Category Archives: Music

#129: Eulogy for the Record Album

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #129, on the subject of Eulogy for the Record Album.

The record album is, if not dead, dying.  This relatively short-lived art form has fallen from popularity, and may soon be as forgotten as the vinyl long-play record that made it possible.

img0129abbey

It might be useful to recount some of the life of this entity.  We touched on this in web log post #111:  A Partial History of the Audio Recording Industry, but we’ll review relevant portions of that and continue with what is specifically of value in connection with the record album.  Originally, Thomas Edison’s recordings were one song per cylinder, but when his competitors forced him to move to disks they became one song per side.  Over time, as we described, we reached the point where a long-play twelve-inch vinyl disk running at thirty-three and a third revolutions per minute could put almost half an hour of stereo music on each side.  (There were a couple of quadraphonic albums made, but the technology failed to become popular.)

Initially a record album was probably not much different from a photo album–a collection of pictures whose only connection is that the same person took them, probably around the same time and place.  Even with early pop-rock albums, this was still the case:  early Simon and Garfunkle records are good examples of this, a collection of songs which are together only because Simon and Garfunkle recorded them.  However, gradually something else emerged:  the album as an art form in itself.

It was inevitable that it would happen.  Album art was becoming a major concept, as the twelve-inch square covers were a wonderful size for creating interesting images, and the interesting images were part of the marketing of the album.  Yet more thought went into creating albums not so much as collections of separate songs but as performance programs in themselves.  Albums like The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Tommy by The Who are prime examples of this, in which the songs connect together to create an impression, even a story.  Not every album was done this way, but it was becoming enough of the norm that it was the expectation:  the album itself says something, and was intended to be heard in its entirety, each song introducing the next, following from the one before, from a starting point to an ending point much as a symphony or an oratorio.

Indeed, when we went into the studio to record Collision:  Of Worlds, one of the points I made was that we were recording an album, not a demo.  The songs should be arranged so that they created a cohesive whole.  With a demo, you put three different songs on the disk representative of your range of style and know that you’ll be lucky if the target audience ever hears the second; you can put four, but the fourth probably won’t be heard unless the first three are truly impressive and show a range of style that warrants saying you do more than just those first three songs.  With an album, though, the transitions should be smooth, the story should advance with each song, it should all be told one step at a time.  The listener should come away at least feeling as if there was a message.

That doesn’t always happen, particularly in the hamburger mill in which record companies pressured bands to create new albums.  Artists sometimes went into the studio with no idea what they were going to record, and wrote the music while they were there–resulting in disjointed and uneven collections of compositions and performances which they then tried to promote as something meaningful.  Critics often complained that such albums contained one good song which was popular and ten or eleven others that were created as filler so there would be an album, and that complaint was sometimes valid.

Sometimes valid–but not always.  For one thing, artists almost invariably have great difficulty evaluating their own material.  It is known that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle hated Sherlock Holmes.  I can tell you which of my songs have the most meaning to me, which most impress me musically, which were the most challenging to write–but I can’t tell you which ones have the best audience appeal or are the most popular, generally.  That is, the songs I think are “good” are not necessarily the ones the audience likes.

That’s complicated by the aspect of popularity.  We’ve cited this before:  what makes a song popular is the appearance that it is popular.  Most people like the songs they think their friends like.  It’s more a social phenomenon than a measure of quality.  Many “singles” were released in which no one knew which side would get the airplay and become popular, but only one side did–the other was called the “B side”, and most people were completely unaware of what songs were on the flip side of most of their favorites.  The fact that a song is or is not popular cannot be a gauge of whether it is any good, in large part because no one could have known whether it would have been popular prior to its release, and in large part because popularity itself is not a measure of what is good.

Why does any of this matter?  The new marketing technology now has it arranged so that you can buy any song you want from any album, and ignore the rest of the album.  If you want a copy of Colour My World from Chicago’s self-titled second album (the first was Chicago Transit Authority, the second Chicago, sometimes called Chicago II for clarity), you can buy it and not get Make Me Smile or 25 or 6 to 4.  And that becomes the problem on several levels.  One is that albums often contain many good songs you will never hear because you bought the one song that you did hear.  Another is that you take the songs out of context–both Make Me Smile and Colour My World are part of what was called a “song cycle”, seven titles that formed a story unit within the album, but most people don’t know that and don’t know the other five songs because these have been excerpted from their original places.  Another is that you might like those songs you’ll never hear–and even if you don’t like them today, if you bought the album and listened to it you might discover that next week, year, decade, a song which meant nothing to you at the time now has significant meaning to you.  The first time I read The Chronicles of Narnia, what was originally the fifth book (now usually listed as the third), A Horse and His Boy, did not impress me.  A few years later I read the series again, and suddenly the imagery of Aslan having guided what seemed ordinary coincidental events to bring the right person to the right place at the right time to save his people rang so true with me that it quickly became my favorite entry in the set.  The fact that a song on an album does not catch your attention the first time through does not mean it’s not a great song that’s going to touch you deeply at some moment in the future, and you deprive yourself of that possibility by ignoring the songs on the album that aren’t your first choices today.

Besides, the concept of the album as a unit is part of the artist’s effort to convey his message.

I was on the air at WNNN-FM when Dan Peek released his first solo album, All Things Are Possible.  Peek was one of the founding members of the band America (Horse With No Name, I Need You), and it had become known in the Christian music industry, at least, that he had long prayed that if God allowed him to become successful with the band he would use that fame as a platform to declare his Christian faith.  The title track from All Things Are Possible has potential in that regard:  it was rising not only on the Christian charts but on the pop music top forty as well.

When I interviewed Peek, though, I asked him about whether he had any concerns about the fact that his song, whose title was drawn from the New Testament to suggest that Jesus made the impossible possible, was being embraced as a popular love song, and particularly among homosexual couples.  He agreed that it was possible to hear the lyrics–All things are possible with you by my side; all things are possible with you to be my guide–and miss the intended meaning, but that certainly anyone who listened to the album would know what it was about.  The true meaning of the song was, to some degree, dependent on whether the listener had heard it in its intended context.  What the artist was trying to say was not coming through to millions, because they heard what they wanted to hear, not what he wanted to say.

There is a degree to which the listening audience perhaps does not care.  If I like a song, I like it for what it means to me, and not for what it was trying to convey.  Yet that attitude does the artist a disservice.  The people who create communicative art do so to communicate, and if I’m not listening to what they’re trying to say, I am ignoring them and abusing them.  If someone has created something I have enjoyed, do I not owe it to that creator to understand why he did it?

Yet this death was inevitable.  When the MTV cable television channel went on the air, its first song was Video Killed the Radio Star, and it seems that it has moved beyond that such that the Internet has killed the record album.  Even many of my acquaintance who are serious about the music to which they listen don’t acquire albums or listen to them, preferring to compile their own favorites lists–easily done, and you only hear the songs you’ve already decided you like without having to listen to songs that did not appeal to you the first time you heard them.  We can say that the music industry lost something, but perhaps now artists will focus on producing individual songs that appeal to our short attention spans instead of major works that call us to invest something in the bigger picture.

I will miss the album, despite the fact that I have never been wealthy enough to afford to buy more than a few over the decades.  As a musician, though, I will have to adapt to the return of the what I thought antiquated singles market mentality, and focus on single songs instead of collections.

