I can still remember the day that I was introduced to Contemporary Christian Music. I was on a business trip and listening in my rental car to WMBI in Chicago. It was the late 80s, and I had never sung anything but traditional hymns and southern gospel songs in my church before that. On came a song with a driving drum beat. It was “Secret Ambition” by Michael W. Smith. I was captivated. Here was a contemporary approach to music that also had a powerful Christian message. The refrain of the song went:
Nobody knew His secret ambition
Nobody knew His claim to fame
He broke the old rules steeped in tradition
He tore the Holy Veil away
Questioning those in powerful position
Running to those who called His name
(But) Nobody knew His secret ambition
Was to give His life away.
I became an instant fan of Michael W. Smith, but even more, a fan of Contemporary Christian Music. A decade later, I was the general manager of a radio station that played such songs. Michael W. Smith had become a household name in Christian families, until one day he announced that he was going to switch gears. Rather than writing ballads and singing to sold-out concerts at arenas, he would begin performing in churches and would take a profoundly different approach, writing and performing praise music that for the most part, would be performed in the thousands of Christian churches in America and around the globe.
That’s not to say that Michael W. Smith could no longer make money at what he did well. But I recall a story I heard of what happened at one of his concerts that may have been a motivating factor in his change of direction. Several girls were in the front row of his concert, screaming as if they were in a regular rock concert. He asked them not to do it, but when he started up again, they started screaming again, idolizing him like the pop star he was becoming. Wisely, he stopped the concert and talked to them about the difference between a rock concert and a Christian concert. He wanted to make sure the focus was in the right direction.
“Secret Ambition” was one of the first big songs that Michael W. Smith had, but he had spent several hard years trying to make it as a songwriter and musician, some of that time lost. Finally he realized what his priorities should be. And when he decided to write and perform to help people worship God in church, maybe he had the lyrics to “Secret Ambition” in the back of his mind.
As writers, even if we aren’t Christians, we should have goals that extend well beyond making a buck. Because I know from experience that no matter how much money you make, you can spend it just as fast. In the end, money isn’t worth much. We are better than that, and we need to have higher goals. What is your secret ambition? Whatever it is, I advise you to aim a little higher.