Thinking Out Loud

October 14, 2020

The Most Uncomfortable Seat I Ever Had at Church

Arriving at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California for the first time in late 1979, I decided I wanted to have the whole Jesus People experience.

Calvary is known as the birthplace of Maranatha! Music and the Pacific Ocean baptisms in Pirate’s Cove. It’s the place where rather than hear the old guard complain about the rivets in the hippies’ blue jeans scratching the pews, they simply removed the pews.

But by the time I got there, the Sunday morning service was fairly traditional. They sang from Inspiring Hymns, the same hymnal my parent’s church used back home. Despite what the band Love Song sang about the “Little Country Church” with “Long hair, short hair, some coats and ties;” there were actually a lot of men in sport coats and ties. It took some adjusting.

One remnant still remained from the earlier days in their older building — which by that time was the Maranatha! Village bookstore — and that was the remnant of people who sat on the floor at the front.

I had to discretely shift my position a few times during the sermon. The floor was plush carpeting but I wasn’t a little kid who could sit cross-legged for an hour school assembly. I think I was somewhat sprawled out by the final one-third of the message. Probably a bit undignified, but I wasn’t alone.

Despite a sore back for the rest of the day, I’m glad I did it. I got to share a piece of history. I feel connected to those just a bit a older than me who sensed a call to the “church on the edge of town” to worship with others of their generation.

photo: Calvary Chapel via this story at Premiere Christianity (UK)

June 24, 2020

In the 1970s and 80s, Church Planting, Wasn’t Always “Churches”

In 1987, I wrote an 8-page document entitled, “Proposal for a New Kind of Church in Metro Toronto;” went to a copy store and had 200 copies printed to younger Evangelical leaders. The particular church itself didn’t happen — perhaps it was ahead of its time or perhaps God knew that I just wasn’t ready to lead something that significant — but it’s with some regrets I consider that I could have been known today as the founder of _______ Church. I’d like to think that because the recipients of that document were especially hand-picked that its distribution had some impact.

By 2007, I was part of a cohort of people from different cities who met monthly to discuss what had become a boom in church planting. People who didn’t quite know how to spell ecclesiology were talking about it. Lay people. Not clergy. The term was well-traveled.

This was reflected on the blogs, and I started one myself on a now-defunct religion forum at USAToday, and it was also the subject of many, many books that were published, many of which I carried at a small chain of Christian bookstores I owned. Our small group met every six weeks in a city chosen because it was somewhere in the middle. We continued to have some contact when the group disbanded. The phrase “a different kind of church” was on everyone’s lips and alternative churches were becoming mainstream.

I’ve had a lot of opinions on this subject, but a key word search this morning showed that not all of them have landed here at Thinking Out Loud. I would have thought they had, because this subject is something close to me.

Someone once put it this way,

“Church planting is the extreme sport of ministry.”

In 2004, I started a church of my own. Transformation Church was located in downtown Cobourg, a small town about 70 minutes east of Toronto, Canada. Our first series was 17 weeks entitled, “Ground Zero: Where Everything Ends and Everything Begins.” Just four years out from the World Trade Towers falling in New York City, the series name had more resonance then than it does now. That church ran until March of 2006. (It’s a long story.)

I was reminded then that while it’s probably a good idea to be theologically trained to administer a church, you don’t need a degree to start a church. Of two significant ones in our town, one was founded by a woman they simply refer to as Grandma Caffin. Another came out of a meeting of five families at a picnic table in the park. Most of the people attending those churches — Baptist and Alliance respectively — probably have no idea as to their inauspicious beginnings.

But today, in June 2020, I want to return to the title of today’s piece, but to do so involves one more time travel.

Back in 2008, I wrote an article about a weekly Saturday night event in Toronto called Reach Out.

The setting:  The first Reach Out took place in a Lutheran (I think) church that was built overlooking a large river valley parkland. The front of the church was all glass, so when you looked towards the front, you looked out on a beautiful view. (A later incarnation of Reach Out took place in a downtown church. I only attended that once, and it was so packed I had to sit on the stairs.)

