Chapter 30: Gospel Music: Christian Witness

The scene was an urban university campus in a large southeastern city. On this particular 1984 night a brisk fall wind cut through the open-air hallways of the school's arts complex, catching people in short sleeves off-guard.

   A table with a coffee urn, soft drinks, chips, and crackers sat across from the auditorium entrance. About forty people had come tonight to the Christian ''coffeehouse.''

   Represented in the forty people was a cross section of college-aged personality types: the studious, the nervous, the retiring, the brash. While one man madly raced through the pages of his Bible searching for an elusive passage, another left through the back door to light up a cigarette, then lingered to hear the music performed on stage.

   The music represented a cross section too, a potpourri of music styles. The featured singer performed using recorded tracks. Later other people were invited to sing a song or two. One sang country and Dylan-styled music, complete with a harmonica holder resting on his neck. Another sang praise choruses, which a few people present knew and others picked up gradually. A third person offered a singalong ditty. Another did folk music. Finally the coffeehouse director sat at the piano and sang two more songs.

   Most of the numbers were simple; a few were surprisingly good. In fact, one or two were good enough that they shouldn't have been heard only by the few people there that night. These original Christian songs communicated on a one-to-one level with the people scattered in the audience. No fancy shows; the atmosphere was laid back. The scene was remarkably reminiscent of the coffeehouse ministries of the early Jesus movement, where much of the early Jesus music was born.

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   The city in which the coffee house ministry was located had several contemporary Christian concerts scheduled in the coming weeks. There were several radio stations programming Christian music for anyone who wanted to tune in. There were hundreds of churches in the metropolitan area. But sitting there, one sensed that all of that Christian activity was passing these particular students by.

   There was surely a reason they cameperhaps for fellowship, perhaps to kill boredom, or perhaps to seek answers to big questions. The few people who worked the coffeehouse ministry were providing a badly needed way station, a place of spiritual nurture, often for people who would never go to the concerts, listen to the radio, or attend the churches. This particular coffeehouse was just as important as the ones which ministered a decade and a half earlier to the same type of people.

   That same fall night, some two thousand miles away near Dallas, Texas, there were even more indications that coffeehouse ministries were needed as much as, if not more than, ever before. More than five hundred persons (nearly nine hundred in the final session) attended the 1st National Street Ministries Conference, which carried the theme, ''Training you to take Jesus to the streets of America.'' Seven street-level outreach ministries sponsored the conference, which featured twenty-seven teaching and training workshops.

   Chuck Girard provided the music and talks on ''using praise and worship as a weapon.'' Among the guest speakers were David Wilkerson, Judy McPheeters, Jonathan Gainsbrugh (director of Worldshakers for Christ and publisher of a street-ministries directory), John Dawson (director of Youth with a Mission in California and National Olympic Outreach Director for the Games just past), Gary Greenwald (pastor of Eagle's Nest Church in California and director of his own national rock seminars), and Scott Hinkle (of his own outreach ministry).

   The high attendance for the first annual conference indicated a definite interest in maintaining street-level ministries throughout the United States and elsewhere. The directory published by Gainsbrugh listed more than three hundred such ministries, estimated to be less than half the actual number of coffeehouse and street-level para-church outreaches in the U.S. Many Christians, in fact most Christians, were not even aware of the work going on in the streets of cities and towns. The work was not heavily publicized, now was it glamourous.

   ''God is bringing together an army of what Jonathan Gainsbrugh calls 'attack sheep,' '' one report on the conference read. ''A result of the conference was the formation of the International Street

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Ministry Association (IMSA) to serve as a clearinghouse and liaison between street ministries.

   ''Certainly,'' the report continued, ''any hunger for souls is good news, as is encouragement to those in front-line ministries. At the same time, however, there was one prominent speaker who blasted Christian rock and received a good hand from many in the audience. Indeed, the musical direction of the conference toward praise and worship was somewhat surprising, at least in its relationship to evangelism.''

