Chapter 17: Time We Returned

During three August days in 1978, the Fellowship of Contemporary Christian Ministries had its third annual retreat, this time in the wooded environs of the Agape Force Ranch near Lindale, Texas. Since the FCCM's formation with charter members in 1975, the membership had grown to more than three hundred and fifty.

   Following the three days of fellowship and worship, the topic of discussion was ''Where is Jesus music headed? What's the next step?'' Talks by ministers Tony Salerno and Winkie Pratney had been calls for return to holiness for all Christians.

   One of the people who privately shared his thoughts on the subject was Terry Talbot. In the late 1960's, Terry and his brother John had performed as secular rock musicians in the group Mason Proffit, who had an excellent following through their numerous albums. In 1974 the liner notes on their album, The Talbot Brothers, gave hints of their new faith in Christ. Two years later both of them began recording Christian albums for Sparrow Records.

   My wife Debbie and I joined Terry on the porch of the guest house, seeking some relief from the sweltering August sun. I asked Terry how Jesus music and the Jesus movement had affected him over the past ten years.

   ''For those of us who were not involved in it,'' Terry replied, ''the Jesus movement was incredibly small. When I was in the world, I didn't know anything about it or the music. The whole thing to me was a bunch of kids in California who went to the beach every Sunday to be photographed by Time magazine. That's all I knew about it. It amazes me in retrospect that that's all we nonbelievers heard about it. I know it was magnificent to be a part of it, but that magnificence never reached me or a lot of other people.''

   As Terry recounted how small the movement seemed back  

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then, I recalled the startling number of people I had recently talked to who never even opened a Bible or read a Bible verse until they were well into their twenties. It's so easy to fall into a trap of believing everyone knows about the Bible if you do yourself. The truth is, they don't.

   "Where were you in 1969 when the Jesus movement was really starting?" I asked.

   "We were cutting the first Mason Proffit album."

   "None of you were Christians then?"

   "No," he replied. "We were brought up in church and I would defend Jesus philosophically to anyone who thought another way was better. I always knew he was the only way, but I didn't know any way to walk with the Lord. I didn't know how.

   "When I first came to the Lord, when I was on the road with the Eagles, I still had never heard of the 2nd Chapter of Acts or Larry Norman or Word Records or any of that. And that was only a few years ago! The thing that's amazing to me is that John and I were doing what all of these young Jesus musicians are trying so hard to do! 'Let's go out there, get on the secular concert bill. Then let's go for it and preach the gospel.'

   "That's all we knew to do! You make a record and do a tour with a major group and you go for it. We'd never heard of all this. We didn't know that Jesus music was called that! It was just more of our music!

   "Then I began to hear Jesus music, and to be quite honest, I wasn't real impressed with it. But the Lord dealt with me on that, that no matter how bad it was technically, it still blessed the socks off a lot of people.

   "Then I heard 'Easter Song' and I got blown away. I just wept when I heard it."

   I asked Terry to share his opinions of where Jesus music was headed. He responded by again referring to the early days of the Jesus movement.

   "As the Jesus movement grew, so did a new danger,"he said. "I think of what happened in 1969 and 1970. The movement was really made up of the salt of the earth. But it seems the salt stayed in the shaker in many ways. The Lord poured more salt in the shaker, and the cap was put on by the church itself in some cases, and most of the holes were plugged up. Nobody turned it upside down and gave it a shake so that we could fall out. And that's what we need now. The church needs a good shake, and it's happening!

   "We've become so introspective, so narcissistic, that we just turn inward and begin to examine ourselves and stop reaching out. I can

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remember back before I knew the Lord, I was dying! I needed someone to reach out!

   ''I think we're taking the first step toward a revival,'' he added, ''and a return to a genuine desire to walk with Jesus. I think that there are a lot of people in Christian music who don't belong there. God is calling them someplace else and they ought to be there to do whatever it is. I think it's gonna get real big real fast and contemporary Christian music is going to be the harp that heralds the endtimes, the Second Coming.

   ''David or the musicians would play before the prophets would prophesy. We're in that position. We've taken upon us that office in the body of Christ. So there is that call to a real tight walk with the Lord Jesus. It is heavy! I know in my life right now the Lord is calling me. It's time to take the garbage out and minister, and I don't want to do anything if I don't minister Jesus.''