[contact-form subject='[mark Joseph %26quot;young%26quot;’][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment: Note that this form will contact the author by e-mail; to post comments to the article, see below.’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]

#121: The Christian and the Law

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #121, on the subject of The Christian and the Law.

This is a rough presentation of the teaching I delivered at Living Water Connections Dinner Theater on October 21st, 2016.  It was drafted prior to that appearance and polished afterwards, but is not intended to be a transcription.

img0121commandments

Good evening.  My name is Mark Joseph Young.  It’s an easy name to remember–it’s a sentence:  mark Joseph “young”.

I apologize for that; it’s not my fault.

I have been asked to share briefly tonight, and since I am a composer and musical performer I will be doing several songs–but I am also a teacher, and it would be negligent of me not to share something valuable you can recall later.  And it happens that that first song [The Secret] gives me a wonderful opening, because it touches on an issue that is a huge problem for many Christians.  It was a problem for me for a long time, even after I had earned two degrees in Biblical studies: what is the Christian’s relationship to the Law?

We hear a lot of answers to this.  There are some who will tell you that the Christian is responsible to keep the entire Law, and that Jesus helps us do that and forgives us when we fail.  However, I don’t see a tabernacle or sacrifices, and I do see Paul making sacrifices in Acts, so I think maybe these people aren’t trying very hard.

A much more interesting solution suggests that the Law is actually several kinds of law, a ritual law, a dietary law, a civil law, but that the only part we are obliged to keep is the moral law.  Thus on this theory when I see a commandment like “Do not kill” I know that this is a moral law and everyone is obligated to obey it, but when I read “Do not boil a lamb in its mother’s milk” I conclude that this is dietary and doesn’t apply to me.  However, I notice that my Bible does not label individual commandments, this is ceremonial, this is moral, this is civil.  What about the directive that we not eat sharks?  Is this just a dietary rule, or is there some moral basis for the idea that sharks are a higher life form–not as high as man, but above ordinary animals and deserving some kind of special respect?  And what of that command about keeping the Sabbath?  That’s one of the top ten, but sounds more like ceremonial law than moral law.

What we find with this solution is that there really is no objective law but the one we decide–we make ourselves the lawgivers, and decree that God said these things and intended for them to apply to everyone, but these other things don’t apply anymore.  That’s not really a law; that’s us using scripture to support our own opinions.

It is obviously a vexing question, and you’d think that for something as important as this the Bible would have given us an answer–but it did give us an answer, it’s just that the answer is so radical that we don’t like it, so we ignore it and try to find a different answer.

You’ll find the answer–well, all over, really, but particularly clearly in the fifteenth chapter of Acts, what we call the Jerusalem Council.  The heart of the church was in Jerusalem, and several of the original apostles were there.  Jerusalem, being in the center of Judea, was populated almost entirely by Jews, and so the church there was comprised of Jewish believers who all kept the law, made sacrifices, ate kosher food, and circumcised their children.  However, up the road in Syrian Antioch Paul and Barnabas were part of a different kind of church.  Syria had some Jewish residents, but the majority were not Jews, were what we call gentiles.  Many of them had come to have faith in Jesus.  It was a mixed church.  And it was from that church that missionaries had been sent to carry the gospel to people elsewhere, so they were carrying the gospel as it was understood in Syrian Antioch, and it reached many more gentiles.

Some of the Jews in Jerusalem thought that these gentile Christians needed to keep the whole law as they did, to be circumcised and make sacrifices and stick to a kosher diet.  After all, the church’s own understanding of itself was that it was the correct denomination of Judaism–kind of like the disagreement between the Lutherans and the Catholics at the time of the Reformation, the former believing that the latter no longer represented the true faith and that they did.  If you were not Jewish but became Christian, that made you a child of Abraham and a true Jew, and that meant you should keep the Law as completely as every other Jew.  Paul and Barnabas disagreed, so they came with a delegation to Jerusalem to discuss it, and the church came to a conclusion and wrote a letter to the gentile Christans living in places like Galatia, part of modern Turkey, to tell them.  The answer was this:  you gentiles who have come to faith, you who were never Jewish, do not have to keep the Law at all.  It does not apply to you.  Oh, they suggested a couple things that should be done to prevent creating tension with the Jewish believers who were also part of the church, but these weren’t the Ten Commandments–one of them was don’t drink blood.

So does this mean that we can completely ignore the Law and do whatever we want?  Well, yes and no.  Paul explained it well when he wrote to the Galatians, probably just before this meeting, but he uses a word for which we don’t have an English equivalent because it identifies a specific household servant in households in the Roman Empire for whom we do not have a corresponding job in the modern world.  This person was almost always a slave, but he was given the task of raising the children and so was given complete authority over them.  He told them when to get up, what to do, when to go to bed; he could punish them, even beat them if necessary.  He was to see to it that they learned their academic subjects, did their homework, got their exercise and physical trainng, learned how to act in polite society, and altogether grew up to be responsible adult members of the household.  Then once he had accomplished that, he lost all authority over them.  His job was finished.

The Law, Paul tells is, is like that:  it was assigned to train us so that we would grow up to be responsible adult members of God’s family.  We who are Christians, we have become those responsible adult members of the family.  We act the way we do because it’s how our Father acts, and He expects us to act like Him.  We don’t follow rules; we act appropriately.

I have a wonderful example of this; I love this example.  How many of you remember Mommy saying, “Don’t touch the stove?”  Many of you have probably said it to your own children, because stoves are dangerous.  But gradually the rule changes, becoming “Don’t touch the stove without Mommy to help you,” then “Be careful when you use the stove,” then “I don’t have to tell you to be careful when you use the stove,” and ultimately the rule disappears–not because stoves have become safe, but because we have learned to use this dangerous tool safely.  Many of our childhood rules are like that, morphing into something else as we grow.  I still don’t fight with my brother over toys because I have learned that this is not a good way to resolve our differences.  I no longer hold my mother’s hand when I cross the street because hopefully I have learned to use the same care that she used when I was young.

This is not something I made up; the church has always known this.  It is exactly as Augustine said it was:  “The law for the Christian is love God and do as you please.”  He knew that was right because he understood that if you love someone, you try to be someone they approve, to be like them.  You don’t have any rules you have to follow; just be like God, showing love to everyone.

Which is a good segue into this next song [Free].

Video of the beginning of my portion of the evening is available on Facebook.

[contact-form subject='[mark Joseph %26quot;young%26quot;’][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment: Note that this form will contact the author by e-mail; to post comments to the article, see below.’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]

#118: Dry Spells

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #118, on the subject of Dry Spells.

I seem to be going through a dry spell in my writing.  I had posted most of the “new” material I had written (the novel chapters for Old Verses New and the accompanying behind-the-writings posts being mostly material written some time ago that was reformatted for web publication) and wasn’t coming up with anything new.  I was concerned, partly because there are some things I publish on schedule, and partly because I don’t like to limit my output merely to those things I post on schedule.  I certainly have not been doing nothing; the routine writing has been moving forward apace, preparing the Bible study materials, working on the support materials for the novels.  To some degree, though, that’s a bit like practicing scales instead of performing concerts.

img0118desert

That music connection, though, reminds me that I have often had the same experience with songs.  I have gone long stretches without writing any new music, and wondered whether I would ever write another song; then I have suddenly written one, and another, and a string of new material, before going quiet again.  I no longer wonder whether I have written my last song.  On the one hand, if I have, at least I have written enough songs for whatever purposes they’ll serve in this life, and there are quite a few which have never been performed or properly recorded by anyone so I have some fresh material to use if the occasion arises.  On the other hand, I probably have not, and when it’s time to write another song, I’ll write one.