   Though the conference showed a possible mellowing of musical attitudes and tastes, there were many who saw the continued validity of using rock as an evangelistic medium. No place was its effectiveness more evident than in prisons, jails, and detention centers. Christian rockers such as DeGarmo & Key, the Rob Cassels Band, and Resurrection Band often played in everything from juvenile halls to penitentiaries, and with excellent results. Other artists, such as Canada's Gene Maclellan, composer of the sixties hit, ''Put Your Hand in the Hand,'' opted for more moderate music in their concerts behind prison bars. In many cases the Christian music presented by these singers was the first encounter with the gospel the prisoners had ever had.

   In spite of this evangelistic work and the street-level ministries, there still lingered a question in 1984 as to whether contemporary Christian music had been used effectively or efficiently to evangelize, or whether such hopes and efforts had been lost in the hubbub of its success as a commercial industry.

   ''We've done a great job of converting the church to accept rock and roll,'' one Christian recording engineer pondered, ''but I don't know how well we've done in converting people to Jesus with the music.''

   Rather than being a negative assessment of the contemporary Christian music scene, the comment was an astute and healthy consideration worth note. If no one would question the effectiveness of the music, it would ultimately have no value, through neglect.

   Much like Christian radio, Christian music ministered mostly to Christians, or at least the churched.

   Stan Moser, the executive vice-president of Word Records, gave a glimpse at his company's target market in a special Billboard magazine article written by Bob Darden. An informal survey, evidently taken by Word at a gathering of ''thousands of church-oriented young girls,'' yielded that about 40 percent had never heard of Amy Grant, two-thirds had never heard of Sandi Patti, and only 20 percent had heard of Leslie Phillips, a newer artist on Word's Myrrh label.

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''Even with our increased dent, we've still got a long way to go,'' he (Moser) says. ''Our statistics show that about 50% of the U.S. population is active in some way in church. Roughly about 100 million people. Only 10% of that figure ever frequents Christian bookstores or shops, which is where the bulk of our albums are sold. So our market universe to this point has only been 10 million people.

   ''That means when someone like Amy Grant nears a million units sold, she's penetrating the universe that encompasses the other 90 million Christians who are 'secular' in terms of their buying habits. Even surveys of longtime Petra fans show that those same fans are buying five or six secular albums by people like Def Leppard, Journey, or Led Zeppelin for every Petra LP they buy.

   ''That means we still have a huge untapped market in that 90 million. It is for all intents and purposes a secular market that's not going to be offended by our message. That's where our next thrust is going to be.''

   Five years ago, that same marketplace would not have allowed Leslie Phillips to even mention something like extramarital sex. Today, as the scope of the artists broaden, so has the willingness of the market grown to include more than just one topic in gospel music.

   ''The Bible most definitely addresses salvation,'' Moser says, ''but it also addresses issues like honesty, integrity, homosexuality, and whatever. For example, we've had a series of powerful anti-abortion songs in the past few years, something our audience would never allow to be mentioned before. The relevant message is still salvation, but specific songs can now deal with specific topics and that's opened up a whole lot more freedom of expression lyrically and musically for our artists. And that's given them the opportunity to reach a wider audiencethat 90 million we're talking about.''¹

   Those ten million people which Moser referred to earlier are also the ones which show the most likelihood of listening to Christian radio. By 1984 the number of Christian music stations had increased to an impressive number, many of them programming a mix of light contemporary and bright M.O.R. Christian music. That format was the most common among stations which were considered contemporary. A fewer number programmed straight contemporary

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music, more up-tempo than the mixed format. But even by the mideighties, only a handful of stations, if that many, programmed Christian rock as their main music format.

   KLYT in Albuquerque was one of the few ultracontemporary stations. Since it was noncommercial, there was more freedom in format; there was not a commercial quota which had to be met each month. Christian rock radio, when done commercially, had very little chance because of the reticence of sponsors to go onto such a station. In most cases the sponsors advertising on Christian radio paid heed to the complaints of the older, established businessmen with whom they wished to do business. With that cadre, rock just didn't hit it. However, as always, there were a few exceptions. Historic KYMS in Santa Ana, one of the pioneer contemporary Christian stations, leaned toward the rock side with a good measure of success and positive response. The Orange Country area and the West Coast were excellent testing grounds for rock radio, since so many of the Christian new music groups hailed from that region. Far away, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, long-time southern-gospel outlet WMOC was reported to have switched to a ''progressive'' Christian rock format in late 1984.

