- The contagious ministry of Promise Keepers changed worship styles and formats in our country. The lessons to be learned from that experience are profound.
Is it possible that one song could radically change the worship style of the entire country? “The Promise Keepers Roller Coaster” chronicles how – and why – that actually occurred. This book reveals details on the men’s ministry movement that took America by storm in the 1990s. However, to understand the Promise Keepers influence on today’s worship music, the back story is important.
The Back Story
Buddy Owens was born into a musical family, and as a young adult was drawn to work with Maranatha! Music. That California company had its roots in the “Jesus People” movement during the hippie days of the 1960s. Pastor Chuck Smith had developed an unusual ministry within that rebellious culture of young adults at that time, and his Calvary Chapel churches needed a more edgy and relevant style of worship music to connect to that audience that wanted to change everything in the world. Music groups like “Love Song” quickly gained national attention, and thus a very contemporary style of Praise and Worship choruses spread across the country, produced and performed by the Maranatha musicians.
The Promise Keepers ministry model was to fill entire football stadiums with men for a weekend of testosterone-driven instruction, singing, and cheering. In the fall of 1992, Promise Keepers was already beginning to make preliminary plans for another men’s event in Boulder the following summer. The chosen conference theme would be ‘FACE TO FACE’, encompassing messages surrounding a vertical and deeper relationship with God as well as a horizontal and closer connection with other men. PK approached four different Christian music companies, asking for competitive bids on producing and performing the worship music that would be selected for the coming year.
Maranatha! Music was one of the four invitees, and Buddy took a particular interest in the potential of this opportunity. He noticed the Request-for-Proposal included details for the next year’s conference event, in which Promise Keepers intended to hand out a free T-shirt to every attendee, with the printed caption on the front saying “FACE TO FACE”, and on the back, the caption would read “BACK TO BACK.” It would give each man a continued reminder and reinforcement of the spiritual encouragement they had heard while at the stadium gathering.
Buddy was captivated by the masculine tone of the theme “Face to Face.” Something stirred in his heart that this theme could actually be at the core of a new song written with those specific words in mind. He kept imagining various masculine roles for men as they encouraged and supported each other, such as teammates, soldiers, co-workers, warriors, etc. and what that might look like in the context of a spiritual playing field. While stuck in an L.A. traffic jam one morning, it was as if divine inspiration turned on the creative light-switch for Buddy. Words and phrases started swirling in his head. As traffic inched along, Buddy found a pen and paper and frantically scribbled some lyrics, which included the following:
Face to face, brother to brother
Face to face, one man to another
Growing together we’re building the kingdom of God.
Man to man, shoulder to shoulder
Man to man, serving each other
Working together we’re building the kingdom of God.
(cho.) Brother to brother we’ll strengthen each other
And stand for the truth side by side.
Brother to brother we’ll honor each other
As men of the kingdom on high.
Brother to brother, warrior to warrior, Brother to brother, defending each other
Standing together we’re building the kingdom of God.
Face to face, shoulder to shoulder
Back to back, younger and older
Standing together we’re building the kingdom of God.
As soon as Buddy arrived at his office, he grabbed a couple of his co-workers and tried to transmit his enthusiasm. He asked them to come up with a simple melody for these words, and to find the needed musicians to make a rough recording in their studio within the next 48 hours. They had to meet their deadline for a presentation to the Promise Keeper management team in Denver by the end of the week.
Late that Friday afternoon, Buddy and the other Maranatha! Music team members arrived at the Promise Keepers conference room for their presentation. They were the last of the four companies to make their pitch, and it was apparent by the glazed eye-balls in the room that the PK management team was already exhausted and just wanting to go home. While his associates handed out the individual packets of information regarding their proposal, Buddy popped the newly-produced cassette into a portable tape player and cranked up the volume. Without saying any other words, they let their new song “Face to Face” fill the room.
The Transformational Power of Music
The transformation of energy around the table was immediate. No one on the Promise Keepers staff had been expecting such a tailored song that directly encompassed the conference theme. Boredom was replaced with instant excitement. The masculine context was perfect for the conference audience that would hear it. Buddy then suggested that PK consider giving every conference registrant a customized music cassette that would contain this new song as well as a dozen other songs to be sung at the conference that weekend. In so doing, every man would be familiar with all of the songs before they arrived at the conference, and be more likely to sing along.
The logic was brilliant. The benefits of this specially crafted song were overwhelming. As a result, before that afternoon was over, Maranatha! Music was given the contract to provide and produce all of the worship music for the coming 1993 Promise Keeper event in Boulder, and ultimately in the years that followed. Over the next 11 years, Maranatha! Music worship teams created and led the music at every PK Conference across the U.S. This encompassed more than 70 football stadium events, averaging more than 50,000 attendees per conference. And the pinnacle of those gatherings was a single event in Washington, D.C. in 1997 attended by 1.4 million men.