   The conversations with Terry Talbot and other seasoned musicians, promoters, broadcasters, even Christian record-store operators, revealed a few disturbing facts by the late seventies. First, there were many people who saw the urgent need for renewal within the Jesus music industry. Just the fact that it was called an industry, and the various cities where the musicians played and recorded their records were by then called ''markets,'' exposed far more than some people wanted to see. The ministry had become a business, and many musicians saw their only way of getting to their goals as succumbing to the ''system'' which was rapidly being defined. For ''success'' you needed to be ''popular.'' To be popular you needed ''hits.'' To get hits, you needed more ''exposure.'' For exposure, you signed ''contracts.'' Your songs had to be ''commercial.''

   In his book The Worldly Evangelicals, Richard Quebedeaux warned that ''Historically, since the time of Constantine, whenever the church has become 'established'too popular, too respectablecorruption and secularism have become rampant within its ranks.'' This was too important a warning to treat lightly, because Jesus music, in fact the entire ''contemporary gospel'' industry (which had overshadowed Jesus music by the late seventies), was vulnerable in the same way as was the entire evangelical church.

   The vulnerability wasn't so much a threat that big business would discover Jesus rock and exploit it; they tried it in the early seventies and would again in the early eighties. Each time it lasted only a year or so. The concern needed to be for a vulnerability from within the camp. Priorities could be forgotten in the roar of the

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crowd. And in many cases, the musician had come to worship and serve the Jesus music rather than Jesus. That attitude had encouraged Jesus-music fans to do the same.

   As the year 1978 drew to a close, and the first edition of Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? was being put to press, these were the cautions for the future:

   Expert musicianship and sketchy training in the Word doth not an excellent witness make. There is a brand new generation of modern-day Christian ''minstrels'' now arriving on the scene. They are stepping into the world of contemporary Christian music with no knowledge of the battles fought to keep Jesus music alive during the past ten years, nor any recollection even of why and how Jesus music came about. Meanwhile, the youth of the early Jesus movement are now parents themselves, and I'm sure that it won't be long before even newer and more innovative musical styles will be introduced which will raise their eyebrows. Even, heaven forbid, Christian punk rock. (Already certain magazine ads and covers for Christian-rock artists feature photographs of the artists in a somber, grimacing mood very similar to those used in promoting secular punk-rock groups.)

   Though the styles of the music may shock the fainthearted, they are not the major cause for worry. Leadership israther, the lack of it. A great number of the new, potential ''ministers'' of the Jesus-music genre lack any leadership at allfrom the churches, but probably worse, even from their peers.

   There remains an alarming apathy on the part of many youth ministers and church-music ministers, through which they fail to encourage, nourish, and guide the churched or unchurched youth in their chosen line of endeavor, even ministry. Quite frankly, in all too many cases, there is no one in the church to turn to if a young person's interests lie in communicating the gospel through rock music. Either that particular church categorically denounces rock, or the interpretation of the term ''contemporary Christian music'' is the stumbling block. The youth minister, music minister, or pastor views all ''contemporary Christian music'' as being large choral groups of twenty or thirty youth, maybe more, singing middle-of-the-road Christian music which in reality may communicate mainly to the elder members of the congregation. The young person who sees the validity of a Christian rock ministry has a completely different type of music in mind. The difference in interpretation ends there, at a stalemate, and the youth's creativity is quite possibly stifled. A potential

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''music minister'' may thus channel his ambitions and energy elsewhere, though he was receiving a genuine call of the Lord in Jesus music.

   Church-oriented ministers must begin widening their horizons when it comes to youth and their music. Rock music is not going to fade away as many adults predicted and hoped. It's here for a long time, like it or not, and the number of people affected by it is constantly growing. How they are affected by it can in many ways be determined by the church. Whether or not rock music is to the liking of the leaders, there are ways of using it for the glory of God.

   Newcomer Jesus musicians also need the expressed concern and the encouragement of their brothers and sisters in the ministry. In conversation with the more established musicians, I have seen a general lack of interest on the part of the ''professionals'' when it comes to nurturing the younger musicians, and guiding them.