   Most of the rock music being heard on Christian stations was via locally produced or nationally syndicated radio shows which sometimes aired on both Christian and secular radio stations. Shows such as ''Joy Song'' in Oklahoma City, ''American Christian Rock Countdown'' from Kokomo, Indiana, Laurie de Young on WKLQ in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and ''The Brian Mason Show'' out of Nashville kept contemporary music of varying degrees of rockiness on the air. Another favorable outlet for Christian rock proved to be the college radio stations.

   One of the main changes in Christian radio over the preceding decade had been a noticeable increase in the number of stations serving individual markets. There were several metropolitan areas that were served by as many as four or five Christian music stations, and more if one counted the stations carrying taped teaching programs. In addition, there were a few markets where more than one Christian station appeared in the coveted ratings books, right in the company of the secular stations, albeit fairly low on the totem pole.

   Radio broadcasters were encouraged to pay more attention to improving their sound, cleaning up their signal, gearing up their sales, and polishing up their image so as to compete head-to-head with the secular big guys, rather than compare themselves and compete with other Christian stations in their or other markets. Brad Burkhart's monthly column in MusicLine magazine preached it, and

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the speakers at the National Gospel Radio Seminar each year reiterated it.

   In the early eighties, several powerhouse radio stations came on with contemporary Christian formats: XERF, the station on which Wolfman Jack had wailed years before, became Love 16. Fifty-thousand-watt WAPE in Jacksonville and WCFL in Chicago both became Christian-music stations, with WCFL advertising ''America's most powerful Christian radio signal.'' Other stations under the same ownership as WAPE and WCFL were expected to go gospel in late 1984. Fifty-thousand-watt stations covered large geographic areas, especially at night, and the dream of contemporary Christian music for the whole nation, even the small, outlying towns, looked to be reality.

   Several stations, though not covering the geographical areas of the AM powerhouses, managed to pull impressive ratings in their areas when compared with other religious broadcasters. Stations such as WXLN in Louisville, Kentucky, KCFO in Tulsa, Oklahoma, KBIQ in Seattle, Washington, WLIX in Long Island, New York, and WDJC in Birmingham, Alabama, were a few.

   Typical of radio, though, sudden changes came to some of them, even though the ratings looked good. Tulsa's KCFO, with some of the top ratings for a Christian station in the country, suddenly let its staff go in the middle of 1984 and switched to a syndicated contemporary format. In a similar move, the staff of WDJC in Birmingham, which enjoyed good ratings for its coverage of northcentral Alabama, suddenly changed its format to southern gospel without a moment's warning to the listening audience. WDJC had been a contemporary station a year or so earlier, but gradually modified its format until the sudden move in October 1984.

   However, Birmingham proper was not left without Christian radio, or even contemporary Christian music radio. WCRT kept the contemporary flag waving in the market, and with increasing ratings. The Alabama city was typical of a multiplying number of areas with a variety of religious stations to choose from. Birmingham had an extraordinary number; listeners could choose from ten available signals, running the gamut from all preachers to contemporary music.

   As stated, before, Christian radio was probably reaching mostly Christians, Christian music and record sales were aimed at mostly Christians. What about evangelism to the lost? Was there any?

   And furthermore, should music even been used for evangelism? Some antagonists thought not. More than once, an anticontemporary-music preacher or evangelist or writer would cite that the Scriptures basically referred to music as being a vertical conduit, for use in

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praising the Lord. Nowhere, the opponents added, was the use of music for evangelism justified.

   Yet the majority of people in contemporary music or gospel music in general felt that nothing in the Scriptures ever preached against it, and over the years music had proven to be an increasingly important part of everyone's life. So why not hit them where they live?

   But the burden of evangelism, or even renewal, through music seemed to always fall on the musicians, the singers, the concert promoters, the agents, the radio stations, or the record labels. At least that's where the public let it fall.