I have also noticed that I tend to write songs when I anticipate performance opportunities.    When the band 7dB formed, I wrote Heavenly Kingdom and Still Small Voice and a couple other songs that have never been performed, and again when Collision was on the rise it was Passing Through the Portal and again several other songs that I wish we’d managed to learn and play.  Note, too, that those songs were not merely arranged for those bands; they were written for them, capturing stylistic goals and utilizing the abilities of the group.  That has often happened–Selfish Love was one of several songs written for TerraNova.  Part of it is the inspiration, that I see a good idea that I can express in a song, but part of it is audience, that I have a reasonable expectation that someone will hear it.

So I am not overly worried about not having much to write today.  I will find something.  We are rapidly closing on an election, and although I stopped writing about the nonsense in the Presidential race quite a while back (after writing #67:  Dizzying Democrats and #68:  Ridiculous Republicans), there are races outside of that which will want coverage, so I’ll have to find out what they are.  I have sources and resources for that.  Besides, I know that some of you are reading, and some of you are posting my articles to your social media pages to encourage others to read, so there is an audience.

I often tell the story–in fact, I told it in one of the old Game Ideas Unlimited articles which are no longer available since the demise of Gaming Outpost (although it might still be in the printed copy of the first (and only) print installment of those), but it’s worth telling again, and this time for a different reason.  It is a story about my parents.  My mother was New York City born and bred, graduated from City College of New York at nineteen, fast moving, fast talking, efficient.  My father moved to New York from Mississippi after getting his degree from Georgia Tech, and he was every bit the slow southern gentleman.  He met her at church, where she originally attempted to pair him up with a girl from Virginia, but his interest was immediately in her.  Eventually they were “courting”, as people did then, and since they both lived on Long Island and worked in the city he rode with her on the train.  There was another man, not another suitor but an older man who had been riding on the train with her and continued to do so, who did not think that my quiet reserved father was at all the right man for my on-the-move mother.  Then one day as my mother was speaking in her rapid hundred-words-per-minute patter, she abruptly stopped, and cried, “Oh!  IForgotWhatIWasGoingToSay!” (yes, just like that, as if it were all one word–that’s how she used to talk all the time).  My father replied, without even shifting his eyes, “Don’t worry dear.  You’ll think of something else.”  The other man roared with laughter, and thereafter in his eyes my father was the right person for my mother.

I am very much my father’s child.  However, I am also my mother’s child.  I may have said everything I have thought to say, but given a moment I will think of something else.

[contact-form subject='[mark Joseph %26quot;young%26quot;’][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment: Note that this form will contact the author by e-mail; to post comments to the article, see below.’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]

#111: A Partial History of the Audio Recording Industry

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #111, on the subject of A Partial History of the Audio Recording Industry.

In a previous post, #109:  Simple Songs, I said that I had some criticism of Christian record companies that I would defer to another article.  This is that.

I avoid criticism, generally, so I am approaching this more as an attempt to understand and explain why things are as they are, that is, how they got that way, by going back decades and looking at the relationship between the artist and the recording company and a few other entities that were involved in that relationship.

Thomas Alva Edison pictured with his invention
Thomas Alva Edison pictured with his invention

Audio recording of course began with Thomas Alva Edison, who invented the phonograph and subsequently founded the first record company.  His early recordings were cylinders; his competitors forced him to change to disks, which had worse fidelity but were easier to store and use.  They spun seventy-eight time each minute, were usually ten inches in diameter, and had one song on each side.  I have little knowledge and less experience of that time, so I can’t tell you too much about it other than that there are some recordings of a few nineteenth century musicians which have survived.  The invention of audio recording was followed by motion pictures and radio, both of which impacted the music business.  In the early days of radio, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) objected to broadcasters airing prerecorded music, except in the case of concerts that were aired live but recorded for rebroadcasting later.  Then beginning in the nineteen fifties television began its ascendancy, and the FCC was considerably less interested in radio; record companies saw this as the opportunity to sell records by getting airplay, and the connection between record companies and radio stations became the lynchpin of the music industry.  (This was the age of “payola”, when record companies paid people to air their records, recognizing intuitively what was later demonstrated scientifically:  that what makes a recording popular is the perception that it is popular.)  Recording technology improved, such that it was possible to put more information on a disk by using narrower grooves and more sensitive needles.  This gave us the Extended Play (EP) disk with two or three songs per side, the “forty-five”, a smaller seven-inch disk that ran at a slower speed, and eventually the Long Play (LP) album, which ran at thirty-three and a third turns per minute and squeezed over twenty minutes on each side.  Along the way, better needles began to be able to detect and distinguish vertical as well as horizontal vibration, and stereo records took over.

At this time, record companies tended to buy a recording outright.  It was possible then to use a small quarter-inch width seven-inch-per-second tape recorder with one microphone and record a single which had the potential to become popular on radio stations and sell a lot of copies.  The model in the book publishing industry had long been that a publisher paid an author for the right to print a specified number of copies of his book; the risk was then on the publisher to bet that he could sell that many at a price that would recoup his investment.  Copyright law arose to protect publishers, and indirectly authors, from others printing copies of books for which those others had not paid anything–but it did not cover audio recordings.  Thus once a record company had paid for the right to sell the recording, all the proceeds from sales went to the record company, but there was no protection against “song piracy”.

This changed in the sixties, for a couple reasons.  One was that copyright law caught up with technology, and it was possible to protect an audio recording separate from the songs it contained (previously only covered as songs when they were printed and sold on paper).  Now there was a shift toward revenue sharing–the artists began to get a percentage of the gross.  However, they signed recording contracts, which in essence meant that they worked for the recording company–they had to perform concerts as directed by the company, record and perform the songs the company said they should, and produce product on schedule.  Even The Beatles had to record songs which were not theirs, because the recording company thought they would sell.

The next big change is generally agreed to be the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club BandThe Beatles were by that time a phenomenon–they probably could have reached the top of the chart with a recording of the four of them snoring.  They told the record company that they would sign a new contract and make another record if, and only if, they had full creative control of it.  With trepidation–after all, the company thought they were the professionals who knew what would sell and what wouldn’t–the company agreed, Sgt. Pepper’s was a huge success, and thereafter music aimed at the youth market (about thirteen to thirty) included giving creative control to the artists, on the assumption that they were all young and in touch with what the young wanted to hear.  Record sales of successful musicians were good, and companies had capital to spend on new artists (which would be money lost if the artist failed).  Records made a lot of money, and record companies put a lot into promoting them.  Concert tours were in essence promotional efforts to sell records:  a band would lose money on the tour in order to make it back on the sales of records, and the company paid part of that cost.

