Christian Music Artists: How Open Should You Be About Your Story?

by Kristen Gilles

in Exhortations And Musings,Testimony Tips,Worship Leading

Kristen Gilles singing and playing keyboard at Sojourn Midtown in Louisville.

Kristen Gilles on keyboard

I learned to be honest with myself and others by writing and singing my story. This is also how I came to relate to the “secular” world around me after living much of my life in “sacred” seclusion. These sacred and secular lines began to cross, then blend, before disappearing as I discovered that secular (worldly, unspiritual, irreligious and temporal) venues contain sacred (entitled to religious respect by association with divinity), spiritual, eternal human beings made in God’s image to know and worship Him. And every sacred person has an eternal story unfolding.

So, whether spoken or sung in New York City on a bustling street corner or in a packed-out pub, or in the buckle of the Bible Belt in a quiet café, noisy bar, small town church, cozy living room or around a campfire—wherever you find yourself sharing your story of redemption, you will find someone who gets what you’re singing about. Even if they still haven’t found what they’re looking for.

On the first day of 2009 I started a year-long tour from New York City to Dallas, Texas and back to my hometown near Louisville, Kentucky, with stops along the way at the various venues mentioned above. I sang my heart out wherever there was even just one person listening (and that might have only been the barista!). As much as I was singing for people, I was singing TO them. I was sharing something I hoped they could relate to: my story, as unfinished and messy as it was (and still is).

I had no idea if anyone was really listening, or if they cared about or could relate to what I was singing. I didn’t know if they shared my beliefs or despised them. But my prayer with every opportunity, whether in a bar, coffee house or church, was that anyone listening would see and hear God’s story of redemption unfolding in broken humanity, for the glory of His beautiful name.

We were all longing for the same things: to be known, loved, and accepted. To have peace and rest from life’s trials and troubles. To be free of our sinfulness and it’s guilt and shame. To find meaning and purpose in our messed up lives. And I wasn’t afraid to lend my voice and sing the questions burning inside of all of us. Nor was I afraid to share the answering Hope that I’d found in Christ.

On The Road photograph by Sean Hayes

Life on the road ...

I was surprised and encouraged to find warm welcomes in every venue I visited from the Big Apple to the Big Bible Belt. People I’d never met greeted me with thanks for singing to them and bravely sharing my story because they could relate to the songs. They were hungry and thirsty too. Their lives were wasting away as they searched for a beautiful, perfect place to settle in peace (Psalm 107).

In my year of life on the road as a singing storyteller, I discovered that most everyone, most everywhere is eager to hear genuine songs about real life stories. And most often if you genuinely sing about your real life and times (yes, even walking with Jesus), ears will perk up. If it’s good music and melody, they’ll listen even if they don’t know at first what you’re singing about.

I wasn’t singing “worship songs” for the church, but my songs featured God even if I didn’t say His name directly. I was singing about:

  • Someone bigger than myself who was listening to my cry and acquainted with my grief and trials.
  • Wanting to be loved and struggling to live and love like Jesus lived and loves.
  • Grappling with and desperately wanting to know and believe truth.
  • Battling an eating disorder and all its lies and messiness.
  • Longing for everything broken in my life and this beautiful, broken world to be made new.

People can relate to that whether they are Christians or not, and whether they hear it in a “secular” or “sacred” venue. All of human life is sacred—every person has a spirit and soul that is searching for something greater. We all have eternity written in our hearts while we wrestle with temporary trials and troubles. We share questions and prayers and reflections on life. We have much in common as we all long for everything broken to be made whole and new.

“On The Road” photo by Sean Hayes, Flickr Creative Commons License

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