The motto:  “Everyone Gives, Everyone Receives.”  Reach Out was based in I Cor. 14:26 which says, “When you gather together everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.”  (NIVMOL – stands for NIV more or less) So people would jump up — sometimes suddenly — and say, “I have a Psalm;” and then read it; and other would jump up and say, “I have a teaching;” and would give a 60-second teaching; etc. They always said at the outset what it was they were going to say. That way nobody could jump up and say, “I have a cute story about my dog!”

The format:  People gathering talking, mostly in their teens, 20s and 30s; then they would sit down; and then — I don’t know how else to say this — a holy hush would fall over everyone.  What a moment! There would be silence for a minute or two, and then someone would start playing their guitar.   There was blended worship.  This is where I first learned “Oh, The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” and I had never heard younger people sing classical hymns with such passion. Then there was an extended prayer time. I can’t remember if we broke up into groups of 3 or 4 — I’ve got this part confused with another group I belonged to — but there was plenty of opportunity for people to share requests. Then a teaching.  Then some worship.

I don’t know if we considered it church or not. The test would be to go back in time and ask the people attending if they also had a connection on Sunday mornings. It was just an event that happened and we didn’t try to over analyze. The problem with dissecting a cat is that once you’ve got it all figured out how it works, the cat is dead. Today, Twitter provides us with far too much dissection.

There were other similar things in Toronto. A Christian Church on A Hill, Catacombs, Shekinah. Sadly, I never made it those. I did frequent Christian coffee houses — there were so many in Toronto that several people undertook to publish directories — and a monthly camp reunion (for a camp I’d never attended) called Power and Praise.

Part of what got me thinking about this was watching a YouTube documentary this week about Love Inn, a ministry in Ithica, New York founded in the 1970s by Christian radio personality Scott Ross and part of the Jesus People revolution which was taking place at the time. Watching the 8mm film footage reminded me of the whole vibe.

I know what you’re thinking. When are you going to get to the title of today’s article?

The point I want to make is that on reflection, those early events were created in lieu of church planting. The people who today might be scouting for community centers and high schools to hold weekend service were back then content to put together Tuesday night or Friday night events. They were interdenominational which means the people who attended, often under 30, were part of other fellowships on the weekend, including some who were mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic.

These days, the energy that might go into promoting something like this at a local level is often put toward conferences. They have the advantage of reminding everyone that ‘it’s a big tent’ and that we’re part of a larger family, as well as being able to bring top name speakers and musicians, but they do get expensive and unwieldy.

What about where you live? Is there a weekly Christian event that’s not church your city is known for? Or do people simply attend the megachurch for one service and then go to their own smaller church for connection to family and longtime friends?

I think that gatherings like the ones I described are still needed and hopefully — after the pandemic — we might see new expressions of what it means to be part of the body of Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

June 26, 2016

More from the Lost Songs Channel: CCM’s Early Days

Part two of the top-ranking songs on the YouTube channel I manage for Searchlight Book. See yesterday’s post for the top 5 Click through to YT for descriptions. And when I say top-ranking, realize this is a rather obscure YT channel. These are very old CCM songs and the criteria for choosing them was to select songs that had not been uploaded (that we could find) on the day they were posted.

#6 Noel Paul Stookey – Building Block (1982)

#8* Danniebelle Hall – Work The Works (1974)

#9 Wayne Watson – Born in Zion (1985)

#10 Craig Smith – God and Man at Table are Sat Down (1979)

#12* John Fischer – Righteous Man

*Items 7 and 11 on this site are spoken-word (non-music) extras.

Yes, John Fischer had two songs on this list. I always felt the chorus of the one featured today, Righteous Man, would make a great song for Promise Keepers.