However, as technology advanced in the recording industry, the demand for quality increased.  No longer could someone record a hit single in his garage.  Chicago‘s song Twenty-five or Six to Four was about paying for recording studio time when it was twenty-five dollars an hour or twenty-five dollars to use the studio overnight, plus the cost of recording tape–and three-inch width recording tape at fifteen or even thirty inches per second was not cheap, but it was only the beginning.  By the late seventies and early eighties, recording studios that produced the kind of quality product record companies wanted cost sometimes thousands of dollars an hour, and it took many hours to lay the tracks, check them, re-record problems, do the mix, and process the final product.  Vinyl was a petroleum product, as were most of the substances used for recording tape, and with the appearance of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) these were becoming more expensive.  The cost of making a record was rising; the profit from selling one was falling.  Record companies were paying a lot of money in promotions and advertising.  Contracts started shifting away from percent of gross to percent of net, so that artists would not get paid for their recordings until the company had recouped all the expenses.

In the film industry contracts for major headline actors sometimes include a percentage.  Ed Asner (once President of the Screen Actors Guild) has been quoted as saying to make sure it is a percent of gross, not a percent of net:  the major studios have a system by which a movie never makes any money, but always owes the studio for production and promotional costs.  The same thing has been happening in the recording industry.  If you sign a contract today, it usually says that you will be paid once all the costs of producing and promoting the album are covered, but those costs include printing copies, buying advertising, shipping product, and paying the salaries of everyone involved at the company.  As the return on investment on records fell, the balance shifted:  by the early nineties, concert tickets were outrageously high because artists got no money from selling records, and thus making a record for them was a way of promoting a concert tour.  By the dawn of the third millennium, record companies were being hit by file sharing–and many artists did not care, because they never expected to make a dime from their records and file sharing brought people to their concerts.  Record companies compensated by changing the terms of contracts so that the record company owned all rights to all performances by the band, and could get a cut of the concert income.  Artists often find themselves very famous but not very wealthy.

Meanwhile, record companies are struggling because the model has changed drastically at the sales end but has not caught up at the production end.  Artists still think in terms of recording albums; the majority of consumers don’t buy albums, they buy tracks–if they buy anything at all, rather than pirating copies from YouTube® videos and file sharing programs.  The quality that goes into making these now digital recordings is in the main wasted on an audience that listens to low quality recordings on low fidelity equipment.

The impact on the Christian market has been somewhat less, because Christians tend to do less pirating and are more likely to buy whole albums of bands they follow.  However, Christian record companies have not escaped the crunch despite the rising popularity of Christian contemporary music.  A recording contract is no longer a mark of success in the music world; in many cases it’s a badge of slavery.  It buys you a lot of help with promotions, but at a very steep price.  It is probably the right choice for some musicians, but is becoming less and less so as it becomes more and more possible to produce your own recordings and promote and sell them over the Internet without such professional assistance.  The main things that a recording contract gets you are funding for production which you will have to repay, and possible radio airplay which only happens for a few.

The problem with Christian record companies is that they are becoming obsolete and see no clear path to reinvent themselves.  I have no advice on that, I’m afraid, despite having worked in Christian contemporary music radio and done some recording myself.  The world changes and old industries fail; it is doing so now.

[contact-form subject='[mark Joseph %26quot;young%26quot;’][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment: Note that this form will contact the author by e-mail; to post comments to the article, see below.’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]

#109: Simple Songs

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #109, on the subject of Simple Songs.

I find myself in the awkward position of defending a practice I don’t particularly like.  Someone criticized Christian record companies.  I think that there are serious problems with Christian record companies, but I don’t think that the particular problems suggested in the supposedly satirical video were the real problems.  I will probably write more on this subject, but first I want to talk about the problem of simple, that is, simplistic, music.  The video (undoubtedly facetiously) suggested that record companies demand that all Christian songs use the same three chords.  That’s not something record companies ask or expect.  What they expect is that songs be marketable to the people who are expected to want them, and for a certain kind of Christian song that inherently means simple.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not impressed by simple songs and I do my best not to write them.  I had an argument with a piano player who insisted that the B# I wanted him to play (in a G# major chord with a minor sixth added–I know, ugly chord, but the song needed it) did not exist.  I cringe sometimes at the fact that so many of the songs I wrote on the piano when I was in high school and college are so similar, and eventually made a point of not writing songs on the piano unless I could do something really different.  I could probably be a lot more prolific if I weren’t so insistent that every song had to be distinct.

Worship band Hillsong United
Worship band Hillsong United

I also remember being horrified when I was in high school when someone I knew casually told me that he had been baptized in the Spirit on Friday night and over the weekend God had given him five hundred songs.  I approached skeptically, and discovered that he knew three chords, stopped the music to change between them, and sang very nearly monotone.  There is nothing wrong with the miraculous happening in connection with the Holy Spirit; this I don’t think was that.

The temptation is to think that all the musicians who write such “simple” three-chord songs with simplistic melodic lines are like my high school friend, unable to do better or even to know they are doing poorly.  The fact is they are not doing poorly; they are writing the kind of songs needed for their ministry.  One thing that helps me not judge other ministries is understanding what they are actually trying to do and why, and how that is different from what I am doing, and why that different objective requires different methods.

We talked extensively about Christian ministries.  Of particular relevance here, the 1960s and 70s were dominated by evangelist music ministry, which meant music that would catch attention of unbelievers and cause them to listen to the message.  It was frequently interesting, often intricate, always performance-oriented material.  Today, we noted, the dominant stream in music ministry is pastoral, music that benefits the sheep, with participatory worship music at the top of the list.

Don’t misunderstand.  Many great professional composers from Michael Praetorius and J. S. Bach through Charles Ives and Randall Thompson have written some great worship music to be presented by professional musicians, and there is a worship experience in which the worshipper listens and is overwhelmed by the beauty of the music and the presence of God.  However, that is not participatory worship.  When men like Luther and Wesley wanted to get people involved in worship, they took simple songs that their audience knew–usually from singing in taverns–and wrote Christian words to them, because the majority in the congregation are not musically literate and can only sing simple songs that they know or can quickly learn.  The typical congregant can’t handle complex melodic lines, intricate syncopation and time signature changes, modal and key transitions; those are for professional musicians.  Thus songs for participatory worship are best if they are simple.

Further, when someone records a song intended for worship, the expectation is less that you will listen to the recording–which is certainly part of the intention–but more that churches throughout the world will learn to play it and use it in their worship.  Johnny Smith who got a guitar for Christmas and has been trying to teach himself to play has to be able to stand in front of Little Country Church and lead half a dozen worshippers in a song they might never have heard.  If it isn’t simple, it isn’t going to succeed.

There is complex and interesting Christian music out there, because there are still musicians doing non-pastoral ministry, and pastors using music for aspects of their ministry that go beyond corporate participatory worship.  The primary forms on Christian radio though are songs of worship which ordinary people can learn easily and sing along while driving; the primary songs that get played in churches are the simple songs of worship which the congregation can embrace quickly.  They are the kind of music most Christians are buying; they are important in the scheme of music ministry; they are not the totality of it.

Returning to record companies–well, I probably have more to say about the recording industry, but for the moment to give them their due, they have to be interested in the bottom line, in producing recordings that people will buy.  That means songs that will be played on the radio and sung in churches.  That means, primarily, simple worship songs.  Sure, they produce more than that, but since songs for participatory worship are the most popular in the Christian market, they dominate product.

