1.The contemporary debate

It has been interesting scouring the internet for debate about Christians involved in professional music is the narrowness of conversation. Largely I found people in the US debating which bands could be labelled ‘Christian’. Criteria seems to largely involve lyrics being positive and reference to God being made in songs. One article on the ‘evangelical society’ website berated the Christian band ‘Chevelle’ for playing at ‘Ozzyfest’ a few years ago alongside the likes of Marilyn Manson, and for their lyrics becoming less explicitly about God. The writer felt that their dark lyrics do not present a Christian perspective; “Dealing with pain is a common theme of secular music, and hardly represents the Christian life well.” I wrote to the author querying why he felt it didn’t represent the Christian life well, suggesting that in fact for many Christians life might be full of pain.
However I found no debate about how Christians who are in bands with non-Christians should witness, still less how Christian community should show itself on tour. The focus of mission seemed to be largely from band towards audience with little or no words given to how to witness to the crew or other bands. In fact the afore mentioned article found it incredible that Chevelle should be seen hanging out with Marilyn Manson, noting that Christians will be known by the company they keep. I also made the point to the author that Jesus was known by the company he kept, and was thus known as a glutton and a drunkard.

I want to try and start a conversation about how Christians can tour with bands and be a credible witness as a community in such circumstances and to all those involved in the music industry.

2.Need and commitment

There is a massive need for mission among those involved in the music community, especially if our commitment is to ‘mission through community’. There are many non-Christians who are out ‘on the road’ touring, in different venues each night, different cities or even different countries. They may be sound engineers, light technicians, roadies, PR, road/travel crew, tour managers or support bands. If they spend months away from their home city, which Christian community is going to be regularly and consistently witnessing to them? A static community is going to struggle to do that if these people are away so much.
However, as I have mentioned already our commitment is to mission through community. ‘Mission through community’ is the approach to reaching those who don’t know Jesus by not only speaking the gospel message but clearly living the gospel message as a community in front of those who don’t know Jesus. This is because it is our belief that it is as the church lives the life of a community that forgives each other just as Jesus forgave them, that loves and cares for each other, that lives lives of sacrifice towards each other that the gospel of Jesus dying for his people, loving and caring for them, sacrificing himself for them in humility is displayed to the watching world (Ephesians 3:10). This is the evidence to the world that the good news is true, that God is rescuing and transforming a people for himself. This makes sense of our words. This display of the gospel cannot be done effectively on our own, hence the commitment to mission through community. This is a day to day activity where people are living in and out of each others lives, around each other when they’re tired and grouchy, the times when you need to forgive each other and show grace. A run-of-the-mill community with all the aches and pains, joys and happiness of life, shared and put into a gospel context. A normal life that is markedly different and distinct from those around.
So we have a community (or multiple communities under the banner of ‘music’) that need reaching with the gospel, and a commitment to mission through community which means a commitment to exposing this music community to that community of light. The question is how to expose one to the other.

3.Test case

The difficulty with addressing this question is that there are many variables. For instance many musicians play with lots of different bands and so may tour with one band for a month or so, but then play with other bands at one off gigs (this is especially the case for Jazz musicians). Also you may have a different crew at each gig, or for each tour. Due to these variables we’re going to try and limit ourselves to a (semi) fictitious test case.
Imagine a band of 6 people called ‘Doc Brown’. There’s four Christians and two non-Christians in the band and the possibility of a tour of two months around the UK has arisen.

The first thing that I think is key is that the four Christian members of Doc Brown are already part of a church that is committed to mission through community. If they are not already doing it in a more stable and static environment then they are going to struggle to do it on the road where the Christian community is going to be smaller, more unstable and perhaps more intense.
Being members of such a community means that the community can work through together what it might mean for these people to go on tour. The Band should not decide that they are going to head off and announce it to everyone else. There should be a commitment to working it through as a community as they are under the leadership of the elders and have a primary commitment to those in their church family. To just leave would be ungodly as it was not showing care and consideration for the others in the family.

However with this commitment they can constructively work through what it might look like for them to go on tour. If the community is behind the initiative then they can ‘send’ the band, much as they would anyone into a ‘mission field’. They need to talk about what might be the pitfalls and dangers. It would be worth thinking through who the people were that they were trying to reach, what were the particular idols that people in this ‘community’ worshipped so that a) they could avoid the temptation of those idols and b) so that they could effectively address those idols with the gospel. For instance particular idols may be the praise and adoration of fans, financial success or record sale success. They could talk about effective ways to expose these idols when they came up in conversation, perhaps asking questions of people like ‘will that really satisfy?’ or ‘What happens if you don’t get x?’ They could work through how to tell the alternative story of the gospel that shows us where our worship should truly lie and reveals the way we can be part of God’s people.

