From encountering God in house churches to declaring His praise in Stadiums, contemporary worship has transformed the British Church and spread across the world. Les Moir had a front row seat for much of this time; recording, producing and playing on landmark albums as well as shaping significant songs from 3 generations of worship leaders, including Matt Redman, Martin Smith, Tim Hughes and Graham Kendrick.
In Missing Jewel he tells this story, using his own experiences and inspiring first-hand accounts of the many musicians, songwriters and Church leaders who found themselves part of a journey that continues to bless and exhilarate new generations of believers.
I don’t know what sort of church that you go to, or what your experience of ‘worship’ is, but one thing is for sure, over the past 50 years something has changed in the way that we worship in the British church and that has spread and affected many other areas of the body of Christ worldwide. It’s fair to say that one person at the centre of the explosion of the ‘modern worship’ scene was Les Moir. In various positions in the industry he has watched and helped shape this movement to connect with God through song and he is in the best position to detail the changes over the years.
This book gives a potted history of the Christian worship scene along with all the worshippers, leaders, key technical people and industry insiders to show the reader the progression through the decades. Each chapter picks up on major themes that ran either for a few years, or even started and still have major influence in our worship today. For me, reading through this book has been a confirmation of the worship leaders and musical influencers in worship that I have admired (and interviewed) over many years. With my rather sheltered background some of the events of the 60’s and 70’s that Les talks about happening on a national scale didn’t hit our rather insular church worship until the 80’s and 90’s.
Kicking off with a journey through the 60’s which was swinging for the culture around the church, inside the church it was a revelation that Christian music could be more contemporary with big artists like Cliff Richard being in the hit parade, but also appearing at Billy Graham evangelistic crusades. The explosion happened through some key people in the 70s and Les identifies 7 key worship leaders who impacted the worship scene in the UK both in the church spotlight at burgeoning events, but also in the worship community that was forming across church denominational boundaries. Although Les admits that there could have been a lot more he singles 7 out. Of the 7 selected I have had the privilege of either interviewing or working with 5 of them in my formative years of being interested in Christian music.
As the years pass by the different movements are noted and key church leaders are credited with founding various events that will be familiar to many Christian music lovers. Although pre-dated by the Keswick Convention there was Greenbelt, Spring Harvest, Stoneleigh, New Wine, Soul Survivor and many more over the years where worship was considered to be a key part of the event, and where worship leaders became names known and new songs were passed back to churches at home. Corresponding with these rises are the March For Jesus and other similar events that take the church onto the streets, things that were the fore-runners of SoulintheCity that happened in London in 2004.
It seems that very little has been missed out, there is a chapter of the book about the influence of Vineyard and John Wimber, which is followed by a chapter discussing Songs of Fellowship as a milestone and the formation of the Christian Copyright Licensing International which may seem a bit dull to the average reader, but it was a game changer for the industry. For the younger readers the people referenced through the early chapters of the book, people like Noel Richards, Graham Kendrick, Dave Fellingham, Chris Bowater and Dave Bilbrough have paved the way and passed the torch to the successive generation, people like Matt Redman, Tim Hughes, Ben Cantelon, Martin Smith, and in turn it has been passed to the current generation of emerging worship leaders like Beth Croft and Tom Smith of Soul Survivor.
The book also charts the Road to Wembley, not the FA Cup Final next week, but the events that led from the March For Jesus events through to worshipping Jesus on the bigger scale filling Wembley Stadium for the Champion of the World event in 1997, the move spearheaded by Noel Richards and Gerald Coates. The book also considers the effect that British worship has had around the world, especially the cross-pollination between the UK and the USA and also with Australia and Hillsongs.
Finally Les leaves us with some prophetic words that have been spoken over the UK. It is impossible to finish this book and feel glum about the state of the worship in our country today. As the church prepares to unite across denominational boundaries once more to pray for those who don’t know Jesus as part of the “Thy Kingdom Come” event it is possible that this will see the next breakthrough for the Kingdom through unity, prayer and worship.
This book is wonderfully woven together to tell the story of worship in the United Kingdom, there are moments when a song is referred to and you think, ‘oh, I haven’t heard that in ages, I used to love that one’ but the words are still there in your sub-conscious at a moments notice. That is the power that these words have in our Christian lives and you can tell the fondness for each song mentioned in this book. This is not a story told from just one perspective, in the course of putting this book together Les has interviewed many different people about their involvement which makes up a good portion of the book. Of course it is very much a gifting to weave the whole story together!
The one thing that struck me is that this is a very positive book, it rates many of the Kingsway artists highly because they have been at the forefront of this call to worship, and I have no problem with that. What it doesn’t address is the changes in the industry side of the Christian music scene, even the worship scene has been touched by this and Kingsway / Integrity themselves. Integrity are facing declining sales of physical media which is causing less investment into the next generation. Word Music and Kingsway used to have a music buyers club where you would be sent the latest album on approval which did wonders for their sales, but with the decline of physical Christian bookshops and the rise in online retailers like Amazon the sales are definitely more patchy than previously. There is no mention of Elevation and more importantly there is no real mention of the independent scene which is growing around the world and birthing new worship and new expressions.
As I read the book it stirred a passion in me for some of these things that have gone before, why are we no longer marching for Jesus? When will we be “Calling All Nations” again on the road to Berlin, or some other huge stadium. There is a call to social justice and evangelism that comes with our worship if we are paying attention to the heart of God, and this burden comes through in the prophetic words at the end of the book. While I believe that “the best is yet to come” I think it will be surprising sources that we see the new movements come from. Hopefully Integrity will be looking at the emerging independents and helping them secure the platform to spread their new sounds. I think platforms like aStepFWD and (without blowing our own trumpet too much) One Man In The Middle will play a strong role in identifying the new voices for this next generation.
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