If you want to do something different with your music, that’s a good thing; just understand that you are not looking to reach the present core Christian market if you aren’t doing simple worship songs, not because of the record companies but because of the audience.

[contact-form subject='[mark Joseph %26quot;young%26quot;’][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment: Note that this form will contact the author by e-mail; to post comments to the article, see below.’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]

#107: Miscellaneous Music Ministries

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #107, on the subject of Miscellaneous Music Ministries.

This continues our miniseries on what it is to be “called” to “music ministry”.  Our first installment was #95:  Music Ministry Disconnect, making the point that most Christians are not what we call “ministers” and most musicians are “entertainers”.  In #97:  Ministry Calling we examined how to know whether you are “called” to be a “minister”, based largely on who you are, what motivates you and how you relate to others with needs.  Following this we identified five specific “ministries” in #98:  What is a Minister?, and addressed each of these individually in its own article.

Someone is undoubtedly saying that I missed something, because he knows that he is called to music ministry but does not fit into any of those.

It is certainly plausible that there are ministries Paul did not happen to mention in that passage; he does not specify that it is an exhaustive list of possible ministries.  On the other hand, they do provide comprehensive coverage of most of what we can identify as the spiritual needs within a congregation.  If you have a spiritual ministry, what does it do?  Does it bring the gospel to people who have never heard it and launch churches, as the Music Ministry of an Apostle?  Is it focused on bringing God’s specific direction, timing, and confirmation to His people when they need it, and thus a Prophetic Music Ministry?  Is it about bringing unbelievers to faith, an Evangelist Ministry?  Are you drawing believers closer to God and each other, the Music Ministry of the Pastor?  Are you enabling believers to understand the truths they have embraced, as a Teacher?  If you are not doing one of these five things, what are you doing that constitutes spiritual ministry?

img0107Congregation

On the other hand, there are other positions in the church, and we speak of other kinds of ministry today.  The Ephesians list gives us a rather sweeping collection of spiritual servants, but as we previously noted there are other kinds of service within the church, and our use of the word “ministry” has been in a sense selective for our purpose.  You might serve by playing the organ, conducting the choir, singing the liturgy, and be quite correct that God has put you in a place where you are using your gifts for His service.  Some of those ministries have names; the degree to which music can be involved depends very much on how the position is understood.

In some ways the simplest of those named positions is the previously mentioned diakonos or “deacon”.  In Acts 6 there was a problem concerning the distribution of food–members contributed food to the church which was delivered to widows, among the poorest with the worst prospects at that time.  The Apostles decided to have the church choose seven people to become “servers”, to deliver the food fairly to the women.  Paul later discusses in letters to Timothy and Titus how to select such “servers” for the local church, and we assume that they have much the same function, of overseeing the in-house charitable assistance.  We have expanded on that, but our expansions have gone in two distinct directions.  In one direction, deacons have become the business managers of the church, because they handle the assets and spending; in the other direction, deacons (and particularly deaconesses) have become the charitable arm of the church, because their original assignment was to attend to the poor.  Because of the tension between these two in some ways disparate objectives, the office has tended to become whatever the particular denomination or congregation wanted it to be, or even what the appointed individual made of it.

It should be noted that being a server does not preclude being some other kind of minister.  The Philip named among the seven servers is the one we discussed as Philip the Evangelist.  It is also certainly possible that music can be incorporated into service as a deacon, as for example entertaining in a mission or soup kitchen, or at a concert to raise money for and awareness of the homeless or otherwise impoverished.

The “presbuteros” or “elder” is more difficult.  We know that there were elders in synagogues, and they were quite simply the old men who had been in attendance for many years.  They had learned much and accumulated some wisdom, and so were sought to provide insight and direction.  Nowhere are we told how they are selected or identified, but in I Timothy Paul suggests that they are in charge of “ruling” the church, and that they get paid for this (“double honor” refers to what we would call an honorarium, money given as thanks, and that it is “double” for those laboring in preaching and teaching suggests that those “elders” who are not preaching and teaching are still paid for “ruling” the church).  He also suggests that some of them are involved in preaching and teaching–but that some are not, and thus again we have the suggestion that some elders also have other kinds of ministries, and also that some who do not have ministries of the sort we equate with standing in the pulpit are still very much involved in serving the church as leaders.  That might sometimes include using musical gifts at church gatherings of one sort or another.

Also unclear is the office of “episkopos”, a word compounded of “atop sight” giving us the concept of “overseer”.  It is often rendered “bishop”, derived indirectly from the Greek (Greek “episkopos” becomes Latin “ebiscopus” becomes English “bisceop” and eventually “bishop”).  We know that there is a selection process and qualifications; we don’t know what these people did.  The title has become part of the hierarchy in many denominations, ranging from the head of a local church to the head of a denomination.  It has something to do with ruling and caring for the house of God, but whether that means financial management or spiritual oversight is pretty much a guess.  It thus also makes it difficult to suggest how music might fit into service in so uncertain a job.

Some speak of a “healing ministry” and identify some persons as “healers”.  The nearest word for that in the New Testament is “iatros”, which properly means “healer” but is almost always rendered “physician”.  In most occasions it is used rather generally or often metaphorically about medical doctors.  (The familiar metaphor is “Physician, heal thyself,” which is more poignant when we replace “physician” with “healer”.) The only specific individual ever said to be “iatros” is Luke (in Colossians 4:14, in passing as a way of identifying him).  It is not impossible that Luke was a “healer” in the sense intended by those who use the term, but tradition has always maintained he was a medical doctor, and his writing supports this contention in several ways.

Meanwhile, there is an interesting exegetical issue in I Corinthians 12:9.  It is in the middle of a list of gifts the Spirit gives, immediately after “faith” and before “effecting of miracles”.  We are very uncertain what many of these gifts are, but the quirk with healing is that it doesn’t say “healing” as a gift, but lists the gift as “gifts of healings”, as if perhaps this person received a package from God that contained healings he was to distribute to those who needed them.  This person is not really exercising a gift of being able to heal people; he is working as a deliveryman who has been given these healings to give to others.  That does not make it not a position of serving God and the church; it does significantly alter our perception of it.  Yet as important as such physical healing is, our perception is that healings in the New Testament were always connected to bringing people to God.  Thus those who have gifts of healing are probably also exercising one of the Ephesian ministries, enabled by these gifts, whether apostolic, evangelistic, pastoral, or one of the others.  If music fits the “healing” ministry, it will be because it fits in the way that is appropriate to the ministry which the healing is supporting.

Music is part of life, and has been from the early chapters of Genesis.  It has been used in worship and in ministry, but was not invented originally for that purpose.  We can have Christian entertainment, which is good, and we can use music in many ways within the church.

I hope this series has been helpful to your understanding of ministry and the place of music within it.

[contact-form subject='[mark Joseph %26quot;young%26quot;’][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment: Note that this form will contact the author by e-mail; to post comments to the article, see below.’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]

#106: The Teacher Music Ministry

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #106, on the subject of The Teacher Music Ministry.