June 25, 2016

Samples from the Lost Songs YouTube Channel

Today, the top-ranking songs on the YouTube channel I oversee which is sponsored by Searchlight Books but has never, to the best of my knowledge, posted anything that has anything to do with books. We think of it as a “Lost songs of Christian music” channel, and that’s what it should have been named; additionally we started out with songs that had not been posted by others, so these were intended to be unique in terms of what’s on YouTube. Click through to YT for descriptions. And when I say top-ranking, realize this is a rather obscure YT channel.  Again, remember these are very old CCM songs.

#1 Barry McGuire – Communion Song (1977)

#2 Ken Medema – Lord, Listen To Your Children Praying (1973)

#3 Scott Wesley Brown – I Wish You Jesus (197?)

#4 John Fischer – All Day Song (197?)

#5 Michael and Stormie Omartian – Seasons of the Soul (1978)

July 25, 2014

When Heroes Lose Their Honor

larry norman bw
I do not believe I would be in the place I am today spiritually were it not for the great influence of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) and the role I got to play in helping introduce the genre to a nation that was hesitant to accept it.  The people I met, the songs and scriptures they were based on, the communities, the whole movement of it all; each of these contributed to my spiritual nurture in ways for which I will be forever grateful.

In general, Larry Norman is considered to have started the thing — referred to as the “father of Jesus music” or even “grandfather of CCM” — but it would be more accurate to say that he popularized it rather than birthed it.1 Larry passed away in 2008.

fallen-allenWhile I was aware that Fallen Angel, a documentary had been produced showing a darker side of Larry Norman there is a difference between knowing about a film and actually seeing it. Imagine! A popular Christian figure having personal issues. That had never happened before.

I think that too often we want to see the good in people and so we miss the clues that things might be wrong. One of Larry’s songs was Baby Out of Wedlock and it was so easy to see this as a piece of poetry, not a personal confession. That very I Corinthians 13 of us.

As it turns out, I still haven’t seen Fallen Angel, but last week we discovered 28 sections of it have been posted on YouTube; some of them have been there quite awhile. The user’s channel is Corrine M. and the documentary excerpts include a number of names I was aware of back in the day, promoters, managers, record company execs, past wives or girlfriends, and Randy Stonehill. Some of these I met through helping three different concert promoters bring Larry, Randy and Tom Howard to Canada, while others I met on a half-dozen extended holidays in Southern California. Collectively, they paint a rather sad picture of a person I could have easily hero-worshiped.

For his part, Stonehill is rather charitable, considering everything. He simply points out the disconnect between the person who led him to Christ and the personality idiosyncrasies about that person that later surfaced. The whole story is so very sad.

Growing up, my father was part of a music team that was associated with a popular Canadian evangelist and pastor who later lost his faith. Charles Templeton’s move from the Christian limelight to bewildered agnosticism is chronicled in many places, including the opening chapter of Lee Stroebel’s The Case for Faith.

One of the takeaways from my childhood that my father made sure I didn’t miss is that you can’t look to people to sustain your faith. They will inevitably let you down. Or take you down. We must instead look to Christ and Christ alone. He is the rock that never rolls.

larry norman in another land 25th frontElsewhere here at Thinking Out Loud:

1Supporting the idea that the roots of Jesus Music were much broader than what might be traced to a single “alpha person” is the YouTube channel Favorite Jesus Music. Scroll down to reveal some of the oldest posted songs. There is another YT channel like this as well; if someone recalls it I will add the link here.

October 5, 2013

Remembering Chuck Smith

Time Magazine June 21 1971

“Little country church on the edge of town
People comin’ every day from miles around
For meetings and for Sunday School
And it’s very plain to see
It’s not the way it used to be”

The first time I saw the sprawling campus of Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa was November, 1979. We didn’t have the term ‘megachurch’ then, nor was I prepared for a style of church architecture which, owing to the California climate, didn’t require indoor hallways to connect the various classrooms, departments, and offices.

The first service I attended there featured Chuck Smith doing what he did every single Sunday without exception: Preaching consecutively through the Bible, verse-by-verse, with that deep voice that transmitted much Biblical authority, but also much peace and calm. Thus, it was your choice to become engaged in the exposition or to fall asleep; either was possible, the latter was not encouraged.

