I cut my Lutheran rock teeth on the anthems of great Lutheran song writers (Jay Beach, John Ylvisaker, Lost & Found, Peder Eide and Ray Makeever) while at summer camp and national youth conventions.
As an adult, I have had the pleasure of singing the songs of great Lutheran rockers who are approximately my age (Jonathan Rundman, Nate Houge, Kent Gustavson, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan, David Scherer, and Rachel Kurtz).
These are great musicians. They have added to the rich musical heritage of the Lutheran tradition. They write beautiful music that is also faithful to the liturgical and theological sensibilities of our church.
So here's the question.
Where are the up and coming artists?
When I watch for new music written by Lutheran rockers, it's always still stuff coming out of the artists I mentioned above. And I like it, don't get me wrong.
I just don't know where the 20-somethings are. I assume they are around, but they aren't putting out albums, they're not playing at our youth gatherings and synodical events. Maybe there are secret societies of 20-something Lutheran rockers I'm not privy to, printing tapes and LPs in a neo-hip disconnected media modality.
Or maybe I live in some weird silo. I'd be happy to be proven wrong.
But I wonder, is this the canary in the mine shaft? No artists means no church. Dave Ferguson in his book Exponential says,
"If you asked me to give you the absolute essentials for spreading a missional movement of reproducing churches, I would narrow it down to two things:
1. Reproduce more and better leaders.
2. Reproduce more and better artists."
Ferguson poaches an idea from Richard Florida's important research on The Rise of the Creative Class, that there is a direct correlation between the size and concentration of the creative class and the vitality of the community.
How do you attract creatives? They don't tend to look for the traditional markers when they move around, like sports stadiums, malls, etc. What they want, above all else, is the opportunity to validate their identities as creative people."
What musicians are we mentoring, equipping, freeing, and validating now?
If you know 20-something, or even teen musicians, who are working intentionally as Lutheran musicians crafting music for our churches, would you please tell me about them? If you don't, will you begin now to work for the kind of church that does encourage creatives?
What are the cultural keys that attract artists? (here are the ones Ferguson suggests)
1. Take risks: space to try stuff out, float balloons.
2. Develop relationships: open mics, recitals, networking.
3. Give artists a role: Ask them to share their gifts.
4. Plan to reproduce: mentor new artists.
5. Rock it out: In the words of Dewey Finn (played by Jack Black in School of Rock), "Dude, I service society by rocking, okay? I'm out there on the front lines liberating people with my music."
One final note: I've borrowed from Ferguson here because I think he gets the process of developing artists in Christian community spot on. We can learn from him. The part that is missing is the weird particularity of being Lutheran. There's something about the Lutheran artists I've listed above that makes them unique. They don't sound like Nashville. They may never play on Christian radio. And I love them for that.
So the other part here, are we developing in our artists that mysterious quality that helps them, in their own peculiar ways, to match the Lutheran voice to a suitable artistic medium. And are we inviting them to consider that quest as worthy, exciting, and life-giving?