This continues our miniseries on what it is to be “called” to “music ministry”.  Our first installment was #95:  Music Ministry Disconnect, making the point that most Christians are not what we call “ministers” and most musicians are “entertainers”.  In #97:  Ministry Calling we examined how to know whether you are “called” to be a “minister”, based largely on who you are, what motivates you and how you relate to others with needs.  Following this we identified five specific “ministries” in #98:  What is a Minister?, and began looking at individual ministries with #99:  Music Ministry of an Apostle followed by #101:  Prophetic Music Ministry and #102:  Music and the Evangelist Ministry.  Last time we considered #103:  Music Ministry of the Pastor, including worship leading.  We previously established that pastor and teacher are not the same ministry, but jointly important in the local church.

The fact that I am a teacher both simplifies and complicates the effort to explain the ministry–simplifies because I know it intimately, complicates it because first it is always difficult to see what makes yourself different from others, and second because it is easy to confuse personal experience with that which is generally true of a group.  I was a Boy Scout, but I did many things as a Boy Scout that probably most other Scouts did not do, and there are many things that were done by many Scouts which I never did.  My experience as a teacher is in some ways unique, and in some ways general, and so the difficulty arises in identifying that which characterizes all teachers, as distinct from that which is specific to me.

img0106Hall

Where the pastor is most concerned with people and relationships, the teacher is most concerned with knowledge and understanding.  Our theology and doctrine is laced with the concerns of teachers, and contains a lot of trivial minutiae that is, in ultimate terms, inconsequential.  To pick on one of the biggest issues, questions of the nature of God as three persons but one God, the doctrine of the Trinity, are not essential to salvation:  even most seminary graduates have trouble with the concepts, and one of the details is one of the major points of disagreement between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox denominations.  People are saved and go to heaven every day with no clue as to how there can be only one God but the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all that one God and are in some sense also distinct persons.  It is better to understand aright than to misunderstand, but what we call the Apostles Creed is not found in the writings of the Apostles.  It is an effort by teachers to make sense of what we know, which is valuable but not essential.  Understanding what you do not believe is worthless; believing what you do not fully understand is sufficient, although understanding helps undergird belief.  Developmentally handicapped and autisic persons who understand almost nothing but trust God through Jesus Christ go to heaven; seminary graduates who do not believe the God about whom they learned exists do not.

Yet the teacher explains things.  It was probably Paul’s calling as a teacher that was behind much that was in his letters.  We see how he takes the facts he knows–that Jesus has come to save not the people who were working hardest at keeping the law as perfectly as possible, but ordinary sinful commoners, and recognizes from this that keeping the law has nothing to do with pleasing God, but trusting God is what really matters.  His application of reason to build significant explanations of soteriology, ecclesiology, sanctification, eschatology, and more, are all efforts to enable us to understand–because understanding is the foundation for both believing and acting.

A teacher is thus someone who is always explaining, always instructing, always trying to help others understand what it is that he has learned.  It is most valuable when he is explaining scripture, doctrine, Christian life and conduct; it expresses itself through his character in that he is always explaining everything.  Just as we cited Tom Skinner’s comment that he would have been a great used car salesman had he not been an evangelist because he is that kind of person, so, too, the teacher is marked by a seemingly irresistible urge to teach, to explain and clarify and help others understand.  Others often find this annoying because they don’t really want to understand, certainly not at the depth and level that the teacher does–because the teacher is driven to learn, to study, to contemplate, to grasp everything as completely, thoroughly, and deeply as possible, and (because we all suppose that everyone is more like us than otherwise) assumes that the student has the same hunger.  Teachers thus want to know, and try to explain, everything in much greater depth and detail than anyone really “needs” to know.

Yet that depth and breadth of knowledge is important within the church.  It is easy for congregations to wander into error simply from failure to understand simple truths–the basic understanding of how the gospel frees us from the law without making us immoral scoflaws; the importance of the concepts of tithing and Sabbath-keeping as they point us to God’s total ownership of all our money and time; the types of ministry within the church, what each accomplishes and how they work together.  What teachers bring to the church is essential.

As mentioned, teachers are focused on truths and facts and explanations, not on people.  We can seem a very uncaring bunch, not because we don’t care but because our concerns are more about whether you understand than anything else.  A teacher presented with someone with a problem will answer with teaching, answers to theological questions, expositions of scripture.  If he remembers to pray with the person, his prayer will probably reflect a belief that understanding these truths will solve the problem.  That is sometimes the case–the prayers in Paul’s letters are nearly always on the order of “God, may my readers understand the truths I am about to explain to them”–and there is a degree to which God brings people to that minister best able to help them.  Such explanations are often the answer to difficult problems, particularly when someone is hearing questionable claims or struggling with challenging issues.  At the same time, such teaching does not replace pastoral ministry:  learning about God and the message is important, but learning to live in relationship with God is not gained by absorbing facts and doctrines, even when such teaching is pointing in the right direction.  One of the truths I had to learn very early in my ministry was that the closeness to God and divine warmth I observed in some of my fellow students was not the result of some truth they had learned, but of time spent in prayer and meditation, communing with God.  Teaching is of great value to the students, but we confuse knowledge with relationship, and we teachers are partly to blame for that.

I observe with my own music that I am often incorporating lessons into the songs, from apologetics to instruction in Christian life and truth.  Songs which answer the questions about being Christian are the heart of the teaching music ministry.  They can be used as introductions to spoken lessons, but can also take advantage of that aspect of music we noted for both the evangelist and the pastor, that people will learn the songs and sing them, reinforcing the lesson long after the concert has ended.  If you leave one of my concerts singing “Lord, you’ve got me convinced”, or “Passing through the portal to the new world”, or “And I’ll trust Him again”, or “How can they hear if we don’t tell them?”, you’ve carried the lesson with you.  That’s the objective.

That completes our consideration of the five ministries identified in Ephesians 4.  The series will continue with some consideration of other ways of serving God that may use music but do not seem to fit these categories.

[contact-form subject='[mark Joseph %26quot;young%26quot;’][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment: Note that this form will contact the author by e-mail; to post comments to the article, see below.’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]

#103: Music Ministry of the Pastor

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #103, on the subject of Music Ministry of the Pastor.

This continues our miniseries on what it is to be “called” to “music ministry”.  Our first installment was #95:  Music Ministry Disconnect, making the point that most Christians are not what we call “ministers” and most musicians are “entertainers”.  In #97:  Ministry Calling we examined how to know whether you are “called” to be a “minister”, based largely on who you are, what motivates you and how you relate to others with needs.  Following this we identified five specific “ministries” in #98:  What is a Minister?, and began looking at individual ministries with #99:  Music Ministry of an Apostle followed by #101:  Prophetic Music Ministry and #102:  Music and the Evangelist Ministry.  We now come to the pastor, fourth on the list.  We previously addressed the question of why pastor and teacher are linked as they are in the text, and suggested that it is not because they are the same ministry but because they ascend to importance in the local church together.

