History, nostalgia and praise! A few thoughts on CCM United.

[NOTE: This was originally posted on my Facebook page in late January of this year.  I thought it deserved to be re-posted here, with a few small edits.]

I’m basking in the glow of what several hundred of us experienced in person last night, joined by many thousands who saw the live stream of “CCM United – We Will Stand” here in Williamson County, Tennessee.  33 artists, 40 songs–some old, some new, most in the middle of the heyday of Contemporary Christian music.  Joy, tears, thanksgiving – it had all that and more.  [For a full list of who was there, and the opportunity to see the entire three hours, go to ccmunited.com.] Many thoughts are running through my mind this morning as I’ve been reading posts and posting videos myself.  They are a bit random, but I’ll share them.

  • I’m so grateful for relationships that allowed Judie and I to be there with last-minute tickets.  Thanks to Mike Harland and Sue Moser for being so generous.  What an experience…
  • Having been in and around Christian music and the “industry” since I was 16 (that’s 42 years ago, if you’re counting), and being part of events like the Christian Artists’ Seminar (Estes Park) and Gospel Music Week (GMA)–I know all the different issues that are part of putting this kind of event together.  Schedules, relationships (past and current), sponsorship, past hurts, logistics, egos, spiritual attack, personal interests and yes, industry pCCMUnited_grandeolitics all come to bear on this stuff.  In our brokenness and by God’s grace, we move ahead.  Thanks to Stan Moser and his dogged persistence in being point person and midwife in bringing this to birth, and to the whole team.
  • The room was filled mostly with people who were (and are) part of seeing all of CCM happen over the years.  Executives, publishers, songwriters, producers, managers, booking agents, pastors, group leaders, worship leaders and other artists all had a chance to enjoy, celebrate and reflect.  I know I left at 11:30, and folks were still hanging out, visiting, laughing and crying together.  So many good friends and associates who shared so much experience and so little time to hang…
  • A special shout-out to my friend, almost-team-member, and past board member Neal Joseph.  It really was like watching your life story tonight (obviously others as well), but seeing The Imperials, Sandi Patty, Dallas Holm, Michael English, First Call and Wayne Watson on the same stage tonight put it all in perspective.  Your love, care, talent and persistence in supporting, signing, arranging or producing these artists (and many others) has borne phenomenal fruit.  Thanks.
  • Great to see other artists who have been part of CCM history happy to be there, even though they were not up front–thinking of my friends Byron Spradlin (early artist on Light Records), Paul Johnson (arranger and writer extraordinaire) and Steve Fry (worship writer, artist and pastor).

Some thoughts about history and perspective on these past 40+ years.  Any time you talk about history, folks will have a different perspective based on their experience.  We need to fight to get context as we read or recall anything from the past.  Even historians have a perspective, and that’s what makes it interesting and more fully-orbed.  Think of it like different camera angles on the same scene in a movie…one shot is not better than another, but the different angles help to give a more 3D version of what happened.  You have to pick and choose the shots, and in any movie or documentary, some things get left on the cutting room floor–you can’t include them all in order to tell the story.

We had a great story told last night–nothing can take away from that, and it was most certainly true.  I wept and cheered with the rest, and memories of past ministry that I received and also gave filled my heart.  Praise God for that!  When it comes to Contemporary Christian music, these artists and songs are key to the core of it.  However, I walked away wanting to also acknowledge and challenge us all to remember some of the other pioneers and get to know their work and the investments they made to establish and confirm what we enjoyed last night.  There was absolutely no way to include all the artists who have contributed, and many were highlighted and named in the projections on stage. Even that couldn’t mention all.

