Why Every Nation Music?
How It Started, Where It’s Headed, and Why It’s So Important
by STEVE MURRELL — In the months since our 2013 Every Nation GO conference in Orlando, my two top priorities have been 1) continuing to strengthen Every Nation Campus Ministries and 2) launching Every Nation Music. The first priority is a no-brainer — we will always work to improve our effectiveness on the university campuses. But Every Nation Music as a top priority? That might need some explanation.
At an Every Nation North American Leadership Team gathering three years ago, Russ Austin (then North American Regional Director) began to make the case for an expression of music unique to our movement. Kevin York, Executive Director of Every Nation Churches, and I were equally convinced — this was definitely NOT something we wanted to pursue. Way too much time, energy, and expense required.
But then Russ’s proposal began to make more sense. Russ had pointed to a well-known phenomena about music and popular culture:
“People connect a particular song or style of music with memorable moments in their lives. It could the number one song on the chart from their freshman year in college, music from the 90s, or a sad country song they heard just after breaking up with someone. It could also be worship music from the moment they had an extraordinary experience with God. Connecting that experience with the words and sound of a particular song or style of music revives the memory and meaning of those moments.”
SUSTAINING MOVEMENTS Music has always been associated with movements. Not satisfied with simply a “Top-Ten” list, Martin Luther (1483-1546) nailed his top Ninety-five complaints and theological propositions to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany. It was that posting in 1517 that went viral and became the Protestant Reformation. Very few protestant church members have actually read Luther’s Ninety-five Theses, but millions still sing A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. Many people know all the verses by heart.
Most of the music from Luther’s period is out of style for contemporary worship. However, the music and message of some Reformation era hymns are so powerful, they’ve transcended a dozen generations of worshippers. Songs like A Mighty Fortress Is Our God just won’t go away, and in fact, they’re being updated and adapted for today’s contemporary worship services.
Most Christians know that the Protestant Reformation gained its momentum through the preaching and writings of theologians like Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, and many others. What most don’t know, however, is that many of the reformers were also songwriters. Their songs sustained the idea of the Reformation as much as their writings and sermons and those of their successors.
These great figures of the English Awakening were more than just preachers; many were also prolific songwriters.
Think about the sustainability of Christianity’s greatest movements, those that have lasted for multiple generations. The English Awakening of the seventeenth century produced some of Christian history’s greatest preachers. Both the great John Wesley (1703-1791) and his brother Charles (1707-1788) became fantastically effective open-air preachers. However, these great figures of the Awakening were more than just preachers; many were also prolific songwriters.
— John Wesley wrote approximately 800 songs.
— Charles Wesley wrote 8,989, averaging ten lines of lyrics every day for over fifty years. His hymnOh for a Thousand Tongues to Sing is one of my favorites.
— The great revivalist George Whitefield (1714–1770) wrote an entire collection of songs that “converted” tunes from bars, plays, and folk songs into worship music by simply substituting in powerful Christian lyrics.
— Jonathan Edwards is known as the father of the First Great Awakening in America. Edwards and songwriter, Isaac Watts (Alas and Did My Savior Bleed and When I Survey the Wondrous Cross), were on the forefront of efforts to introduce contemporary music into Puritan worship. Up until then, lyrics were exclusively from the Psalms, music was typically awful, and three-part harmony was considered scandalous.
— The Second Great Awakening in nineteenth-century America was characterized and perpetuated by the music of camp-meeting revivals.
— One hundred years ago, Salvation Army was known more for its street bands than for the preaching of William Booth.
—Billy Graham crusades are known by the music of George Beverly Shea and Ethel Waters.
More recently, the Vineyard Movement is known much more for its music than its preachers. But perhaps the best contemporary example is Brian Houston, pastor of Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia. Brian’s message is distributed all over the world by Hillsong Music.
TRANSMITTER OF VISION AND THEOLOGY Christians pick up some bad ideas from catchy worship tunes with lyrics that are either painfully superficial or just theologically off the tracks. On the other hand, music that captures the message and the spirit of a movement has a way of deepening and perpetuating that movement. We need to learn the lessons of history. Without a corresponding music component, our message will not have the legs to carry it around the world and forward into succeeding generations.
Steve Murrell is the cofounder and President of Every Nation Ministries.