The word pastor is problematic.  It appears to have been imported from the French directly, and given a meaning drawn from its Latin roots, although there is some indication that it once meant shepherd in English (as it originally did in Latin and French).  We use the word because we have imbued the office with theological significance which is not captured by the literal translation:  the Greek word for which it stands is the ordinary word for a shepherd, and any theological meaning it has comes from its metaphoric attachment to this ministry.  Unfortunately, there are reasons why we cannot easily replace pastor with the literal word shepherd.  First, it has become in some sense the title for a particular category of ministry (although it is abused, covering some persons who are not and not covering some who are spiritual shepherds).  Second, the concept of “shepherding” fell into disrepute in the last third of the previous century from its use in some rather authoritarian hierarchical church structures.  Third, the Middle Eastern method of shepherding is very different from the European approach which dominates our understanding.  We thus have to understand the image to understand the metaphor.

img0103Shepherd

Shepherds in Europe, the Americas, and Australia tend to drive sheep.  This is relatively easy, and you can hire anyone to do it.  The trick is to get behind the sheep and frighten them into fleeing in the direction you want them to go.  Dogs are easily trained to assist this, because sheep are terrified of dogs, and while the dogs can be trained to protect the sheep, the job of herding sheep involves making them frightened enough to move away from the dogs.  The Bible, however, speaks of shepherds leading sheep, and explains that the shepherd has a relationship with his sheep:  he calls, and they follow him.  This is not some fantasy Jesus created; this is the way shepherds manage their sheep in the Middle East.  I am told that they will gather around watering holes such that hundreds or even thousands of sheep are mingling, trying to get water, and then one of the shepherds will start to walk away and will give his call, and all of his sheep will separate themselves from the mass and follow him.  It is his job to lead them to food and water, and to the shelter which protects against predators.  He does this by making them feel safe and secure, and because they know that he will care for them, they follow him.

Peter, as we mentioned, is the only person in the New Testament connected by name to the office of shepherd or pastor.  He uses it of himself in his first letter.  More significantly, in John 21, Jesus charges him with commands that are very much those given to a shepherd:  “Tend my lambs….Shepherd my sheep….Tend my sheep.” (Updated New American Standard Bible).  This is what a shepherd–a pastor–does.

Peter is unfortunately not a very clear example, because he is also an apostle, and much of what we see him do is based on that ministry.  Yet what we see in his letters and in the directives Jesus gave him seems reasonably clear:  pastors care for people; this means they care about people.  People matter to them, and they are nurturers.

I use to have a lot of trouble listening to pastors preach, because their exegesis was often shoddy and their statements often questionable.  It wasn’t until I came to understand that pastors are not teachers that I recognized why the standards I applied to teaching the Word were not appropriate for pastors.  When a pastor preaches, it is not his primary job to convey understanding or information, to deliver doctrine or explain mysteries.  Peter does none of that in his letters.  The pastor is there to make sure that the sheep are safe and growing.  It is about their lives, the love they have for each other, the way they live and interact, the choices they make.  Pastors are there to lead believers closer to God.  We make the mistake of thinking that feeding the sheep is about teaching truths, but that is a very small part of it.  It is truth, not truths, that sheep most need.  They need direction, someone to show them how to get closer to God and to each other.

With this understanding of the pastoral ministry, it becomes obvious that those musicians we call “worship leaders” are actually exercising pastoral ministry:  in leading people in worship, they are drawing us closer to God.  Again, as with the evangelist, part of the value of music in this is that aspect that we easily learn and often repeat songs that are simple enough for us to handle.  Thus in teaching us worship songs and leading us in worship, these pastors are also teaching us to worship, and how to worship, when we are away from the group.

Pastoral ministry also involves bringing us together in love, getting us to embrace each other and live and work together and build each other in faith and love; and it involves encouraging us to reach beyond ourselves, both individually and collectively, that is, that I would reach out to those around me but also that we would reach out to those outside the faith.  These are the ministry objectives of pastors, to show us how to live Christian lives and enable us to do this.  For the pastor, people are the most important thing, and pastors are driven to work with people individually and collectively to profit and edify through relationships with God, each other, and those beyond.

That leaves us with the teacher.

[contact-form subject='[mark Joseph %26quot;young%26quot;’][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment: Note that this form will contact the author by e-mail; to post comments to the article, see below.’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]

#102: Music and the Evangelist Ministry

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #102, on the subject of Music and the Evangelist Ministry.

This continues our miniseries on what it is to be “called” to “music ministry”.  Our first installment was #95:  Music Ministry Disconnect, making the point that most Christians are not what we call “ministers” and most musicians are “entertainers”.  In #97:  Ministry Calling we examined how to know whether you are “called” to be a “minister”, based largely on who you are, what motivates you and how you relate to others with needs.  Following this we identified five specific “ministries” in #98:  What is a Minister?, and began looking at individual ministries with #99:  Music Ministry of an Apostle followed by #101:  Prophetic Music Ministry.  That brings us to the third ministry on the list, the evangelist.

In one sense we significantly covered the evangelist when we examined the ministry of the apostle, as we needed to distinguish the two ministries.  We looked at Philip the Evangelist, the only person in the New Testament to be identified specifically as an evangelist, and recognized that wherever he went he preached or explained the gospel message and brought people to faith in Christ (but did not, we noted, found any churches).  Yet we also commented that in the nineteen seventies nearly all Christian music was connected to evangelism, to the degree that it was generally assumed that if you were a Christian and a musician you were an evangelist.  That is not so, as this series has already observed, but it is at least interesting that it was then thought to be so.

The Reverend Doctor Billy Graham
The Reverend Doctor Billy Graham

It is interesting because that was a time of revival–we called it “The Jesus Movement”, and the many converts became known as “Jesus People”.  Concerts grew into festivals–the first Woodstock-like Christian gatherings occurred at that time and are still held today largely because they have become a tradition (they did not exist before that).  The ministry of the evangelist is closely tied to revivals.  George Whitefield, John Wesley, and Jonathan Edwards are all remembered as evangelists in the First Great Awakening; Charles Finney and Lyman Beecher are leading names from the Second Great Awakening; D. L. Moody is connected to a time of revival some call the Third Great Awakening.  The Jesus Movement was marked by a huge number of evangelists preaching on streets, in coffeehouses, at outdoor concerts, and elsewhere.

We do not have that today.

Some would say that we do not have revival at present because we do not have enough evangelists, or enough people doing evangelism.  There are groups trying to train believers to be evangelists.  This is wonderful, of course, as everyone needs to be able to share the faith with others; but you can no more be taught to be an evangelist than you can be taught to be female.  As we noted, Christ gives to the church people who are the gifts, the ministers, among whom are evangelists, evangelists since before they were born given as gifts to the church.  Thus arguably it is not that we do not have revival because of a lack of evangelists, but that we do not have evangelists because this is not a time of revival.

That does not mean there are no evangelists.  God always has people calling others to salvation, some of whom are specially given for that purpose.  However, revivals are special times–Dr. J. Edwin Orr has identified them as “God’s periods of recruitment”, and a significant number of those who are in church ministry today accepted Christ in that revival.  Billy Graham, Bill Bright, Dick Halverson, and a host of others who were leaders in the church then became believers in the previous revival.

It also does not mean that there are not evangelists growing up among us right now.  After all, those of us who were in our teens and twenties in the seventies are in our fifties and sixties now, and God is going to need a new crop of leaders and believers.  It will be in His timing, and He has been known to skip a generation or two, but He will not allow faith to vanish from the world.  Revival will come, and the number of evangelists will explode anew as the message is brought to the lost once again.

To the evangelist, Jesus is the answer to every problem.  It is a simple gospel, a simple message, that whatever the problem is, Jesus is the answer–absolutely true, but often overly simplistic when dealing with human problems.  That is why there are other ministries besides the evangelist, because believers need the nurturing of pastors and teachers to help unravel how Jesus is the answer to all the problems.  The focus for the evangelist, though, is always on Jesus, pointing people to Him as the solution.