Chuck Smith died this week at age 86. Many of the tributes have mentioned Calvary’s most renowned spinoff, Maranatha! Music and its related Maranatha Studios and the Ministry Resource Center (MRC); the Saturday night concerts; or the baptisms at Pirate’s Cove which made the cover of Time Magazine.

Baptism at Pirate's Cove

Baptism at Pirate’s Cove

The story has it that when the church occupied a smaller building — that later became a bookstore — studded jeans were popular and the older members were concerned that the studs were scratching the church pews. So Chuck ordered the pews removed. By the time I arrived in the late ’70s, there was still floor seating available at the front — a tribute to those days, perhaps — and one week I spent a Sunday morning service sitting on the floor, partly to have that experience and partly to release a scarce seat to someone who might need it more. The place was packed. 

If you attend a church that uses contemporary music or modern worship, you are, as I wrote here, a direct product of those early Jesus Movement days on the American west coast. Even if your church is more conservative and uses a hymnbook on a Sunday morning, odds are it contains a few Maranatha! Music copyrights.

But Chuck’s greatest legacy was Calvary Chapel, the denomination.

It is said that back then you didn’t need theological degrees to plant a Calvary, rather they were looking for individuals who already had a “proven ministry.” I don’t know how it works today, but I love that concept. A few of the pastors came out of the bands that played at the original Calvary at those Saturday night concerts. Today, Calvary Chapel churches in Fort Lauderdale, FL, Albuquerque, NM, Philadelphia, PA, Phoenix, AZ, Diamond Bar, CA, Chino, CA, Downey, CA, West Melbourne, FL, Jacksonville FL, and a handful of others are among the top megachurches in the US.

One generation megachurch pastor to another: Chuck Smith and Rick Warren

One generation megachurch pastor to another: Chuck Smith and Rick Warren

Some of the other musicians from those early days, such as Chuck Girard from Love Song, continue to bless us with worship leadership; while the spirit of Calvary Chapel lives on in other churches that sprang from that era, such as Harvest Church in Riverside, CA. Harvest pastor Greg Laurie paid tribute to Chuck Smith this week.

Chuck Smith’s ministry in California was an example of the right man, in the right place, at the right time, with the right vision.

He will be missed.

…The song lyrics which began this article are from “Little Country Church” by LoveSong, written about those early days at Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa. The file is audio-only.

July 17, 2013

Wednesday Link List

noah-called

Actually, a little rain would be nice.

Week three of our Wednesday Link List adventure at Out of Ur, a blog of Leadership Journal which is a ministry of Christianity Today.  Just under 30 links this week…

Click here to read the list.

Given the weather system that has blanketed much of the Midwest and the northeastern States and adjoining provinces we thought this doctrinal outline from the Twitter feed of Church Curmudgeon was most appropriate, though we think the original was TULIP not TALIP:

Total Humidity
AirConditional Malfunction
Limited Grace
Irresistible Temper
Perspiration of the Saints

Maybe that describes where you live.

And just before you click over to Out of Ur, take a glance at this Bible app infographic from YouVersion:

youversion-app

May 18, 2012

This History of Contemporary Christian Music

Most the “histories” you hear on Christian radio only involve material the production staff were able to source on CD, and of those, some are limited to items still available for purchase on collections, since record companies are actively involved in “helping” the radio guys create these specials.

My purpose at the YouTube collection I created for the SearchlightBooks YouTube account — our sponsor, so to speak — was to find things that nobody had posted on YouTube to date, or possibly any other video service, either…

The Mass for Peace was originally written in Italian in 1963, so if you think Jesus Music began with Larry Norman or the Calvary Chapel concerts around 1969 and following, forget it; the Catholic folk masses really got there first. This one got translated into English in 1967.

The Christian festival scene began with Explo ’72 in Dallas, but was refined by a series of different events in rural Pennsylvania, including Jesus ’75 and ’76 which took place on a diary farm in the western part of the state.  Regulars at this event were the group Hope of Glory, and this 1975 song took it’s cue from a Hallmark Cards advertisement, “When you care enough to send the very best.”

