My high school friends and I only knew a handful of chords and we’d never heard of liturgy or creating worship flow, but we believed that God could use our guitars, amps and drums in church to make a joyful noise for His glory. This was the late 1970s, and church music had been ruled for centuries by pianos and organs. But a new day was dawning. We had faith in music and in our generation, and, most importantly, in God. Our conviction was strong enough to overcome whatever stood in the way, and what stood in our way was the Woneggers and the Blacks, two families who, literally and figuratively, built our local church.
These pillars of the church weren’t going to stand for long-haired upstarts messing up their hymns. The Doxology was plenty good enough for King James, they reasoned, and he wrote the Bible! They held to the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” worship philosophy. The problem was, my generation knew it WAS broke, and we were convinced that a dose of fresh music, full of passion and celebration, was the fix. In the months leading up to this time, the electric guitar had broken through in youth groups, but we wanted to bring the energy to the main service.
So when John Black stormed out of the service as our drummer started the first song, we stood firm. John saw the drums on stage well before church began, but he made his grand exit during the service, right down the center aisle under the stained glass cross, so that no one could miss his pious statement. We stuck to our guns when Will Wonegger yelled after sound check, “That noise is 10 decibels too loud!” He was a lot more scientific than the critics who just plugged their ears when we played.
If you’re a modern worship musician, you might owe my generation a debt of gratitude. Our songs were the worship equivalent of early kite crashes, zeppelin disasters, and bi-plane hops that opened new horizons of flight. And to today, you're soaring in a wide open sky. You’re welcome.
On a hot Sunday night in 1978, my friends and I performed Stairway to Heaven as the offertory in our little Nazarene Church. We covered the song with just electric guitars, bass and drums until our singer did his best Robert Plant, delivering song’s closing line like a boss: “And she’s buying a Stairway… to Heaven.” I'm not sure if I was wearing my gold spray-painted converse or my red hand-dyed hi-tops that night.
If you are on a worship team today, I owe you an apology. In our rush to bring relevant music into church, we trampled over generations and traditions that came before. We didn’t consider what they thought of our fuzzed-out riffs and we didn’t give much thought to theology or lyrical content. We were just stoked that God might use music that wasn’t played by an organist in a purple dress.
My generation fueled a lot of resentment and our arrogance was even louder than our Fender tube amps. We set precedents that damaged the movement of modern worship before it even had a name, (let alone CDs, radio stations and a whole industry). We hoped that a worship revolution was coming, but in a lot of churches, we just added ammunition to what became a divisive musical civil war. I’m sorry.
It took me a lot of years to grow to understand that the worship God seeks is more about humility and heart than it is about whether you make music on a pipe organ or a Telecaster.