Thinking Out Loud

September 30, 2021

The Jesus Music: A Look at The Way We Were

Watching a movie about an aspect of 20th Century Christian history with which you were intimately involved is a daunting task. You never know how it’s going to impact you.

As I sat watching The Jesus Music (opening in theaters Friday) my first concern was that they would get the history right. Being involved in the early days of what is now called Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) often means hearing people getting the details wrong.

But such was not the case, in fact, they did their homework well, as they also did when it came to finding film clips, stills, and archived interviews. This is, overall, a high quality documentary.

My next takeaway was seeing people who were friends back in the day, people who, even now, might recognize me by name if I walked into a room. People with whom I corresponded.

To that end, I wasn’t prepared for the lump in my throat and the tears starting to form, especially during the first half hour of the film. Those early Jesus Music days were telling my story, and opening up associations from deep in the recesses of my memory.

Because of that, I wished they had spent more time on the period starting in the late ’60s and most of the 1970s. That was the true Jesus Music era and the rest of the film was more focused on the earlier days of CCM as it came to be.

It also helps if you know who is speaking onscreen. There were names in the bottom corner — often for too short a time — but no voice-over announcer to describe their relationship to the story. This is a nostalgia documentary for people like me. It’s also a story of the growth of Jesus Music in America; references to what was taking place in the UK — which were significant — were quite sparse.

While other reviewers will focus on the artists, for me it was the narratives from some of the behind-the-scenes people, such as John Styll from CCM Magazine, author John Thompson, or pastor Greg Laurie who had front row seats on the birth of Jesus Music. Those people, along with pioneers Tommy Coomes, Chuck Girard, and Glenn Kaiser made the movie for me, as did the very candid revelations from Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, and the guys from DC Talk.

The filmmakers also highlighted the influence that Explo ’72 in Dallas had on the explosive proliferation of the music, and in particular, the wholehearted endorsement of Rev. Billy Graham; an endorsement given even as other evangelists, such as Jimmy Swaggart, were condemning the very notion of Christian rock.

In addition to following the trail from Jesus Music to CCM, the movie touched briefly on the path from CCM to Modern Worship.

There’s no denying that the Christian music industry is huge. The film suggested that the commercial influences that plagued CCM at its peak weren’t present so much in modern worship. Not sure I agree with that one; it’s just that today the dark side of the industry has less to do with unit sales of product and more with who holds copyrights.

In one scene concerning the profit-driven nature of the industry, it seemed that as the genre being profiled got more commercial, the movie itself got more commercial. In one 15-second moment, a series of album covers and audio bites of songs played in succession, and all that was missing was the 800-number to call and order the album from Time-Life.

The producers were not afraid to delve into controversy, but chose to leave on a high note, suggesting that the conditions are presently ideal for another Jesus People revolution. In many respects, I hope that is true, especially if it gets back to the basics outlined in the film’s first 30 minutes or so.

There was also an acknowledgement of the fact that, Andrae Crouch notwithstanding, the history of CCM up to the present moment is still somewhat racially segregated.

Co-produced by K-LOVE, there is an underlying radio focus. Speculation as to whether Larry Norman’s often gritty lyrics could get played on today’s family-friendly Christian stations becomes moot when you consider that in a world of indie-artists, Christian radio is no longer the primary means by which many Christian musicians reach an audience.

Again, this movie was well done. I am thankful for the opportunity to preview it, and they were indeed telling my story and telling it well.

I am also very grateful for the role that Jesus Music played in my life and where I am today is a direct product of the seeds planted by those artists all those years ago. 

Watch the trailer for The Jesus Music

February 9, 2016

Abandoned Megachurches circa 2026

The interior of an abandoned church is seen on September 5, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. From the Huffington Post link below, click through to see 14 more abandoned churches.

The interior of an abandoned church is seen on September 5, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. From the Huffington Post, May 2015.

This weekend I heard part of a story that made me shudder. A megachurch. Mortgage-free. An issue arises. A split. People leave. Now there’s a mortgage. The future not as assured as it once was.

I very sincerely hope and pray that this one has a happy ending; that its best days are ahead. But it got us talking last night at dinner about the prophets of doom who predict there are going to be a long list of abandoned megachurches in North America at some point in the future. The ones who say that it’s only the personality of the founding pastor that is drawing the crowds. The experts who tell us that the move is going to be to smaller community churches and home fellowships. I hope they’re all wrong.

I mean it; well at least partly wrong. For all the negative articles in books, magazines and blogs about the downside to mass market worship, I think the specter of dozens of abandoned churches like the one in our picture above is far worse. You can take hundred-year-old churches now and turn them into trendy restaurants or antique shops, but unless a municipality arts group or a community college wants the space, it’s harder to do that with a 3,000 seat auditorium. Any decommissioned church is a sad story, but with today’s gigantic facilities, the buyers are fewer.

The scene is not totally far-fetched. Wikipedia lists 22 abandoned major shopping malls in the U.S. The internet abounds with photojournalism studies of dead malls. (That last link has literally hundreds of abandoned retail properties.) Ironically, the ideal location for megachurches and malls is identical: In suburbia at the intersection of two freeways.

The term sometimes used is Architectural Corpses. While some believe that churches which have sketchy theology are just a house of cards waiting to collapse, nobody wants to think that the congregation taught weekly by their favorite preacher would ever succumb to such a fate.

Three years ago Wade Burleson wrote:

…The pendulum is swinging back toward churches creating loose organizational structures in order to facilitate a wider array of ministries. For the next few decades, those evangelical churches that will continue to grow in numbers and Kingdom influence are those churches that spend less on facilities, learn how to worship in multiple venues and at various times, and focus more on building a network of effective small groups that collectively do missions both locally and globally. The climate and culture of the evangelical church has changed. Any church that focuses on large in-house productions, massive buildings, and ministries more conducive to “come and receive” instead of “go and give” is in for a surprise.

Let’s call it the Evangelical Fiscal Cliff.

Churches that have borrowed to build massive facilities are behind the proverbial eight ball. They must continue to focus on sustaining and maintaining the organization (utilities, repairs, staffing, and publicity to bring people into the high dollar facilities for “special events”), instead of empowering people to do the work of the ministry away from the buildings…

Most of the other articles on this topic simply use the subject as a means of attacking the doctrine of popular American pastors and churches.

In terms of church culture trends, Wade is probably correct, but an interesting thing happened here in Canada many, many years ago. They simply stopped building new shopping malls. This created a supply/demand equilibrium, and while some have indeed closed, and others are reconfigured as parts of outdoor power centers, many of the ones that remained are continuing to thrive, as evidenced by packed parking lots.

So in some respects, I know the future is going to contain a few forsaken megachurch buildings, but in general, I hope American Christianity can prove the doomsayers wrong.

The website abandoned.photos said this church was designed to seat 10,000 but provided no further annotation.

The website abandoned.photos said this church was designed to seat 10,000 but provided no further annotation.

Finally, I couldn’t help but pull this photo out of the files. I am sure that in its former days the members of this cathedral could never have imagined this, but what re-purposing of today’s churches exceeds our imagination? It’s sobering to consider.

The above is taken from a Wall Street Journal article about European Cathedrals being sold off, this one in Holland was re-purposed as a skateboard park.

The above is taken from a Wall Street Journal article about European Cathedrals being sold off, this one in Holland was re-purposed as a skateboard park.

Cathedral Repurposed as Skateboard Park


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