Worship VS Performance
This national platform that was given to Maranatha! Music was used strategically in several ways. The Maranatha musicians understood the difference between collective WORSHIP and mere PERFORMANCE of music. Each of the traveling worship bands was “content driven” rather than “personality driven.” The musical process which was carefully chosen within this method was to “use old friends to introduce new friends”, i.e. they intentionally blended familiar old hymns with current worship music. The sequence of songs was intentionally orchestrated to incorporate avid praise and adoration to God as a beginning point on Friday evening. By contract, the Saturday morning program began with somber humility and reverence. Song lyrics often had a masculine theme that was energizing to men. The volume and tempo stood in stark contrast to standard church music. It was brash. It was loud. It was bold. And the men loved it.
The PK conference experience taught men that it was OK to sing. Many of the conference attendees didn’t go to church, and many of those that did go to church were not inclined to sing when they got there. But being in the stadium experience freed up men to at least try. In many cases they were fulfilling the Biblical instruction “to make a joyful NOISE to the Lord.” It may have been more noise than music, but the men relished it none the less.
The Maranatha worship leaders were thoroughly coached on incorporating Scripture and prayer in a timely manner between songs so that the outcome was a Spirit-filled time of authentic worship, not just an optional sing-along to serve as a segue between speakers. And lastly, they made certain to pitch every song in a key that men could sing easily. (Maranatha felt too many church songs in the past seemed to be tailored to sopranos only)
The net result was that men at the Promise Keeper conferences were singing with an energy level they had never experienced before. As part of the teaching content that was available at these PK stadium events, Maranatha team members also provided a free breakout session on teaching effective congregational worship to interested church leaders. That seminar stressed the importance of understanding the full spectrum of worship beyond music, so as to create and lead a heart-felt response from the congregation to the glory of God, not merely striving to perform excellent music to an appreciative listening audience.
Millions of Men
The entirety of the Promise Keepers movement energized millions of men in their personal zeal toward God. Their historic ministry also encouraged thousands of pastors toward a re-commitment to serve as a shepherd of a local congregation. And in so doing, PK stadium conferences motivated tens of thousands of church leaders to incorporate a new and more contemporary format for their worship services. That was the greatest legacy of Maranatha! Music in their supporting role at those PK events. In playing their blended and contemporary style of hymns, choruses, and praise songs in front of more than 8,000,000 men, at least two significant results took place. Yes, Maranatha! Music sold a lot of cassette tapes and sheet music for some of their favorite musical arrangements. And yes, they broadened their product line with more and more tools to enhance Christian music and worship. But more importantly, it was this example of Maranatha! Music that influenced a major shift in the style and format for worship music throughout the American church.
Pastors and church leaders that attended those many conferences returned home with a new fervor for more relevant worship in their respective churches. This was true within mainline Protestant congregations, evangelicals, and Pentecostal services alike. But their erroneous assumption was that by simply replicating the appearance of a Maranatha worship band, they would transport that same PK worship experience into their church congregations. The expectation was that a few guitar players, keyboard, and drums to accompany several vocalists in singing more contemporary praise songs could easily re-create the heart of worship that had taken place in the stadium. From city churches in major metropolitan areas to rural congregations across the plains of the mid-west, piano and organ accompaniment was quickly replaced with keyboard synthesizers, guitars, and drums. Many churches also replaced their Hymnal with Praise and Worship songbooks. Those congregations that did retain some mix of hymns felt the need to change the tempo or the musical arrangement to be more contemporary. And instead of one person leading the worship music from behind a pulpit, suddenly there was a stage full of instrumentalists and vocalists to create a full worship band.
Ultimately this outcome was a seismic transformation in worship style in America that continues today. It could have happened over time anyway, because freedom in America means that CHANGE is constantly taking place. Every sector of our society is evolving, including the church. Change is a given in our country, and change is constant. But in this case Promise Keepers exploded that rate of change, and it was the Maranatha! Music teams that happened to be in the right place at the right time to be a significant part of it. The format for corporate worship in the American church was radically altered in a relatively short time, all because of the creative set of lyrics that came to Buddy’s mind while he was stuck in traffic.
Excerpts with permission from “THE PROMISE KEEPERS ROLLER COASTER: Learning from Historic Successes and Monumental Failures,” by Daniel F. Hauser. Following his 8 years working at Promise Keepers, the author was a pastor and worship leader for 16 years before recently retiring.
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