   Quite frankly, many of the older Jesus musicians, having been in the ''business'' for anywhere from four to ten years, are getting tired. Tired of traveling to one-night stands (and trying to keep their families together, too). Tired of leaving behind young audience members who will receive no follow-up after their concert (such as witnessing, invitations to a specific church, or even friendship). Tired of the rejection of their music by so many churches (such as church leaders who never offer the youth of their church a ride on one of their buses to attend a local Jesus-music concert, mainly because someone else is putting it on). Tired of trying to serve their Lord in music while they see some trite, ''plastic gospel'' albums with ''commercial'' value wedge them out of a recording contract.

   No wonder they're fatigued! It's been an uphill climb. And ten years later the problems haven't been solved so much as they have been made more complex. Unfortunately, some of the veteran musicians are about to give up, when the victory could be just around the corner if they would just ''press on toward the mark.'' They are sapped of energy and will, and they need renewal.

   The tired, established Jesus musicians would probably benefit from a Paul/Timothy relationship with younger musicians. The vitality and the zeal of the young is refreshing, and could well engender a more optimistic view of things. Don't the veterans remember that that same vitality was the Jesus movement in the late sixties and early seventies? And far be it for the older ones to discourage the younger. Paul, training Timothy for the ministry, encouraged: ''Let no man despise thy youth, but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.''

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   In my work with the Fellowship of Contemporary Christian Ministries, I have received an alarmingly high number of letters from young people wanting advice in their music, their aspirations, and their callingsyoung people who complain that there is no one who understands them. They are even willing to ''submit'' themselves as Peter challenged: ''Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.''

   But where are the leaders for these ''younger'' to turn to? On one hand, the church ministers most often seem too busy to involve themselves with someone or something that does not happen within the total confines of their ''church program,'' and the related lack of compassion, or at least understanding, is depressing. On the other hand, many of the Jesus musicians are either run down with no real hope, or they are so occupied with their own music and their own work that they are never even aware of what fellow-musicians are doing, writing, or feeling; much less do they take time to encourage or exhort the newcomers.

   Thank God for the preachers, youth ministers, music ministers, musicians, teachers, parents, and others who are taking the time to careto extend the hand of Christian fellowship to these musicians of the eighties and the nineties. The original strength of the Jesus movement didn't come from radio, television, records, or magazines. It came from one-to-one confrontation and one-to-one caring. A great number of the Jesus musicians mentioned in this book were won to the Lord by a face-to-face confrontation with one person. For Noel Paul Stookey, it was someone in a motel room following a concert. For Barry McGuire, it was a Jesus freak on a Hollywood street. For B. J. Thomas, it was his wife. The work of individuals, meeting with and having compassion on these performers, changed their direction and indirectly resulted in thousands of people coming to know Christ as Savior. The work of countless young Christian musicians now seeking to begin their ministries will be just as important in the future years.

   Though the observations made in this chapter are somewhat negative, the spirit of the early Jesus movement is still alive today in hundreds of contemporary Christian musicians and likewise in thousands of nonmusicians. The electricity can be felt. Our concern is that this tremendous energy is not stifled.

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And it's time we


to our call

Otherwise the children

gonna fall

And it's time we

returned to


The simple job of

settin' people

free. . . .

   In its early years, Jesus music was rough on the edges; more or less a jalopy in appearance, but with an extraordinarily dynamic engine within. All the parts worked together quite well, with positive resultsespecially countless changed lives.

   Contemporary Christian music has come a long way since the jalopy days. Recordings sound more professional, and there are more and more of them available. The Christian bookstore operators, once wary of Jesus music and the musicians themselves, are now carrying complete lines of contemporary Christian music. Radio station programmers are gradually widening the limits of musical styles featured, and more and more secular broadcasting outlets are featuring Jesus music on Sunday mornings. Contemporary gospel albums are showing up more frequently as nominations for Grammy and Dove Award-winners. (The Dove is the gospel counterpart of the Grammy.)

   But we must make sure that ''contemporary gospel,'' as the industry itself has tagged it, doesn't become a sparkling new show car with a jalopy engine. We've polished the outside until it's starting to gleam, but there is a lot of maintenance on the inside that is being forgotten. Some of the parts of that originally well-tuned engine have become frayed or rusty, through ordinary wear, through misuse, and sometimes through outright neglect. Once we get those inner parts renewed, we'll be truly roadworthy again!

Chapter Eighteen  ||  Table of Contents