Interview With Gail Pettersen

“And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.” (Matthew 13:23)

One of my most memorable homeworks with Worship Arts Conservatory was during the class “Current Trends in Worship” I had to interview someone who was a part of the Jesus Movement in 1960s-1970s in USA. I found a pastor’s wife in named Gail Pettersen who’s currently serving at a local Vineyard Christian Fellowship. I had a really enlightening 30-minute phone conversation with her. Here’s an excerpt of the interview:

Tim: Describe your ministry involvement during the Jesus Movement.
Gail: Mark and I moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Dallas in mid-60s and soon we were on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship until 1972. At the same time we helped plant a new church in Kansas that were full of young people.

Tim: What was it like at that time?
Gail: Up until the 60’s, the church’s teaching was to know God in your head and the emphasis was in things like defending your faith with reason, etc. But during the 1960’s, there were drugs, the Vietnam war, and people questioning the authority and their parents. Young people longed for being “real” and for sensual experiences. They said “you don’t have to get high on drugs if you get high on Jesus.” The evangelical church at that time had a hard time accepting up-and-coming teachings on the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. But at InterVarsity, we saw healing and tongues taking place, so we knew we could not ignore it. Also, the churches at that time had a profound sense of community.

Tim: What were the lasting consequences from this period?
Gail: It’s basically like the parable of the sower. The first group who longed for experience to the exclusion of intellect were getting high on all the experience, but they did not have their feet planted solidly in the word of God, so they fell prey to cults such as Children Of God. The second group wanted to get “real” experiences of God, and they were all hippies at the time, but when they started being older, they wore suits and moved into the suburbs and became cold or even left the faith. But there was a strong third segment. God dramatically entered their lives, and they’re still going strong today. It was very telling during a 10-year reunion of the InterVarsity staff. Some went into cults, and some had left the faith. But interestingly, among those who stayed strong, most of them went to Vineyard churches.

Tim: What are your major observations of the music of this period?
Gail: Heartfelt and simple. Also, many songs describe their experience. I remember that Mark and I helped organize a big campus evangelistic mission at University of Texas. We didn’t know who they were at the time, but we invited “Love Song,” who for the first time ministered outside of California. When they started sharing their songs, they shared their experiences and their heart, and students just came to the Lord by the droves. It was a time when there were whole new expressions of music. God was speaking to that generation, a generation that couldn’t relate to the organ. It was an exciting time.

Tim: Did your church/ministry accept the new worship music?
Gail: The church we grew up in in California, Peninsula Bible Church, started a Body Life service on Sunday evenings with the new music, and young people came in by the droves. In Dallas, InterVarsity actually sang mostly hymns and just a little bit of choruses during the Jesus Movement, and I liked the hymns because they had content. I actually learned to worship at InterVarsity. At the new church plant in Kansas, we sang the new songs at the time. It was interesting in Kansas because even though my husband and I were in our thirties, we were the oldest people in the church. The older people refused to come to our church because they couldn’t accept the new music. But it was evident at that time that churches that made accommodations to the new music grew like crazy, and the churches that didn’t accommodate started dying.

Tim: Anything you want to add?
Gail: I think every new generation has to have their own music. Also, each generation has to give over to the next generation. I don’t want to be so attached to old songs that I forget that. Of course there’s a danger that songs can become superficial and repetitive. I long for songs that have meat, that are done well, that speak to the current generation, and most importantly, the songs need to be built solidly solidly on the rock of Scripture. Without that solid Scriptural foundation, people will go astray. We’re sometimes too ready to believe in experience; I believe in experience too, but I make sure I first put it through the test of Scripture. I think the lessons and legacy from the Jesus Movement have made people more mature today, so I’m excited about the new songs coming out today.

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