No history of CCM’s early years would be complete without mentioning The Archers. (No, you’re thinking of the Archies…) Tom, Steve and Janice Archers recorded this song later in the career for a concept album by Dony McGuire and Reba Rambo based on the Lord’s prayer.

Contemporary Christian radio took a different form back in the day. There were a few dedicated stations, but many organizations had to settle for purchasing block airtime on secular stations on the weekend, or providing free programming features for use during the week, or even public service announcements like this one. Long before there was Lifeline Productions, there was Chuck Blore Creative Services.

Some people say that today’s modern worship grew out of CCM, while others argue that with groups like New Zealand’s Scripture in Song, the two movements were set on a parallel track and modern worship simply overtook CCM and became the more dominant genre. Here’s an independent recording by Tom & Candy Green that is typical of things people were recording way back when.

We’ll do more of these, or you can visit the YouTube page and see more, but I need to warn ya, it’s an extremely eclectic collection. I have a couple of thousand albums I can access for this, and I’m willing to look at requests for songs not online, but the material has to be both (a) old and of historical interest, and (b) not on a label which may have renewed the copyright.

June 20, 2011

The Jesus Movement Turns 40

I am a direct product of the Jesus Movement.

That is not an admission of age, for if you are a member of the contemporary Church — that is to say, any church that is not locked into a business-as-usual, same order-of-service way of doing things as church circa 1940 — then you are also a direct product of the Jesus Movement, even if, unlike Buck Herring, you never had a pair of blue suede sandals.*  This period of time, rewrote the playbook for Christianity, and the June 21, 1971 cover of Time Magazine was really prophetic, since the movement wouldn’t truly hit its stride until the mid to late part of that decade.

The Jesus Movement was the catalyst that propelled the church into the 20th century, albeit nearly 75 years too late.  Music changed.  Dress change.  The stage was set for the emergence of social justice and compassion ministries that wouldn’t come to fruition until the late 1990s.  The evangelical church got away from country club religion — with its ‘for members only’ attitude — and became more about reaching out.   Years before the term ‘next generation ministry’ would be coined; the Jesus Movement paved the way for a new generation of leaders; with some of the changes being perhaps superficial, but others birthing entire new denominations.

Chuck Smith invited the kids to come to church and when his parishioners charged that their studded jeans were scratching the pews, Smith removed the pews and while he was at it, moved the baptism services to Pirates Cove on the Pacific ocean.  Larry Norman caught much criticism for his long hair, but was actually a rather gifted Bible teacher if only the older generation would have taken time to listen, and around him gathered a generation of teens and twenty-somethings who the church might have otherwise drifted away.  Barry McGuire went from protest singer to the man who would write “Communion Song” one of the best ‘lost’ worship songs, while Campus Crusade’s Michael Omartian brought the sound of keyboard synthesizers into the music mix while singing about Old Testament prophets. 

Kids traveled to Pennsylvania dairy farms for outdoor festivals where the speaker list was held as equal to the musician list, with two favorite teachers being the team of Larry Tomczak and C. J. Mahaney.  Paul Baker and Scott Ross put Christian music on radio stations both sacred and secular, and in the process put Christian music on the map.  A man named Arthur Blessitt carried a cross (yes, literally) across many continents and challenged a generation to find their own expression of bold witness. The Highway Missionary Society took to the road while Jesus People USA took to the Cabrini Green projects of inner city Chicago at the same time Nicky Cruz went from New York City gang leader to evangelist.

It was the best of times.  Period.   It was possibly the most significant spiritual movement to take place in North America in the 1900s.  Really.  I mean that. And I’m not the first to suggest it.

So happy birthday to all the aging Jesus People, and to those who wish you were there.   This week Andrew Jones shares some memories, but it also might be the right time to read Ed Underwood’s challenge to recapture the spirit and energy (and innocence) of those days as he writes in Reborn To Be Wild.   Because the Evangelical church today is a product of those times, you might actually want to read all you can about what happened and why.  You might even want to start your own revolution.

