For MercyMe's Bart Millard, contemporary Christian music is far more than a job that delivers a paycheck. It's a message of hope.
"It's not just entertainment," Millard told Christian Headlines. "It's life-changing. It's a message that can literally change the trajectory of people's lives through the gospel. And so I think that's the most important music there is."
Millard is one of the dozens of Christian musicians featured in a groundbreaking documentary film, Jesus Music, that traces the history of contemporary Christian music, beginning in its birth in the 1960s and leading up to the 2000s and 2010s. It's the first major documentary on the subject.
It opens in theaters Friday, Oct. 1.
The movie was directed by Jon and Andrew Erwin, the same filmmakers who made I Can Only Imagine, Woodlawn and I Still Believe. Before they made movies, the Erwins were video directors for several Christian artists.
It is based on interviews with more than 100 artists and 300-plus hours of footage. Among those featured in the film: Bill Gaither, Eddie DeGarmo, Michael Sweet, Steven Curtis Chapman, Michael Tait, LeCrae, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Mandisa, TobyMac, Kirk Franklin and Lauren Daigle.
"It turned into this beautiful anthology as kind of our love letter to the music that shaped our careers," Andrew Erwin told Christian Headlines.
The film, Millard said, offers moviegoers an opportunity to learn about – and to be inspired by – Christian artists from the past.
"[Christian music] is something I've been a part of for years. And it's something that changed my life when I was a kid," Millard said. "I'm a product of the system. I've been a fan of it for so long. Whether I was in it or not, I would be just as excited about this genre getting any kind of recognition. Now more than ever, people need to hear a message of hope.
"It's something this industry has been doing for a long time. It's cool that it's getting attention. There's a lot of talented, talented people in this industry that hopefully, people start learning about."
Millard said he wouldn't want to make any other style of music. His band, MercyMe, is embarking on its fall tour this week.
"I get asked all the time, 'Why did you sign up for Christian music?' I don't know if it's something I really signed up for. I think any decent songwriter writes about whatever consumes their heart," Millard said. "And mine has been consumed with Jesus for a long time. And I've tried to write country and other stuff, but [Jesus] just kind of keeps coming out."
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Terry Wyatt/Stringer
Video courtesy: ©Lionsgate Movies
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.