away on this soulful experience as far as the music goes, but it truly is the presence of God that's drawing them."
The presence of God also can draw people through popular songs heard outside the church walls—on Christian radio stations or in concerts.
"The primary purpose is to point people toward Christ," said Southern Gospel veteran Bill Gaither. "Some of the lyrics do that specifically, some more subtly. But the bottom line is to point people to Christ."
The main audience for Christian music is people who already know Jesus. Frequently, however, songs reach the ears of those who have yet to come to faith, according to Gaither.
He said that he received a letter from a woman who wrote that she could not get her husband interested in anything that smacked of Christian theology. But the husband started watching the Gaithers' television program every week. His wife noticed that he was changing. Finally, the husband said, "I'd like to go to church with you. I am ready to make a commitment."
Contemporary Christian singer Chris Rice also knows that his music is reaching unsaved people.
"Even though my audiences are mainly Christian, you never know who's going to be listening or who's going to happen to walk by the Christian bin in the record shop," Rice said. "You never know who's going to pick up two copies of a record and give one to a friend who's not a believer. I want my music to encourage believers, but I also want it to make sense to people who don't yet believe what we do. I really feel that songs are a great way to do that, because you purposefully use music to intrigue people and to draw them in, to think new thoughts. I think music has that power."
Contemporary Christian singers frequently see themselves as sowers of seeds, using music to make people think about God, about sin and about salvation. Caedmon's Call is a contemporary Christian band that played last year at the Metroplex Mission With Billy Graham, in Dallas-Ft. Worth. Group member Josh Moore explained: "What we want to do is make music for the Christian that plants the seeds of interest in the non-Christian. We've had people come to us and say, 'I went to a friend of mine who listens to your music and is a Christian, and he explained what these lyrics meant, and I've given my life to Christ.'"
Sometimes, Christian musicians can affect secular culture when their songs are played on mainstream radio stations.
"There was a guy who heard one of our songs on an alternative rock station," said Stephen Mason, lead guitarist for Jars of Clay. "He went out and got the CD. He just dug in, and actually went and pulled aside a Christian friend and said, 'Will you tell me something about this?' He wanted answers to his questions. That's something only God can do. That's not rock 'n' roll. It's not music. It's God's Spirit."
Jars of Clay is one among many Christian bands and music artists who intentionally try to affect nonbelievers with their music. Prominent among such artists is Delirious?, the British group that is credited for helping launch the modern worship movement with such songs as "Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble?" and "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever."
Although the group's lyrics are clearly faith-based, its modern rock sound has resulted in crossover success. In 2001, Delirious? took its music to young people who might never have set foot in a church when they embarked on a concert tour with mainstream rock band Bon Jovi.
"We still get a lot of letters from that tour," said lead singer Martin Smith. "There was one girl who didn't know that we are Christians but felt there was something different about us. She got our CDs and read the lyrics." Smith said that the woman eventually came to faith and was baptized. "She said she had gone on this whole journey of discovery," Smith said. "What we've got to realize is that discovering God often involves a journey. We [may be part of] someone's journey of discovering God."
Todd Agnew is another Christian musician who is trying to bring the message of redemption through Christ to secular culture through his songs. On Sundays, Agnew leads worship at Highpoint Church in Memphis, but the rest of the week might find him singing in a coffeehouse or a club.
"We'll play something that's popular, something that's on the radio that causes people to connect," he said. "But we're also mixing in the songs that we play in our worship services. As long as people like the music, they are open to that. They listen, and it's opened many, many doors for us just to sit down and talk with people. It's a really neat opportunity to reach people that hadn't really considered coming to church before."
Agnew's ministry through music has borne fruit. Members of his church have invited friends and co-workers and have seen them come to Christ. One man came to salvation after seeing Agnew's band play at the Hard Rock Cafe in Memphis.
"He was lost but really enjoyed the night and enjoyed spending time with us," Agnew said. "He started coming to a Bible study. About three weeks later, he pulled the friend aside who had invited him from work and said, 'Hey, you all have something that I don't have. I'm starting to understand what that is, but can you help me?' Over the next week, he had some talks with different people and ended up coming to Christ."
For many Christian musicians, that is the motivation and the reward. Whether they are playing at a crusade, in a church, in a concert or recording an album, they are using music as a tool for evangelism.
"By all means save some," the Bible says. Music is one of those means.