The Booths used music in their evangelism, having brass bands and singers attract crowds on the streets by singing revival hymns, creating a “Salvation Army”.  Music was used much that way in the Jesus Movement, as something of a billboard to attract the attention of people who needed to hear the message–and the message was preached, but it was also sung.  In the preface to his book Inventing Champagne:  The Worlds of Lerner and Loewe, music historian Gene Lees comments that music is an incredibly effective form of advertising because people voluntarily memorize the words and repeat them.  Getting the gospel message into music that people will want to hear and sing is a significant part of the evangelist’s music ministry–and many of the musicians and bands of the early Jesus Movement did that extremely well.  The modern musical evangelist has a solid collection of examples from that era, some of whom continued ministering for decades thereafter.  Learn from them.

Which brings us next to the pastor.

[contact-form subject='[mark Joseph %26quot;young%26quot;’][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment: Note that this form will contact the author by e-mail; to post comments to the article, see below.’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]

#101: Prophetic Music Ministry

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #101, on the subject of Prophetic Music Ministry.

This continues our miniseries on what it is to be “called” to “music ministry”.  Our first installment was #95:  Music Ministry Disconnect, making the point that most Christians are not what we call “ministers” and most musicians are “entertainers”.  In #97:  Ministry Calling we examined how to know whether you are “called” to be a “minister”, based largely on who you are, what motivates you and how you relate to others with needs.  Following this we identified five specific “ministries” in #98:  What is a Minister?, and began looking at individual ministries last time with #99:  Music Ministry of an Apostle.

The ministry of the prophet in the New Testament church is much more difficult to assess, for several reasons.

  1. There are Old Testament prophets under the Old Covenant, and we do not know to what degree New Testament prophets under the New Covenant are distinct from them;
  2. There are at least two persons in the Gospels identified as prophets–John the Baptist and Anna–and because their ministries are entirely prior to the resurrection and ascension we do not know whether they are Old Covenant prophets or New Covenant prophets;
  3. There is also a “gift of prophecy” identified in the New Testament, and we do not know whether having that gift and being a prophet are the same thing or different things;
  4. On at least one occasion in the New Testament we are told that someone who was definitely not a believer in Christ prophesied, when the High Priest Caiaphas said that it was best for one man to die for the nation.

All of this adds up to a complicated collection of information about prophets.

On the other hand, there are more than half a dozen prophets identified within the New Testament church, including several leaders of the church at Antioch, the four daughters of Philip the Evangelist, and a pair named Silas and Judas.  Of these last two, we are told that because they were prophets they encouraged the believers in the gentile churches they were visiting, but little more.  There is only one person in the New Testament identified for us as a prophet about whom we are told anything significant concerning his ministry.  He appears twice in the Book of Acts, and his name is Agabus.

The Prophecy of Agabus, Painting by Louis Cheron
The Prophecy of Agabus, Painting by Louis Cheron

The very word prophet means “foreteller” that is, “saying in advance”, the English being drawn directly from the Greek.  For a lot of reasons, we don’t like the idea that God lets some of us know the future, particularly as that seems so useful and most of us are unable to do it.  Thus some argue that there are no longer prophets in the church because they are no longer needed, and some argue that it is not foretelling but “forthtelling” that matters, that every preacher declaring the message of God from the Bible is acting in the role of a prophet.  These, though, do not fit with the ministry we see of Agabus.

We might describe Agabus’ first appearance as a minor mention of a major role:  he warns the church of an impending famine in Acts 11:28.  It was because of this warning that the Christians in Antioch (where Agabus was at that time) started collecting resources for the Christians in Judea, ultimately delivered by Barnabas and Paul.  Thus it appears that in this specific instance, the ministry of the prophet involved announcing a future event for which the hearers would want to prepare themselves.

His second appearance is sort of the reverse, a major part in a minor role.  In Acts 21:10ff he visits Caesarea to see Paul, and rather dramatically (literally dramatically:  he takes Paul’s belt and uses it as a prop in a show) announces that Paul’s visit to Jerusalem is going to result in his arrest.  Once again it appears that the prophet is telling someone what is going to happen.

This, though, proves to be rather intriguing.  All of Paul’s companions in Caesarea immediately start begging him not to go, but he responds that he was quite prepared for this, seemingly already knowing what was going to happen.  In any case, he is not in the least surprised.  It seems that the message was news for Paul’s companions, but it was only confirmation for him:  he knew he was headed into trouble.

The chapter on Guidance in What Does God Expect? and my web page on Objective and Subjective Christian Guidance go into some detail explaining why Paul needed that confirmation.  The point for us is that the ministry of the prophet, as we see it in action in the New Testament, appears to be that of alerting believers to trouble on the road ahead so that we can prepare, or be prepared, for what is coming.

There is one other aspect that might be part of the prophetic ministry.  In Acts 13:1ff we are told that there were “prophets and teachers” in the church at Antioch, among whom were Barnabas, Saul, and three others.  We are told that this group heard the Holy Spirit tell them that it was time to separate Barnabas and Saul for the work for which they had already been called, which was the beginning of their apostolic ministry.  It seems likely that it is part of the prophetic ministry to provide guidance to other ministries, concerning when to take significant steps, possibly what steps to take next.  I have heard enough stories and had enough personal experience to believe that this happens, that God has some in the church who are given messages helping others be certain of God’s direction for them, often without themselves understanding the meaning of the message.  This prophetic ministry keeps us moving in the right direction.

It is also significant that it is second on the list, because it contributes greatly to enabling the congregation to identify the ministers among them, as well as preparing us for struggles ahead.

How does a prophet integrate music into his ministry?  I face this question with some reservations.  I have only twice knowingly spoken with prophets, and they were not musicians and we did not discuss their ministries.  A prophet with musical gifts might well align himself with another minister with musical gifts–it seems likely that Barnabas was a prophet and Paul a teacher (both were apostles), and that Paul did most of the talking because he was in some sense the frontman of the ministry.  That is admittedly guesswork based on the facts that both appear on that list of “prophets and teachers” and Paul is known to be a teacher but not a prophet which increases the probability that Barnabas was one of the prophets in the group; and when they were in Lystra together the locals observed that Paul was the speaker and Barnabas the leader.  There are those who only speak when they have something to say, and one might expect prophets to be of that sort.

At the same time, there is a phenomenon which might be part of the music ministry of a prophet.  I have only once spontaneously sung an entirely new song at a gathering.  I do not mean improvised something on the spot, but realized that there was a song I needed to sing that neither I nor anyone else had ever sung before, and did so.  I might expect that to be part of a prophet’s music ministry, as the Lord gives him a word couched in a melody with an accompanyment.  On the other hand, I don’t know that this would necessarily be part of such a ministry, or necessarily mark such a ministry as prophetic.  I am not a prophet and the song was not prophetic; yet I can see how God would use such songs to deliver unique messages to specific persons or groups.

The third ministry is the evangelist, which we will tackle next.

[contact-form subject='[mark Joseph %26quot;young%26quot;’][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment: Note that this form will contact the author by e-mail; to post comments to the article, see below.’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]