Music at Mars Hill is a weekly column by Luke Larsen that seeks to find God amidst the newest trends in both mainstream music and independent music.
The Church has a long history of being divided by the music we use in our services. There’s no question about that.
Sometimes it’s stylistic, such as around the year 900 when church singers had controversially started embellishing unison chants with harmonizations and tropes. Other times it’s been more about social conventions and liturgical practices. Take the the Reformation, for example, when congregations began singing their songs all together rather than letting professional musicians do the music-making at church. The point is, debates about what kind of music we use in our church services are not a new thing and they are certainly not pointless diatribes.
With the Contemporary Christian Music industry standing on the verge of its own extinction, the future of church music has never been more uncertain and open-ended. Have all the divisive changes that churches have to make to modernize their services in attempts to stay relevant been for nothing? Few people have any trust or faith in the future of CCM. Who then will lead the direction of not only church music, but of Christian music as a whole?
Here in Portland, Oregon, one of the hippest neighborhoods of the one of the hippest cities in the country, is a church called Door of Hope. This small community-centered fellowship was founded by and led by a man named Josh White, who acts as both worship leader and senior pastor. Josh White doesn’t have your typical pastor background though, that’s for sure. He used to lead worship at a mega-church in suburbs of Portland, was the frontman of the successful Christian worship band Telecast, and was heavily involved in the mainstream music industry before that. So when I heard that Josh White was starting a church a few years ago, what music they were going to play for church was one of my primary curiosities about the community.
With this new church and a new music project he started called The Followers, Josh White began taking his music in a new direction. The culmination of that is an album called Wounded Healer, which was released for free on Bandcamp just last week. Calling itself “neo-gospel”, the album was put together by Josh White and the frontman from indie rock band Blitzen Trapper. The collaboration is particularly bizarre — the kind of thing that seems like a blatant attempt to be hip.
You probably thought I was going to present Wounded Healer as a shining beacon for the future of church music — a daring experiment that would push Christian music in a definitive direction. It definitely tries to be that — and in some ways it succeeds. The album takes its straightforward worship songs and soaks them in the sounds of gospel and 70s pop. It might sound like a strange combination, but on songs like “You Did Everything” and “Overwhelmed”, it really comes together in a unique way.
But ultimately it’s unclear what purpose Wounded Healer was made for. It’s tongue-in-cheek tone seems too silly for congregational worship, while the lyrics seem far too much like Christian worship cliches to be enjoyed by those outside the Church. It’s an example of Christian artists looking forward into the uncertain future of church music and responding with a creative, but somewhat contrived attempt to do something new.
Stream the entire album below: