How Miley Cyrus Saved My Children’s Choir

I lead music in church. From birth to funeral, I’m responsible for music that touches every stage of life.

No small task.

Probably children’s music is the hardest. Or maybe teenagers. I go back and forth between the two. But right now it’s children, because I am trying to get the Fall semester of Sunday night children’s music started…and I’ll tell you a secret.

I was ready to just drop children’s music…until the VMA’s last night.

Now, I realize that statement requires all kinds of explanation, so let me explain:

It’s not that I don’t want to do children’s music. I do. I love it! It’s just that it is so hard to do well. Not because of discipline problems, the kids are well-behaved. Not because of a lack of materials, we have great curriculum to teach and most of the resources we need. Not because of the kids’ attitude or expectations, they are always excited and eager to learn what we teach.

The reasons I was going to stop were a lack of teachers, and a lack of kids.

I understand both situations. People have busy schedules, and they don’t want to add a teaching assignment to that mix. We’ve made it as easy as we can–we put everything you need and detailed instructions of what to do in one big box and turn you loose–but people are so overwhelmed that they just can’t add anything else. And parents are in a similar boat; they don’t want to give up what is, for some, their only night at home. It’s become increasingly harder to get teachers, and to get students for those teachers to teach. And so, I was fully prepared to just axe the program, maybe learn some Christmas music, and let that be that. After all, if no one wants it that much, why keep doing it?

Then the VMA’s came on.

I have to say that I did NOT watch the VMA’s. So I’m relying a little on comments from others, plus the articles, photos, and clips I saw in the news. I was told there were a couple of good moments…but I didn’t hear about those on Facebook and Twitter. What I heard was very disturbing. What little I saw was even more disturbing.

And then I read the lyrics to some of the songs presented.

I will not post them here, but I was embarrassed to even read them.

Now, I’m not a Puritan; I’m not naive, either. And I certainly don’t claim to be perfect. But to think that such raunchy messages were broadcast to millions makes me really sad. And to think that they were enjoyed by many of those millions, even more so.

But then I got to thinking…

What if Lady Gaga started the show, not by singing, but by reading her song”Applause” as poetry? Same costumes, same bizarre faces, just no music? People would label her weird then tune out from boredom.

What if Miley Cyrus walked out, scantily clad, with her army of teddy bears and started to move as she did, but with no music backing it up? What if she merely spoke the lyrics to “We Can’t Stop” and “Blurred Lines” while she twerked? People would have tuned out in disgust.

What’s the difference? What makes one weird or disgusting, and the other intriguing and acceptable?

The difference is the music.

Don’t believe me? Think about it. Music (and other forms of art) have that effect on people. You can probably think of favorite songs with lyrics you’d never say otherwise. Lyrics about situations you’d never approve of, but you still sing them word-for-word. Music opens doors that otherwise would go unopened. Consider:

Music is like a drug. Studies have shown that music causes the release of dopamine. In a very real way, music affects us like a drug. That means…

Music makes us feel good. You know that’s true. Even if you’re not musical, there are songs you love to listen to, just because they make you smile, or they make you cry, or they make you go nuts. So maybe a better statement is that music makes us feel. It releases emotions that are already under the surface and gives them a way out. Which also means…

Music lowers our inhibitions. Like any drug, music makes you lower your guard. And lowering your guard means two things: not only does more of you come out, but more of your surroundings get through to you.

Music lets you communicate ideas you couldn’t or wouldn’t any other way. Imagine if, at the beginning of a baseball game, the crowd simply stood and recited “The Star Spangled Banner.” Then, at the seventh-inning stretch, they stood again and recited “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and “God Bless America.” Pretty boring, right? But we love to sing these songs, because the messages are things we value and care about, and music gives it the emotion it deserves like nothing else can.

Music makes you memorize. When you alphabetize, you don’t think through the alphabet, you sing it. When I turn to some books of the Bible, I still remember a song I learned years and years ago to remember their order. In my childhood we learned history and English and math through the songs of Schoolhouse Rock, and as a parent I keep hearing new songs for days of the week, colors, counting, the water cycle…you name it. Putting things to music plants them in our minds.

So the way that all of those messages got into our collective psyche during the award show last night, from the musings on the human need for approval found in “Applause,” to the baser, more vulgar messages of some of the other songs, was through the vehicle of music.


And if music can be used to make us feel emotion, I want it to be joy that God loves us, pain that we are separated from Him, and hope that He offers us redemption. If it lowers inhibitions, I want to use a song lyric to reach into a tough heart when music causes its guard to drop. If music allows us to communicate, I want to use it to express ideas and truths that build others up. And is music makes us memorize, I want to commit to memory those things truly worth knowing, and I want to help others do the same.