Let me mention and honor a few and give you a resource that will help you with more perspectives, more camera angles.  First, 40 years is not the full history of CCM.  It did not start in 1975–the celebration was of 40 years of CCM, not of all of it!  Love Song, who were honored and performed along with Phil Keaggy (who actually was part of the group at one point) started before 1975. The Jesus Movement was a significant revival that started in the last 1960’s, and was the catalyst for many to come to Christ, as well as being a seminal source for what has become modern worship with Maranatha! Music as well as CCM.  Love Song and many others pioneers were part of a Jesus Music documentary done around 1999 called “First Love.”  Check it out at explorationfilms.com–a 2 CD and 2 DVD set that shares testimonies and stories of that significant move of God.  It features Love Song, 2nd Chapter of Acts, Barry McGuire, Andraé Crouch, Randy Stonehill, Jamie Owens Collins, Honeytree, Paul Clark, John Fischer, Terry Clark, Matthew Ward, Annie Herring, Darrell Mansfield, Chuck Girard, Randy Matthews and a Keith Green tribute with Melody Green.  If you don’t know this history, you need to.

And, from my perspective, there were others who paved the way both in making the church ready to receive music more closely allied to the culture in my lifetime.  I first think of Ralph Carmichael and Jimmy and Carol Owens, who were pushing against the barriers in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.  Light Records was the home for so many of the artists who were pioneers in CCM, and Ralph’s musicianship and commitment to excellence in ministry that both reached the culture and served the church laid a solid foundation for those who would follow.  And he’s still at it in his 80’s–check out the Ralph Carmichael Big Band!

Jimmy and Carol Owens–significant early mentors and encouragers of artists and musicians like Andraé Crouch (Jimmy produced his first album) as well as Paul Johnson (who was at last night’s event) and Michael Omartian (who was the musical director)–created projects like “Come Together” which basically took a contemporary worship service and put it on record, and “If My People” and “The Witness” which called the church to intercession, and told the story of Jesus in compelling, powerful ways.  Artists like Andraé, 2nd Chapter (Matthew Ward, Nelly Griesen and Annie and Buck Herring), and Barry McGuire made their house a second home where they laughed, played and prayed. (Not to mention their daughter Jamie Owens Collins, who made it her first home!)  They are also still at it, encouraging artists and songwriters (songs like “Holy, Holy” and “Freely, Freely” are theirs), and calling the church to intercession for the nation.

I was glad to see that Thurlow Spurr was in attendance last night, and Stan rightly acknowledged him for his contributions.  So many folks that we know as arrangers, writers, and artists in CCM cut their teeth on the road traveling with The Spurrlows, Festival of Praise or other groups he started–Larnelle Harris, Sharalee, Dave Williamson, Terry Winch, Jon Mohr to name only a very few.  But another who travelled with Thurlow pioneered a ministry that would eventually see 40,000 plus travel in music ministry around the world, Cam Floria, founder of Continental Singers (The Continentals, Continental Ministries) and Christian Artists.  Artists who were on the platform last night like Wayne Watson got their start in Continentals, while at least several dozen others in the room traveled as part of Continental tours (including me and my wife Judie).  Michael W. Smith came as a young artist to the Christian Artists’ seminar and got early encouragement there.  Thousands of church worship leaders also cut their teeth with Continentals and were shaped by their international and inter-denominational touring.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, only a few of the additional camera angles that will add perspective to what we saw last night.  Stan Moser’s book “We Will Stand” adds a few more.  Dig deeper and you’ll see even more to give thanks to God for.

Finally, I’ll share my two most enduring images of last night, separate from what was onstage.  Both spoke of humility and joy in the journey.  First, as I was chatting with Travis Cottrell about the evening, a gentleman stopped as he was walking out and said how much he had appreciated Travis’ contribution to the evening and the ministry of it.  I looked twice, and it was Steve Archer, lead singer of the family group he had with his brother and sister “The Archers.”  He was the Russ Taff of his day, and could probably still match him note-for-note.  Yet, he was not onstage–Russ (and Travis) were.  The humility of his sincere congratulations that I got to observe spoke volumes.  Second, it was only about halfway through the event that I realized in the back row of the string section, happy and joyfully playing his cello, was Greg Nelson.  Producer of Steve Green, Sandi Patty and countless others and co-writer of “People Need the Lord,” Greg was in the back row making what others might see as an insignificant contribution to a significant night.  But not to my friend Greg…he was happy just to be a part.

May it be so for all of us as we go and grow in our ministry of music and worship.

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