   Much of the burden should have rested with the audiences, the Christians who partook of the music for their own edification. Christian music fans and followers were frequently reminded by the singers and musicians, often to no avail, to bring friends and neighbors with them when they came to concerts, especially unsaved friends. Much too often, though, Christians neglected to do so, opting for the entertainment aspect, or assuming that their friends would say ''No,'' and figuring that it would just be too much trouble.

   One artist, when asked what the difference was between American audiences and those in other countries, replied, ''The Americans are fat. They've gotten so much Christianity, they take it for granted. It's always there when they need it, but if they feel that they don't need it, they fall asleep. In other countries, the people are starving for the Word, spoken and sung. They want every chewy morsel they can get.''

   In reality, there were many starving people in the United States as well. They were next door, in the offices, in traffic, in the next booth at quick-food restaurants, even in one's own families. They were the very ones who could greatly benefit from the music many Christians took for granted or even used as a pacifier. Yet, those hungry people hadn't been invited in for the feast.

   The ''Give the Gift of Music'' slogan used by record labels to sell more product was well chosen. Not only would the gift keep on giving as a friend or associate or relative listened to a record over and over; it may have kept on giving in life-changing ways virtually immeasurable. The thoughtfulness of a believer in inviting a friend to a Christian concert (at the risk of being told ''No'' a dozen times) might ultimately be a permanent gift. Furthermore, the example a believer set by what music he or she listened to might very well witness to the unbeliever as well.

   But really more important than the gift of music may be the love behind it, the attitude in which it was given. Consider the scene

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at a 1979 New Year's Eve concert held in an ice-skating rink in Denver. The Christian concert had been advertised on secular and Christian radio stations, with the secular ads only giving a slight hint that the music would be anything other than what the listeners of the station were used to hearing.

   It was an evening of top Christian rock bands and solo performers; no one could complain about the quality. But the advertising had brought in a most interesting variety of people, a hybrid mixture of straight Christians, hip Christians, straight non-Christians, and not-so-straight non-Christians.

   During intermission many of the Christians (who made up the majority that night) greeted each other in the foyer of the rink, hugging and smiling. In the center of the area stood a young girl, perhaps thirteen, dressed fit to kill, with overdone makeup to match.

   At first glance there was nothing unusual. But as Christians continued greeting and hugging each other, it became fairly obvious what the difference was. She stood alone. As Christians stood in groups of a dozen or so, carrying on animated conversations, the lone girl stared, first at one group, then another.

   But she wasn't smiling. Christian love was being exchanged virtually under her nose, but none of it was being given to her.

   The Christians were too busy hugging each other.

So go paint your face, little one,

And try and keep the pace,

And though you have someone who loves you,

You still feel homely. . . .

But, little one, you're not alone;

We all have felt the same way that you do.

And when you see that God has made us like we

are to better do His will,

Then there's no need to hide or change your face

Or try and keep the pace,

For I have seen you through the eyes of Jesus,

And you're beautiful,

You're so beautiful.

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They're all around us, everywhere I see

All those lonely faces all starting back at me

So tell me what's the answer

How are we to go?

By the power of the Spirit, we've got to let them know

That we're A Colony of Heaven, strangers in this land

To show the world around us

That the Kingdom is at hand

A Colony of Heaven, for everyone to see

All the life of Jesus Christ in you and me

'Cause they've all seen our churches, they've heard

our list of rules

And they've felt our judgment and watched us play

the fools

We've got to make some changes to show our love is


And just stop the imitation and do what we must do

We're A Colony of Heaven, strangers in this land

To show the world around us

That the Kingdom is at hand

A Colony of Heaven, for everyone to see

All the life of Jesus Christ in you and me

As the Lord said to the Father, I'm in you as

you're in Me

May they also be made one in us, that the whole

world might believe

We're A Colony of Heaven, strangers in this land

To show the world around us

That the Kingdom is at hand

A Colony of Heaven, for everyone to see

All the life of Jesus Christ in you and me.*


*Words and music by Will McFarlane. Published by Wilmac Publishing and Snellsong.

Appendix A  ||  Table of Contents