So, we’re keeping children’s music.

At least, I hope we are. I can’t do it alone. I hope that others who haven’t come forward yet will step up to teach. I pray that parents see the value in what we do, and that they commit to investing in their children in this way. Even if it means a few less hours at home, or even (hold on, I’m gonna say it) a little less involvement in sports.

Because while a healthy lifestyle is vitally important, our children probably won’t be playing much basketball or soccer in 10 or 20 years, much less 30 or 40.

But in 60 or 70 or 80 years, I pray my child is still worshiping God with music. In church, or doing dishes, or confined to bed and nearing the end of life, I pray my children are still singing.

And I pray it’s a song that matters.


  1. Your article is right on. I have degrees and taught all levels from high school choir to kindergarten and am dismayed that kids aren’t being taught to SING at school and not as much at church as in the past when Youth Choirs were popular. I can’t imagine a non-singing population wearing headphones and watching videos but without the joys of singing together with others.

  2. Thank you for what you’re doing. Every word you’ve said is true. I hope your message goes viral! Praying for you today and for every other leader who knows the truth: music matters — to everyone from the cradle to the grave.

  3. You must be my kindred spirit!! Thank you so much for articulating the truth about the value of music and how important it is for us to teach our kids the TRUTH on a tune.


  4. I will post this on my blog today at Awesome response to the horrific clips I too saw in utter dismay. I wish your music program well. I’ve been in your position! Now I’m busy writing books. Appreciate your insight and the courage to say what you and I both know is truth!

  5. Incredibly well said! Thank you for the time it took to write this blog and the countless hours that you spend in music ministry.

    I have often felt the same heartache and resolve that you do. What keeps me going is having experienced the joy of 1st and 2nd graders singing the praises of God which makes their spirits sour; and then as you said, their inhibitions go away. A few years ago our leadership started realizing how many of these children accept Christ in this delicate age of 6-7 years old, directly related to music. Every year we ask God to bring in the harvest through this awesome gift.

    It is no surprise that music is such a battleground….this was Satan’s area before his fall from heaven. But if we’ll keep on fighting, we can be the presence that we need to be and affect change. More and more Christians need to write their stories and journeys through song and use our amazing technology options to broadcast far and wide. The enemy has perverted music, sex, marriage, etc. but we hold the keys to demonstrating the redemption in all of these areas. I am standing with you Clay to make a difference right where we are.

  6. Bless you Clay! There is an army behind you that believes with you and will pray for you to keep on sharing God’s love and truth through music. I am spreading your article and pray God bring you workers and children!

  7. I think we would idolize Gaga and Cyrus regardless of music. We idolize movie stars despite their equally provocative roles in film. We idolize sports stars whose morality is similarly provocative, secretive but known. We are a desensitized culture. But I do agree that we must continue to teach these mediums of art and athletics with respect and discipline to hopefully raise youth who respect themselves and solid values. Who are able to see just how ridiculous and childish Cyrus’ art was. She sang terribly, without breath support. She looked foolish. Not successful. Foolish. Not sexy. Childish. Not traits that are desirable. Not traits that are admirable.

  8. What an absolutely spot on article. The vision of the above mentioned scenarios without music are hard to imagine. You mentioned you have a wonderful music curriculum. I work with the kindergarten choir and would love for you to share your resource if it is applicable for this age group. Would appreciate any information you can provide. Thanks.

  9. first time here, a family member recommended I read this. Good post. I also did not watch the VMA but certainly heard about the getting attention by acting sexy routines. I applaud you for being able to turn the raunchy story into something positive. Oh, one other side effect of the oversexed VMA show – more people know what twerking means now.

  10. You are so right in your convictions! I have taught children’s choirs for over 26 years and I love it! I especially love it when they accept the Lord or learn some eternal truth! Music has benefits that are unique and so beneficial! I pray God’s richest blessings on your choir program this year!

  11. Very well spoken. I also did not watch the vma awards. I have seen one clip of the performance from Miley and was so saddened. She use to be such a pretty sweet young girl. It also made me thought I am only two years older than her. If I saw one of my peers dressing or dancing or singing like that I don’t think we would be friends anymore.

    Sad that this is the stuff considered to be “music”.

    PS I would love to help with the kids choir.

  12. Our pastor’s sermon this past Sunday (8/25) focused entirely on why we should sign to our Lord! (Because He asks us to)
    It’s titled, “what does it mean to exalt Christ in our singing?” Take a watch or listen

  13. I understand the difficulty in recuiting teachers. I volunteer as a Director in our Nursery for two year olds and it thrills me to talk to them about Jesus and know from experience that they listen to what I say. However, I am the one that is blessed.

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