In 1996, our church in Memphis was growing healthily. We had recently moved into our first permanent building, and what we co-dreamed with the Spirit of God was happening - unchurched people were being found by the love of Jesus, and suburban Christians were actually maturing in their faith, in large part by living out God's heart for inner city poverty and problems (similar to LFC with our Missio Dei emphasis).
We needed more worship services, otherwise we would have told the Lord 'no, please don't reach and grow any more people through us - go do that somewhere else, even though you've apparently gifted our church at precisely that' (hmm, similar point Lake Forest has reached the last several years, and each time we've added a service, and now are adding space in Huntersville and a new campus in Davidson).
So I put my hand up to the elders and said 'I will start a Saturday night worship service.' See, I had just been to a conference called 'Ministering to Generation X' (hey, it was the mid- 90's) at Eagle Eyrie Conference Center in Colorado, put on by Leadership Network. The worship was led by a barefoot hippie-looking worship leader from a startup church. Friends, halfway through the first set I was weeping in my little personal space. The lyrical style, the chords, the language, the way Scripture was used, the i-don't-know-what hit me like a ton of bricks, and I realized 'this is what it means to worship in your own indigenous cultural musical language.'
As a Gen Xer, I realized at that moment God had massively gifted our Memphis church to reach unchurched baby boomers. Musically that meant keyboard-led choruses with lots of melodic harmony, stylistically that meant everyone on stage had matching shirt colors (in our church, at the time). But now I had experienced worship music and style that had popped open the tupperware lid on my Gen X heart and soul, creating wider space for the Spirit to work on that uncovered heart than I had ever experienced before in worship. I loved my church and was proud of how the Lord was using it, but now the question came to me - could there exist worship music that would reach my generation more effectively for Christ than what we were doing on Sunday mornings currently? If my heart was any measurement, the answer was 'yes.'
So I said 'yes, we need more space anyway, I will lead a Saturday night worship service if I can design it in a way that would reached me more effectively in the worship (to open my heart to the Lord), and unchurched 'me's' - Gen X'ers - to meet Christ.' I started meeting with a core group from our church who became the leadership team for 'Sat.nite@Hope.' I promise (cross my heart...stick a needle in my eye, etc.) that we MAY have been the first ministry to use internet-ese to name our gig.
But how to get that music, those honest lyrics that expressed longing and brokenness so well, that dared to use minor chords in church!? I know, that barefooted kid who led worship somewhere in Texas. Four weeks before we started Saturday night worship, I called up JT Paige, who was going to lead our band. I said 'JT, even though I'll be leading the worship verbally with the microphone and my rhythm guitar, you are the maestro of our music and will lead the band. I heard this new worship music that I want to try on, but I'm not musically knowledgeable enough to tell you what defines it - will you go with me to that church and then just do 'that' for our music?'
So JT and I flew to Waco Texas the next weekend, and sat under the young David Crowder leading worship in a theater. Again, I was overcome with the closeness of the Spirit of God to me in this worship, as it used the musical language of my personal soul (rock with an alternative edge, unafraid to throw in Seattle Grunge-tinged angst and disaffection over things not right with me and with the world, and between me and the Lord, and bold love language for our soul's union with Christ, etc.). JT and I hung around and talked with David for a while. David was a bit shy seeming, the opposite of verbose, and humble. He was genuinely surprised and encouraged that we were so interested in his original worship music, and agreed to fax us whatever we wanted.
Over the next week I got him to basically fax me his whole repertoire of original music at the time. And the first Sat.nite@Hope service? We opened with the Lemonheads tune 'Into Your Arms,' turning a top 40 rock song into corporate worship, added a U2 worship tune, and all the rest of the music was me lead-worshipping to these Crowder tunes as passionately and on-key as I could possibly manage.
Here are a few takeaways - most of the songs David lent me were never published. I still have the faxes, and led one of them in our nightly worship with the Reynosa MX mission team several years ago. I did not stay in touch with Crowder, because I'm not that cool. I have a memento hanging in my office today, given to me by the first person who gave his life to Jesus in our Saturday night service. When I left that church to move here and found Lake Forest, they hired their first full-time worship pastor and asked him to blend our Saturday night and Sunday morning styles for all the services. It worked great for them.
I founded Lake Forest right after that, and when I moved here I ran the Arbitron radio listenership ratings for the Lake Norman zip codes, to discover the predominant musical language of the soul here. It was far and above 'adult rock with an alternative flair' in 1998, among adults aged 25-55 in Huntersville, Cornelius, and Davidson. So that is the style we chose, and the Lord has used it. Its not for everyone, that's okay. The Lord has used this similar style massively across the country.
But what happens as Gen X gives way to Gen Y, and then generations come which are nameless because it got too cheesey to do so after a while? Specifically, what happens when modern culture, with a single style of music defining top 40 popularity, morphs to some kind of post-modern culture, in which its now a matter of pride to say 'i don't have a single style of music that's my favorite, just check my ipod, i like all kinds of music'(that's almost never completely true - most people have a go-to style, but still, this is the changing spirit of how we engage with music)?
In other words - when culture changes, then worship styles and music designed to be culturally relevant must remain conversant with where culture is. Our CONTENT is eternally bound by the Word of God (David's Psalms as our primary model for content, ethos, praise, lament, all together and privately), our METHOD changes with each culture. For example, the musical score and instrumentation for David's praise Psalms were not preserved for us, making sure we know to sing those songs and new ones in the musical heart-language of each culture and generation. As Lake Forest becomes 'one church in two locations,' we will continue to explore, morph, and express our freedom in Christ as we worship and hopefully be observant and teachable as culture changes. If we calcify, we die. Blues worship, you-tube style (unpolished) videos, Hillsong United songs, and poetry are some of our stylistic experiments the last few years.
Thank you, David Crowder, for following your Holy Spirit muse and worshipping the LORD in your own heart-language. It turned out to be mine also.