There was this amazing articulating truss…filled with lights, and then on command, the motion controllers would change if from a horizontal beam of stage lights to this incredible beautiful cross. An amazing piece of art made of winches, super genie lifts, and a likely, nearly a literal ton of aluminum.
My friend Brent thought such was overkill city and a waste of God’s money. He thought the art, while incredible cool just didnt warrant the expense… and no doubt this was a spendy piece of stage gear. Then again, Brent was no fan of pipe organs either. He used to say, in 2000 years archeologists will dig up our cities and think we worshiped gods of pipes! They would find these buildings which appeared to be worship type facilities everywhere, and then inside would be this pipe god. Then again, Brent was more than a bit of a character.
I’ve often thought back to those days… two young idealists, how we saw what the church was, and how we thought it should be. Over the years, I’ve sort of changed my tune a bit. On the one hand, if its an issue of providing food, shelter, or clothing to the least of these, or spending money on art, I’ll always defer to the least of these.
Otoh, God granted amazing skills of art, design, music, graphics, drama, etc to His people, and for us to simple hide them away as they are deemed too expensive, and not worth pursuing for God’s purposes just doesnt seem right either. It would be a poor use of ones talents, to only utilize such in the realm of the secular. I often think of the wise men bringing expensive gifts to Jesus in very humble surroundings. I think of the expensive perfume that Mary brought to Jesus. Most certainly such was not seen as wasteful in their eyes, but rather a way of bringing glory to God.
As such, my current tune is along the lines… does it bring God glory, or does it detract and focus more on the artist. Ultimately, I guess thats become my default thinking on a lot of art type stewardship issues over the years, bearing in mind any immediate needs should come first.
The question then becomes… what happened to the big massive Christian productions? Where did the genie lifts, the pyro, the automation and such go? Its rare to see such displays of stage art anymore. Even in my day, our base overhead just for transport was $1000/day, throw in a equipment rental, plus upkeep, a couple semi’s, a large crew, and the dollar figures really skyrocket. The end result pretty much means, that apart from the logistics issues (ie if you fly your truss at 40 feet in the air, a small church is out of the question) but with a multithousand dollar overhead charge to cover every night, either A, you have a big underwriter to cover said costs, or B, your music and merch sales cover the cost, or C, ticket prices/donations cover the cost. Pretty much for B and C, the only way it works out ok is that the audience must be substantial. Being B has really crashed due to the massive changes in the music world (piracy, plus singles, rather than whole albums) C ends up being the predominant method of providing operating cash flow, and even that only works for huge names if one has a high overhead cost.
Beyond the stage art thing… even the costs of carrying a live band anymore are often prohibitive. In addition, a 1-5 man singing group can fit in a lot more places, then a full band, even if its just a drummer, bass, keyboard, and a couple guitarists. As a result, tracks tend to predominate among many… which I must admit, I generally find a turn off.
That was, until last night… I attended the youth mass (I know, at 45 I’m way too old, and no, it wasnt too loud) and after which was a concert put on by Christian Crossings, a local southeast MN band. It was super cool that the mass had just under ~100 or so folks, but not so cool that so many of the youngsters left after mass. They missed something amazing.
I’ve played large venues, and small ones, and the small ones by far are the hardest. Yes, it would be the same message of Christ, and yes, we were still gung ho for Jesus… but I must admit a certain lacking when crowds were under 50. Then again, I was a young guy back then.
Anyhow, these guys from Christian Crossings were amazing. They didnt have an articulating truss, nor lights, nor even a massive sound system. They didnt have a live band, nor massive choreography, nor a huge crowd, but they had the message of Jesus, they had the Holy Spirit, and while one not to get any too excited anymore, the atmosphere was electric. It was especially cool, that most of their songs were theologically on the mark, rather than the typical lame theology of so many contemporary tunes. They connected with the kids, the adults, and yep, even me, the old codger. In fact, I’d say I’d prefer that type of engagement even over the beautiful art of motion/light control of years gone by. Sure I miss the stage art of old… but if there is a choice of one or the other, I’d go with something like saturday, over the most massive shows of old.
Which brings me back to the stage art, the articulating truss, and stewardship. I dont think such has necessarily ended. Most certainly art very much belongs in the Christian community, as it has throughout the centuries. The question more so becomes, how best to approach stuff from a stewardship point of view. In a lot of ways, with todays materials and technologies, despite drastically lower operating budgets, stage art indeed may come back. I think its more so a question of when, rather than a question of if. No doubt, it will be smaller and more portable, ie the days of semi trucks full of stage gear are over for the most part. Size on the other hand, is not the issue, as much as it is service to God, and giving Him the glory.