Many have asked for me to share my experiences at Calvin College this week. I was graciously invited by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (CICW) to join a well-rounded group of songwriters, artists, music industry leaders, educational leaders, scholars, and worship leaders. Please read one of the organizer’s (David Taylor) wonderful reflections and comments here.
Who Was There?
(some of these lines are blurry, but I’ll do my best to categorize)
Songwriters/Artists: David Crowder (Passion), Miranda Dodson (City Life Church), David Gungor (Gungor / The Brilliance), Charlie Hall (Passion), Graham Kendrick, Latifah Phillips (Page CXVI, The Autumn Film), Robbie Seay, Tommy Walker
Worship Leaders: David M. Bailey & Erin Rose (Making a Melody), Matt Boswell (Providence/Doxology & Theology), Troy Hatfield (Mars Hill, MI), Greg Scheer (Church of the Servant/Calvin)
Scholars: Jeremy Begbie (Duke), Monique Ingalls (Cambridge, Baylor), Todd Johnson (Fuller), Wen Reagan (Duke), Lester Ruth (Duke), W. David O. Taylor (Fuller), John Witvliet (Calvin)
Industry Leaders: John Chisum (formerly of Integrity), Andy Piercy
Educational Leaders / Publishers: Joyce Borger (Calvin), David Fuentes (Calvin), Steve Guthrie (Belmont), Robin Parry (Wipf & Stock), Ed Willmington (Fuller)
Why Were We There?
We came to have an open and honest dialogue about “pop/rock worship” (an inherently slippery title, but the best that probably could be found). The desire among the organizers at CICW was to create a space for fruitful, intentional, even directional conversation that took the topic seriously in a non-dismissive way. The goals were to process this heavily influential medium in the Western Church’s worship (and now worldwide) in a way that affirmed its merits and sought to encourage the Church’s growth and health in light of it.
What Was the Vibe?
Based on the above roster of sensibilities and vantage points, you might expect it to have been awkward or even cantankerous. It wasn’t. It was actually quite the opposite. I can describe the sprit of the room as electric, affirming, encouraging, self-aware, intelligent, irenic, and overall inspiring. There was an overall sense of a collective rallying around a love for Christ and His Bride. There was mutual respect and admiration for each other’s areas of expertise and spheres of influence. There was also a nice amount of cutting up and laughing. There were some great moments of just plain fun. I give major kudos to CICW, John Witvliet, David Taylor, and the rest of the organizing crew for setting the tone and doing the hard work of finding the “right” people to have a catalyzing discussion like this.
What Did the Time Look Like?
We sat down for four sessions of well-organized, guided discussion: Monday afternoon, Tuesday morning, Tuesday afternoon/evening, and Wednesday morning. Each session was book-ended by devotional reflections through the book of Philippians (we ended up hearing all of Philippians read to us over the three days), along with reflections on paintings shown in this wonderful book. We sat at regularly mixed-up round tables all in one room, and the organizers were intentional that at each table-gathering you had a nice cross-section of the above disciplines/persuasions/vocations represented. We would often have large group discussions with everyone, combined with moments of table, think-tank, seedbed discussions. On Tuesday evening we took a field trip and spent a night on the town.
What Did We Recognize Was Missing?
Not for want of trying (some who would have filled this out couldn’t come), we all acknowledged that we needed more races represented and that our gender was male-heavy. We could have used more representation from the mainstream Christian music industry, as well. It was hard, also, in this environment, to “hear” the voice of the small church, because most of us were not serving in or associated with smaller (and rural) churches. With regards to the first point, it was acknowledged that a gaping hole in discussions of “pop rock worship” is the African American gospel tradition, which was one of the main streams to have birthed rock music and which continued to influence and effect change in rock through the decades.
What Did We Discuss?
On Monday night, we traced important figures, institutions, and “moments” in the history of “pop rock worship” (but really, it was a kind of highlighted history of contemporary worship). The discussion was fascinating, especially since we had some of the very figures and institutions represented in the room, at that moment. Here was our snapshot:
On Tuesday, both Lester Ruth and Jeremy Begbie stirred the pot and primed the pump by discussing the content of the top CCLI songs (Ruth), and how the gospel’s “disturbs” our complacency about music and content (Begbie). The ensuing discussions provoked these kinds of questions:
- What does faithful discipleship look like in worship planning in our environments…for songwriters, worship leaders, industry leaders, resource providers, and educational institutions?
- How does music communicate apart from text? What does it “say” in certain genre media?
- How can we utilize the strengths of various streams even within the pop rock genre(s) to expand the horizons of Christian worship?
- Where are the content-gaps in pop-rock worship, and how can those gaps be creatively filled by songwriters, worship leaders, industry leaders, resource providers, and educational institutions?
- How can we affirm and what is good about the history of pop rock worship? What aspects of the “industry” are praiseworthy?
- How can we look at the “industry” less as a de-personalized mechanism and more as filled with many people who love Christ and desire to serve His Church?
- What common practices can we commend among ourselves in response to the answers borne out of the above questions?
These questions are juicy, aren’t they? The discussions were deep, and my admiration for every single person in that room went up.
We didn’t just meet to throw out ideas. We met to catalyze some new thinking, new directions, and new actions. We were all tasked with developing certain goals for our practice as our feet hit the ground in our local contexts. Here are some of my thoughts for my local ministry and broader influence: (1) Continue praying and strategizing about how to stretch the diversity of our expression of music in worship at Coral Ridge for the sake of the diversity of our community; (2) Continue to write songs of confession and maybe begin to interject lament language more intentionally into our worship times; (3) Move ahead with releasing our EP of Trinitarian songs, The Magnificent Three, in the late Fall; (4) Do more collaborative songwriting.