The 2015 edition of the WinterJam Tour rolled thru Columbus, Ohio a couple days ago now and I have to admit, I was not really prepared for what I was in for and God used it to really challenge and change me for the better.
Some back story first...
I've been to hundreds of concerts, most of them Christian concerts, dozens of multi-artist festivals including not only attending but also vending at many of the United States' largest Christian Music festivals. Most of today's hottest groups like Skillet, Third Day, Newsboys, TobyMac, etc I have seen several dozen times.
In the last few years I had stopped attending most concerts and to understand why I need to explain that I had really lost my overall confidence in the entire CCM/Christian Rock culture and industry. In some ways I feel like I was just too close to it all. My involvement was almost always financial in nature. I was making money, but at the same time I was also making someone else money by doing so. The more popular a given artist gets, the more money they book for putting the more successful modern artists well out of range for the small and medium sized promoters, many of whom are Pastors or leaders in their local churches and promote on the side so they don't have big budgets to work with.
A trend that started decades ago was the buying up of Christian owned and operated record labels by the larger secular music industry. This of course was ultimately all about money and while I am as pro free market capitalist as the next conservative Christian, it's not always in everyone's best interest to just let people blindly follow the money. That trend always bothered me and a touch more back story now.. and yes, I'm trying to stay brief here...
When CCM first began in the very late 60s, it was called "Jesus Music" and it was literally a very organic thing as singers and songwriters were so changed by the Holy Spirit, they changed their entire life's direction. That naturally included the songs being sang and written. Music was produced and duplicated for the main purpose of sharing the gospel with others, making money at it was very rare and in fact, most early Jesus music artists traveled in their own used cars paying their own way from place to place often losing money but they continued on because of their deep love and passion for Jesus and getting the gospel out to others.
As we left the 80s behind, Jesus Music was a thing of the past and had given way to the blossoming industry known as CCM (Contemporaneity Christian Music). Many artists noticed trends within CCM that were farther and farther away from it;s once humble roots and spoke up about it. Some left CCM entirely while others lifted up prophetic warnings about going too far. Ultimately as we got into the 2000s, most CCM music (not all, but most) carried a very watered down message and generally speaking was focused almost entirely upon talent with little regard to what (or who) was truly anointed. Additionally, all of the concerts I saw were mainly song after song with generic crowd interaction and just no actual ministry to speak of outside of an occasional worship song for 5 minutes and then it was back to business as usual.
As we got past 2010, the industry was almost identical to the secular music industry and while some stronger lyrical content had began to return, the overall industry was really still missing the larger point, that being our entire goal is supposed to be about ministry. ..and to be clear, of course there were some artists out there with pure hearts trying their best before God... but I'm talking about the industry itself that no longer had any room for anointed people with a burning heart to sing about Jesus unless they were able to be marketed and "sold" to the public. Tickets, CD and t-shirt prices rose accordingly of course.
Coming into this last weekend I had simply disconnected personally from it all. I just stayed connected enough to keep an eye on new releases to add to our CCM station, The Healing Light but aside from that, I completely unplugged from the industry feeling like it was just overrun by a secular system.
Last year I was given free tickets to go see "The Story", a Max Lucado production that featured CCM artists and for the first time in many years I sensed the presence of God at a CCM production. Then came WinterJam last night. WinterJam is 10 bands over roughly 5 hours. It's wall to wall artists and I was pleasantly surprised at the overall climate and atmosphere. Don't get me wrong, much of it is still and will likely always be about money.. and I really don't mind that because it takes a ton of cash to produce a show like that... but I heard artists sharing about Jesus by name. I heard encouragement to the weary body of believers that had gathered. I even heard a few prophetic words come forth (although they weren't labeled officially as such, but the artists giving them clearly knew they were).
The lyrical content of many songs, (not just a few) was refreshingly ..well... Christian. Not so many religious "He, Him, God, etc.. but lost more Jesus, Father, Power of the Cross, Living Word, etc. The cherry on the sundae for me was John Cooper of Skillet sharing about how so many big guns in the industry tell him constantly to water down his preaching and Jesus message so Skillet can have a chance at being one of the most successful bands in the world. He was very clear with us that was not in the cards and he was not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ fro it is the power of God to everyone who believes. Jeremy Camp gets an honorable mention as I've seen him many times but he actually took a few minutes and taught briefly on Grace reminding folks god is not mad at them.
Many other moments, too many to share here, really encouraged me but one last one... I asked several of the opening acts for complementary product for our radio stations and they all agreed. Now, that may not sound like a big thing to you, bt trust me when i tell you that in the CCM industry, all product is inventoried and accounted for and as a rule, nothing is EVER given away... so even though it was just a few CDs, it was yet another small sign that perhaps things are moving in a better direction.
While all of that was going on, God was dealing with me privately on some matters in my own heart that had nothing to do with CCM at all. I may share some of that in a later blog, but for time and space's sake, the summery is I left changed and changed for the better. I am refreshed in my walk with Jesus, encouraged by the behavior of the body at large and optimistic once again about an industry that had once fallen and almost completely lost its way but appears to be finding some fresh footing.
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