*I have no proof that Second Chapter of Acts’ Buck Herring actually owned blue suede sandals, but that was the rumor back in the day.  And yes, for several hours a couple of us did share the back of Daniel Amos’ Alex MacDougall’s house with Larry Norman, but Larry mostly slept and did laundry. 

Pictured: Time Magazine cover, June 21, 1971

January 19, 2011

Wednesday Link List

Enjoy this week’s links; there’s ice cream at the end!

  • You Give Me Your Shows and I’ll Give You Mine Department:  Canada’s Christian television network, CTS has put together a reciprocal deal with Robert A. Schuller’s American Life Network to share programming and media platforms.  Currently a limited list of CTS programs are available on the NRB Network.  Read more at BDBO.
  • Tattooed Pastor Department:  Jay Bakker has a new book out, Fall to Grace (Faithwords) which Tony Jones reviews at Take and Read.
  • Read This One For the Gipper Department:  Here’s another book review, this one for The Faith of Ronald Reagan by Mary Beth Brown, reviewed by Darrell Dow.
  • Biting The Hand That Feeds Them Department:  The Feed-a-Friend program in downtown Houston, Texas is now being required to purchase a $17/day permit from the city to carry out its mission of feeding the homeless.  The group is trying to avoid an us-versus-them mentality.
  • Killing Me Softly Department: Dee at Wartburg Watch takes a trip down memory lane profiling a not-yet-published book by Irishman Charlie Boyd, and reminds us of The Jesus Movement, Arthur Blessitt, Larry Norman, The Late Great Planet Earth, the Shepherding Movement, Calvary Chapel, and so many other times and places worth remembering.
  • Big Bang Theory Department:  If your tastes run to quantum physics, Michael Belote’s recent posts at Reboot Christianity might be just what you’re looking for, starting with the most recent, Schrodinger’s Christianity. (This makes a good forward for your science-type friends. Spoiler: Our souls are like quantum particles.)
  • Ministry Copycat Department:  We all know of churches which offer conferences and seminars for pastors to learn how the big guys do it.  The seminars aren’t free; the churches are basically selling their expertise.   Now comes word that one megachurch actually charges a fee just to see the wording of their staff job descriptions. Yikes!
  • Dialing for Doctrine Department: At The Arminian Blog (caption line: Theology in the Dutch Reformed Tradition of Jacob Arminius) comes this article about inconsistencies among Southern Baptist Calvinists when it comes to missions.
  • Glass Houses Department: We all have a public persona and a private persona, but what really goes on behind the closed door of our houses when it’s just us and the fam?  It’s a question worth considering in the light of this homespun article by Trey Morgan listing ten things you’d notice if you were a guest. Not sure why I’m attracted to this article, but after reading it, I feel I’ve already spent time with Lea, Trey and the boys.
  • Church Plant Withers Department:  This is a link to Jamie Arpin-Ricci’s blog, selected because it takes you to all four parts of Jason Coker’s blog where he describes the final days of the Ikon church plant in San Diego.  Or you can also get there from David Fitch’s blog along with much additional analysis. The similarities between Jason’s experience in southern California and my own experience with Transformation Church an hour east of Toronto are rather striking.
  • Authors of Confusion Department: Keith Brenton lists some indicators of bad theology in a December piece I missed earlier, How To Spot False Teaching.
  • Higher Education Department: At my own alma mater, The University of Toronto, a couple of local churches and ministry organizations are lending support to a Jesus Awareness Week. Oh, to be a student again, and be part of the events.
  • Interfaith Dialog Department:  Mark Galli at Christianity Today suggests that step one in starting the conversation with people of other faiths actually lies in evangelizing ourselves.
  • Truth is Stranger Than Cartoons Department:  We leave this week with two, count ’em two links to the blog American Jesus.  The first is a 40-second mystery video about church pageantry and formality gone wrong.  The second link gets you an explanation for the picture which appears below.  See ya in seven days with more links.

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