Martin Smith and Contemporary Christian Music

“Whether as frontman of the groundbreaking modern worship band Delirious?, lead singer of Army Of Bones or performing solo, Martin Smith has been involved with almost every aspect of the modern worship movement. His songs, including “Did You Feel The Mountains Tremble?,” “Waiting Here For You,” “I Could Sing Of Your Love Forever” and “History Maker,” have connected generations and inspired and influenced worship leaders and worshippers alike.”

– CCM Magazine

Returning from a Martin Smith recording at TBN London earlier this week, John Ruffle reflects on five decades of Jesus music:

Christian rock emerged from its “Jesus Movement” infancy a few decades back, but is only now – the way I see it anyway – beginning to become something more; something that is really engaging and challenging the secular music scene, in in so doing, engaging today’s youth far beyond the realms of pew-sitting churchianity, which seems as remote to today’s youth as St. Thomas Aquinas.

I recall attending an early CCM conference outside Chicago Illinois in the later 1970s. Yet-to-be-named Hosanna Integrity was in its infancy with Tom Brooks in St. Louis Missouri leading worship with Kent Henry

At the time, Larry Norman was the Christian world’s rock idol – almost literally. There were a hundred or so musicians present on the camp ground, including Randy Stonehill and Janny Grein who was about to release her 2nd album, “Covenant Woman” on Sparrow Records. The hot topic was the nature of Christian musicianship: was it a ministry or a career? Who owned the copyright of songs directly inspired by the Holy Spirit? How did we handle that troublesome “filthy lucre”? In one break-out group, Janny and I fiercely defended the ministry aspect as opposed to the commercialisation we saw taking over the emerging CCM genre. Yet, as the years have passed, I realise that both aspects of the Contemporary Christian Music scene are valid. Musicians, like anyone else, need to support themselves – and their families.

What remains central however, is the heart of the worshipper: nothing must be allowed to corrupt the purity of heart, without which no-one shall see God – and without which God won’t be seen though their ministries either.

Anyone questioning the motives of Christian rockers need only meet someone of the calibre of Martin Smith – something I was privileged to do earlier this week at London’s Christian Broadcasting Network’s (TBN) studios. Here is a guy at the pinnacle of an internationally recognised musical career asking my good friend from UCB Radio, Mike Rimmer and I if there is anything we might suggest to improve his upcoming album. (Me with my big mouth as usual didn’t stay silent!) Smith is the next generation on from those early CCM days. And I like what I see, even if sound-wise, I’m still waiting for a Christian drummer to do an extended version of Ginger Baker’s Toad.

Back to Martin Smith and TBN London this week, where he was recording a video for his soon-to-be-released (May 2019) Christian rock album. I’m impressed by Martin the family guy – he and his wife Anna have six children slowly emerging from the family nest; their eldest daughter now with a nascent career in Nashville. Martin and Anna were the driving force behind the CompassionArt NGO charity that has involved so many artists and musicians, including Graham Kendrick, Darlene Zschech, Paul Baloche, Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Matt Redman – the list simply goes on.

Smith rehearsing this week at TBN for a video shoot of his new album, out May 2019.

I’m encouraged. There is a new paradigm that is enlivening a new generation of Jesus-followers. It’s beyond what we had in the Jesus Movement in terms of pure and extravagant worship, although in other areas there is still some mileage to catch-up. In the northern Californian Jesus Movement where I was in the early ’70s, everything was birthed out of community. Our spirituality was grounded in Jesus within shared community. Many of us would have drowned in the hippy sub-culture had it not been for this. Yet our awareness of social justice was almost non-existent.

Smith, 18 years my junior, (as if that mattered!) is one of the post Jesus Freak generation Christians. God never left the Church when the Jesus wagon rolled on. He’s still moving in exciting and sometimes unexpected ways. It took a few years for many to catch the new direction.

History reveals that those who have been caught-up in a prior revival in their youth usually end up persecuting the next move of God. I’m watchful for that attitude in myself. I refuse to be one of those who, like Lot’s wife, while yearning for the old and familiar, looked back and remained there: a pillar of salt. Us older Jesus Freak generation guys and dolls (to borrow a Hollywood phrase) wherever we are now, have a responsibility to affirm, mentor and encourage the teens and 20-somethings of today. And I’m very happy to know that Martin Smith quite clearly is doing just that.

Images copyright 2019 John E. Ruffle.

Author: John E Ruffle

As a redeemed, recycled 1970s Californian Jesus Freak, John has faced too many extreme situations and sticky wickets through the years to mention here. Returning to his native England, John was actively involved in mission and outreach and taught English in a Further Education college in London until retiring in 2017. After a ten-year journey into a deeper appreciation of the historic Christianity, in 2013 John was received into the Catholic Church where he now serves in a lay capacity. Yet foundational to his faith has always been his experiences living in Gospel Outreach - an orthodox evangelical Christian commune in the USA. He is still in touch with many of his original “Jesus Freak” generation buddies. John serves as co-leader of a local Catholic Charismatic prayer group and writes to instruct and inspire. Prior to Pope Francis' election in March 2013, John accurately predicted in his personal journal that the new pope would choose either the name John or Francis. Currently, John is engaged in researching the 1967-1977 American 'Jesus People Movement' that saw tens of thousands of hippies coming to Christian discipleship through communes, coffee houses, and street outreach. He has been revitalising his ministry website at throughout 2019 and is writing a devotional. John and his Filipino wife Gladdys have one boy, several stray cats that appear and disappear at will, and a growing extended family both in the UK and abroad. They make their home in Birmingham, England where they love to praise and worship Jesus. Still young at heart, John is passionate about engaging young adults in the faith, particularly though relational small groups.

2 thoughts

  1. I totally agree, Tim. Personally, Keith & Melody Green impacted my life far more than some of the other well known artists of the day; was gutted when his plane crashed. The other stream I’ve totally ignored in my short piece is the grass-roots travelling musicians up and down the California coast during the late ’60s and early 1970s. Karen Lafferty’s “Seek Ye First” is now so mainstream that it’s in just about every hymnal. (Royalties from that one piece still goes a long way to supporting her in international missions.) And not forgetting Rebecca Wilmarth-Muller, who was our Jesus commune ministry’s home-grown minstrel, with her “Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord”, covered by Vineyard and countless others, I’m sure. I think this warrants my writing another piece about that!


  2. John, as an unreconstructed Jesus Freak myself, I appreciate the synthesis of the early Jesus Movement music and the more contemporary incarnations. I know you can’t include everything, but the analysis of the early tension between music as a ministry/business could have been enriched with a mention of Keith Green, who died much too young, for his policy of “pay whatever you can” for his music, without a set charge.


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