Rituals are everywhere. They are found in the mundane as well as the formal. From the ritual of waking up and making coffee to the way we celebrate a birth or mourn those who have passed. Beyond that, our worship services are rich with ritual. There is a time for the welcome and a time for the doughnuts. There is a time for a rock ’n’ roll band to take the stage and a time for the video announcements. A time for the pipe organ to play the Sanctus and a time for the passing of the peace. The question every leader struggles with is “when is it time to change?” When is it time to build something new, and when to build by tearing down a practice that no longer reflects the values of your community? The David Crowder*Band dealt with just this issue during the past year. We were fortunate enough to sit with David Crowder as he and his band were on the final leg of their final tour and on the cusp of a new direction—a new song. The topic of conversation? The past. And when is it time to make changes to our rituals.
The news that David Crowder*Band was releasing their final CD was a bit of a surprise to many followers. But what isn’t a surprise is the breadth and scope of their final offering: a double CD with over 90 minutes of music, it’s massive, and it’s a ritual of worship. But not just any ritual, DC*B created a Mass—a requiem to be more precise. For those rusty on the early church’s Mass nomenclature, a requiem is the celebration for the repose of the soul. Their final offering is a funeral CD. How appropriate. Of course it’s “In the happiest of keys.” The David Crowder*Band has never shied from the past. Their first CD had a classic hymn cover, before that was a hip thing to do. Throughout the years they’ve busted out Bluegrass, “Church Music,” keytars, and now a Mass. The question becomes, is this a reaction to the current state of contemporary worship where there seems to be a lack of regard for church history? Not exactly.
“It’s more a lack of complexity,” explains Crowder. “What’s majestic and beautiful about a lot of the older liturgy that we’ve maybe misplaced is that that it feels transcendent. Many times the liturgy was like a journey. You couldn’t just pop in for half the service and get everything. You know, you can pop in a lot of contemporary services and not be very confused by any of it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but, it’s like the show Lost. The reason that show was so attractive was because there was an exploration that it demanded of you. You couldn’t understand everything that was really happening. I think there’s something very attractive about worship where everything is hinging on mystery, and it’s a difficult thing to put your head around. It’s more complex.”
It’s clear that Crowder isn’t alone in this view; the next generation of worshipers (who will also become the next generation of leaders) is far more interested in the past than many worship settings allow. “There are so many college students that are attached to what we’re doing,” says Crowder. “And the thing I love about where they are in life is that they want desperately to live for something bigger than themselves. Of course, that’s not new to our theology and our theological approach to life, but it is something that’s been a huge social trend. It’s even a buzz amongst corporations; in their need to market to this younger generation they have to somehow present a product that’s bigger than just consumption.
“And the younger generation is finding that this present moment is not sufficient enough. That we need something that’s bigger than just ‘the present.’ And we need words that say something that’s bigger than the present. But we cant’ look into the future, so we look backwards and pull from what has already been said. In doing so we also realize that we’re not alone in this present moment, but in fact our history is with us.”
Back to the Vulgate?
Yet Crowder admits, some of that mystery also came from the services being presented in a language other than what the people were speaking. Martin Luther felt strongly about this issue (obviously not in favor of it), as do many people of faith today. There is a time to discover which worship practices are becoming idols in and of themselves. And, this is a contemporary issue as much as a traditional one. It’s not just a question of when should we trade the organ for a guitar it’s also have our projected motion visualscapes covering the entire back wall of the sanctuary become a distraction?
“For us it’s always been we want whatever we’re doing to be an authentic extension of what we are about,” says Crowder. “So if, as musicians and humans, we are exploring different ideas and sounds, it should come out in how we lead. It’s authentically part of who we are. But if the motive is ‘we want to be cutting edge,’ it feels contrived. It works when it’s an extension of who we are, and we can’t help but explore how to move people through this or that media. There is a very significant shift that happens with a change of motivation, and the results between the two are almost polar opposites of each other.
“So I think that’s why a lot of times you go into a setting and the creativity feels very contrived. And there are other moments where you go in and it honestly moves you. I really feel like there’s an authenticity there that is all based on motive. But on the other side, I also feel like there’s an equal falseness to just tear rituals down because we feel guilty for having them there. The key is not to build or tear down media, but to find humans that are part of our community that God has gifted in unique ways and allow them to express their giftings in a visible way to move us as a community. If that is happening, you don’t have to worry about the falseness.”
As worship leaders, as pastors, as people who simply live in this world, it is important to examine if our hearts are truly passionate about our mediums of displaying Christ or if we are simply drawing lines between numbered dots because that is what we have done for so long. As Crowder says, it’s a matter of authenticity. And where the David Crowder*Band is concerned, this question recently became more poignant, and it began the process of tearing down the ritual of David Crowder*Band.
“We have always had a bizarrely long term vision in terms of our six records,” shares Crowder. “But we could never see past record six. And we would talk and talk about it wondering what could be next. But as we were about to start this last record, we decided that we really needed to sit and think and pray and talk to the people around us and figure out if we are going to continue doing this just because it works. Or if we should be open to something new. After some time, everybody came back and there was a real cohesion and sense among all of us: ‘Yeah, this is it. This is the end. And it is painful.’
“But as scary as it sounded, we knew we were going to have another chapter coming. We have talked about the band as a sentence, and now, we are at the end of the sentence. It’s time to put a period on it. But after the full stop, it will be time to write a new sentence. And I hope the best sentence is yet to be written.”
“Now we realize that there’s almost a multiplication in what we are able to do,” continues Crowder. “All the guys want to keep making music and have even already started working on stuff. That part is really exciting. And for myself, I’ll continue to live the way I’m wired. And I feel like I’m wired to help figure out ways to serve the Church musically.”
Of course of all our rituals, one of the most complex is understanding that there is a time to say hello, and a time to say goodbye. The David Crowder*Band has chosen their final record, Give Us Rest (A Requiem Mass in C [The Happiest of All Keys]), to represent their goodbye, “And it’s all centered around the Eucharist,” finishes Crowder. “And so we thought, man, this is a great place to finish things up—to just come back around this. I guess the period at the end of the sentence would be Christ and his sacrifice, and his in-dwelling.”
That sounds about right for a faithful band of worship leaders who have continually moved forward in creativity while relentlessly keeping the focus on Christ and his victory. Maybe we should call it an exclamation point.