Their community proves the Jesus Movement is still alive—and contemporary.
The music is rock but the message is prophecy from Servant, a Christian rock band from Oregon with roots in the Jesus movement. A relatively new face in contemporary Christian music, Servant has been playing to jammed gyms and auditoriums, drawing crowds of up to 2,000 (mostly high school and college kids) and winning growing pockets of fans across the nation.
In 1980, Servant began one of the most extensive touring schedules ever undertaken in Christian music. The effort paid off, for in the second year of touring the audiences doubled, and last spring the band toured overseas. The power of Servant’s message and the theatrics built into the concerts have left audiences enthusiastic. Organizer Mark Cerbone at Houghton College commented, “Everyone was impressed by the openness and ‘realness’ of the Servant folks. The band members sought to identify themselves as people with real concerns, struggles, and victories.” Few Christian bands have built a following mainly through concert appearances; Servant is one exception.
Musically, Servant packs a strong rock ‘n’ roll message that is aimed at both the church and the world. Several of their songs, such as “Rich Man,” “Cup of Water,” and “Jesus Star,” drive home the fact of American materialism and spiritual bankruptcy. The pointed message, strong vocals, and the variety of their first album, Shallow Water, showed Servant was a group with promise. Though the music was rock and at time raucous, a melodic quality was interwoven into some of the songs, adding a kind of counterpoint to the rock style that older adults frequently find offensively loud and monotonous.
Servant’s second album, Rockin’ Revival, vigorously employed that same idiom to transmit a prophetic Christian message. Medium and message are wedded in such songs as “Look Out, Babylon” and “Jealousies.” Perhaps the sharpest word to the secular age is “Ad Man,” which is powerfully sung by Sandie Brock:
Watch out! Here comes the Ad Man with a message for your ears;
He uses all your weaknesses and plays upon your fears;
He fills the air with jingles, he puts sex in every ad;
He tells us that our image has to follow every fad.
This song is paired with the playful, fifties-style “Suburban Josephine,” who, as a young housewife, once planned to serve the Lord but “fell in love with someone else who she could touch and see.” Now her life is caught up in the suburban whirl, fighting off “Avon ladies and Amway men,” consuming “soap operas for breakfast, her idols on the screen.”
One of servant’s strongest songs is “Isolated.” It speaks of a young Christian struggling alone with marital and financial troubles who finds no real community in the church:
So I sat there silent in the Bible study;
I could not communicate, there was no way I could relate,
And I was too afraid to tell anybody.
The song critiques the shallowness of Sunday mornings when we “sing about the power, share for an hour, shake hands—and we’re on our own again.”
Servant has seven members: Sandie and Owen Brock, guitarists Bruce Wright and Rob Martens, vocalist Bob Hardy, drummer David Holmes, and Matt Spansky on organ, Polymoog, and synthesizers. There are also a dozen or so technicians and helpers.
Owen Brock, rhythm guitarist, linked up with manager Jim Palosaari in 1972 after his conversion during the tour through Finland of the rock musical, Lonesome Stone (CT, Oct. 11, 1974). Brock had been following the hippie trail from Afghanistan across Europe. A year later Sandie was saved from drug addiction through Teen Challenge’s work in Germany. The two were married in 1975 and have been with Servant from the beginning.
Servant is also a traveling minicommunity of over twice the size of the band, including wives, husbands, and small children, plus the technicians and helpers. The whole group is part of Missionaries of the Common Life (formerly the Highway Missionary Society), a Christian community based at a 25-acre farm near Grants Pass, Oregon. Servant’s message is backed up by the shared life the parent community has developed over the past six years. When the band hits the road, giving as many as 26 concerts a month, the rest of the 80-member community back home share a common life revolving around work and worship, meals and child care, music and art, following the band with their prayers and letters.
Much of the inspiration and leadership of both Servant and Missionaries of the Common Life comes from manager Palosaari, an early Jesus People convert with a background in theater. A decade ago he headed a 150-member community and discipleship training center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which later spawned the Highway Missionary Society as well as Chicago’s 350-member Jesus People USA, which supports its own band, Resurrection. Later, as part of the “Jesus Family” in England, Palosaari helped start the Greenbelt Festival (where Servant played last summer), and toured Europe with the Lonesome Stone, partly to counteract the influence of the Children of God cult.
Palosaari and others formed the Highway Missionary Society in the midseventies, and today he is one of the community’s elders as well as Servant’s manager. The community’s main purpose, he says, is evangelism: “We’re basically missionaries who want to see other communities start.” The group’s sense of calling and identity with the poor have deepened over the past two years as the community has sponsored 67 refugees from Haiti and Southeast Asia, helping them find homes in Oregon. The community also operates its own reforestation company, which contracts work with major lumbering firms.
The servant “show” involves rock music, comedy, a slide show, strobe lights and flash pods, as well as a straightforward call to accept Jesus Christ and a life of discipleship. The climax comes with the song “Fly Away,” which simulates the Rapture, complete with fireworks. But the concerts always end with the encore number “Cup of Water,” leaving a sober message of responsibility for suffering people as scenes of American abundance and Third World famine are flashed on the screen.
Servant concerts demonstrate that the Jesus Movement of the late sixties and early seventies is still alive and well. The renewing impulse of those days continues through the Missionaries of the Common Life, Jesus People USA, and similar Christian communities. Because of their roots in the Jesus Movement, bands like Servant and Resurrection still carry much of the flavor and aura as well as the counter-cultural dynamism of the late sixties. Yet these groups are very contemporary, not cultural hangovers, very much alive and doing new things. The communities they represent continue to grow and mature. In fact, they may even be having greater impact today than in the past. Their growing influence is seen both in the people attracted to their communities and in their varied outreach ministries. These include evangelism, social service, music, and Jesus People’s Cornerstone magazine. The Servant band may be an increasingly potent part of that witness as it calls for and demonstrates costly Christian commitment and discipleship.
HOWARD A. SNYDER with
The author of such books as The Problem of Wineskins (IVP, 1975), Mr. Snyder is coordinator of the Wesleyan Urban Coalition, which is connected with Olive Branch Ministries, Chicago. Mr. Smith-Newcomb is a student at Bethel Theological Seminary, Saint Paul.
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