This conversation may also lead to discussion about how the band should act when conflicts arose, perhaps between members (classic artistic differences!) or perhaps with venue managers when there are issues over pay, or provision of equipment. What happens when a venue manager goes back on his word? What happens when the equipment is shoddy, or crew turn up late, or the advertising wasn’t done properly? What happens when the non-Christian members of the band complain about something and it is your responsibility to help deal with the situation? How do you show grace to all parties, sticking up for people, but also being forgiving? Talking through this will also show the church how they can be praying for the community that the band are trying to reach, and also how to encourage the band in their witness.
The church can work through what might be the dangers for the band members, what their particular struggles are. The church can take responsibility for continued accountability, especially as communication is so accessible, even on tour.

There is an important question of oversight for this tour. Do the band remain as part of the church from which they are sent or do they form a church themselves? I think the answer will depend on whether there are elders in the band who can oversee them as a church. If there aren’t then the Christian band members should remain under the oversight of the elders of their church, remaining accountable to them and being supported in mission by them. However if there are elders in the band then this could raise the interesting question of whether they could be viewed as a church. How many people do you need to make it a ‘church’? Is four people, two of whom are elders, sufficient? It just so happens that Doc Brown is made up of one elder, one trainee elder and two other members of the church!

One of the dangers of this venture, and indeed life in general, is that a good time is had but no mission really goes on. There is a great need for ‘intentionality’ if this is going to effectively reach this music community. The Christians need to be intentionally living out the gospel and communicating it to those they are working with. One of the dangers is that the band keeps largely to itself, and the crew to themselves. There is also a danger that a lot of time is spent doing the work, especially if it is more one off gigs, and then people just go home. Time needs to be made to spend with the crew, eating together and sharing life together. Perhaps if they are more one off gigs where you are not all travelling together, the band and crew need to make sure they get to the venue in good time so they can set up, sound check etc and then eat together. Another way of making sure that relationships are built is by using the same crew for each tour, even if it means extra cost to do so (though this will need to be weighed as the non-Christian members of the band won’t have the same commitment).

A further issue could be how the band will be taught God’s word during the tour. However if we have a commitment to good Bible teaching and learning rather than pulpit preaching this is not a particularly big issue. Indeed if you have elders in the band then this is not a problem at all as they will be able to teach, since that is a requirement of an elder. They can make sure the Bible is being taught and spoken about among the band, as they teach each other. However if there is not an elder, perhaps there is someone who can still take responsibility for making sure that the Bible is being discussed. The elders from their church could send them material to work through, even the talk they gave to their church and discussion questions, and the Christian members could set aside time to go through it. This prioritising of the Bible could be a great witness, and also an opportunity for non-Christian members to join in as it will probably be quite informal.

The way the band conduct themselves in business will be of huge significance. There are many people who work very hard behind the scenes of the music industry and get little or no credit, especially sound technicians. If the sound is good, the band get the praise. If the sound is bad the technician gets blamed! The way the Christians respond to the ‘little people’, showing appreciation for them and encouraging them in their work will be very important.
On the other side there are people who try to rip people off. This can often be venue managers as they try to get something for nothing. At times it can be necessary business, at others it is simply profiteering. The Christians can stand out as they speak up for those who are being hard done by in this, and yet still show grace to those at fault by not gossiping about them, by being objective and understanding, whilst also firmly encouraging good business practice for the sake of others.

4.Conclusion

When I was approaching this topic I thought I had a problem. I could not see how Christians could effectively do community on the road. However having thought it through it appears that it is not only possible, but in fact seems a wonderful, if not compelling opportunity. There is a whole bunch of people who could be reached much more effectively by going on the road because they are already on the road. It is clear that you do need to do this as a community, from a church base, thinking through carefully the dangers and keeping good accountability. However these seem only to be things to work through rather than barriers to doing it.

I find it disturbing that the bulk of discussion in this area has focussed on band-to-audience in terms of mission. There seems a lot more that Christians can be doing to reach quite a number of people who are possibly largely unreached. Is there a band that can do this…?
Some things we talked about at the discussion of this paper was what about a lone Christian who’s an actor. The problem with acting is that it’s harder to deliberately get work with other Christians from your church. So how can the church do community on the road in this situation? One thing we did say is the church needs to think hard together how they can do this. On way they could do this is to find churches where person is touring for support on the road, encouraging them to engage actively in mission as a community with the actor. The other thing people could do is to take holiday where the tour is happening (with acting they are likely to be in one place for a while) and to make sure they spend time with the actor and his collegues. It’s possible, but there needs to be creative thinking with commitment to mission through community.

Useful test to see if there is that commitment to mission through community – if we decided you can’t do the work in this place because of the lack of community how would you react? It may reveal idols. The problem is if you do have this idol then you probably won’t be good witness anyway!

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