These days the term Children's Music can mean anything from ditties from Victorian hymnals through to rap and rock with Scripture lyrics. Who are the intrepid musos answering the call to communicate spiritual truth to Britain's pre-teens? Mary Brows set out to talk to Britain's children's musicianaries. This is her report.

Doug Horley
Doug Horley

Go into a Christian bookshop, find the music tapes and you'll be confronted with a bulging rack of children's music. There seems a wide choice. Apparently never-ending series of albums featuring a walking/talking/singing book of psalms (Psalty); a donut-dispensing friend of the kids {The Donut Man - Rob Evans); a talking cat (Lawrence from Carman's Yo Kidz); and a talking computer (Colby) rub shoulders with endless albums where squeaky-voiced choirs sing songs from both creaking Victorian Sunday School hymnals and the latest batches of popular praise and worship choruses. This colourful cavalcade of tapes, videos and songbooks is largely the produce of America's buoyant Christian communications industry. Now at long last British Christian music for children is getting a bit of the action as well as children's workers like Ishmael, Captain Alan, Richard Hubbard and Sammy Horner demonstrate to British children that biblical truth doesn't always come with an American accent.

The phrase "Sunday Schools" has become more and more of an anachronism and "children's work" has replaced it. But what is children's work? Glasgow-based Sammy Horner explained. "Really, children's work can be broken down into two areas - evangelism and instruction/exhortation of Christian kids. Concerning evangelism it was Tony Campolo who said that today it is essential that youth workers also become children's workers as most of our efforts to reach teenagers with the Gospel message is starting way too late. All the psychological studies show that it is by age eight or so that young people have developed much of their character. Yet the evangelical church often ignores this, lets children go their own way and when later it tries to reach teenagers with the Gospel it has scant success. Now of course previous generations had some kind of religious framework as children - even though I didn't grow up in a Christian home I remember being trundled off to Sunday School. But today few kids get that.

When I left theological college and went to work with YMCA in the East End of Glasgow I was amazed to discover so-called 'Protestant' children who had never heard the name Jesus. So in evangelism with kids we have to start with basics. Who God is, who Jesus is, what sin is."

Sammy is equally impassioned about the need to instruct Christian kids. "Too often misguided people in the churches treat kids like idiots. They talk to them in patronising voices. They sing them puerile songs. And they make sure the kids aren't given any raw meat of teaching. Look, the kids can digest raw meat; they just need it minced up for them first. They can handle an area like social justice - many have experiences of bullying in playgrounds so the concept isn't remote. Kids can tackle all kinds of meaty issues if people doing the teaching are creative and imaginative in how they communicate the issues."

Sammy Horner is just one of a growing number of children's workers to establish national ministries in Britain over the last decade. Their tapes and praise parties, books and teaching weekends have opened the eyes of thousands of churches finding that the children's resources developed during the Victorian era are now hopelessly out of date. Comments Horner, "In the past children's work was considered women's work. I think it's very healthy that pioneers like Ishmael have been men."

Ishmael has indeed been THE pioneer in children's work in Britain. Bringing together several elements - encouraging children to have a dynamic experience of the Holy Spirit; playing rock-orientated music that is loud, furious and fun; and bringing to all that he does zaney humour and perpetual energy, has made Ishmael the key children's worker of the 80s and 90s. Ishmael, otherwise known as Ian Smale, first moved into the children's field in 1980 after pioneering acoustic pop gospel duo Ishmael & Andy. After a brief flirtation with punk rock it was in 1980 that his ministry took a very unexpected turn when he formed "fun rock band" Ish United. As he recounted in CR14, "I'd written this childish sort of song with Ishmael United that the rest of the band absolutely hated but I thought was great. Children particularly really liked it. I began writing more songs in a similar vein. Then I got this idea about these little characters called the Glories. So many Christians seemed miserable (similar characters called the Miseries were also soon developed) and I wanted to communicate that being in the Kingdom was a lot of fun. An uncle of mine drew these little Glories and Kingsway, who realised that there was nothing being targeted at young people that wasn't American released land Of Hope And Glories'. Things took off from there."

Ishmael believed from the beginning that children need to be encouraged to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit and to operate in his gifts. Churches where children are merely onlookers lose their young people. Good family services enable everyone to contribute to the family of God. In local churches (Ishmael is an elder at his church) he prefers groups of 250-300. "It's great to have an occasional Praise Party of 3,000," said Ishmael, "but smaller groups work better in a local family church." With his team Ishmael travels extensively throughout Britain and Europe; another USA trip is planned for summer 1995. His annual Charismatic Children's Leaders' Conference in Britain brings together folk who work with children and families to share devotional sessions, worship and renewal.

Ishmael's pioneering work has been a source of inspiration to many fellow musicians including Rich Hubbard and Sammy Homer. Doug Horley, Ishmael's lead guitar player for many years, goes into full time children's ministry in April and has had an album 'Jesus Is The Boss' released by Kingsway. On another front, Noel Richards has used two of Doug's songs in 'Warrior'. Doug's music is a mix of fun tunes and serious songs using rap and rock and crossing all age barriers. He runs three children's clubs in his church, aimed at unchurched kids. An annual summer event in its seventh year is Mix, taking over a local park area for a week to minister to 400 children daily. Music is an important part of this event, with two bands playing; parents, toddlers, teenagers and grandparents are also entertained. Doug now receives invitations to conduct Praise Parties in venues around the country, with a flavour all his own.

Another children's worker finding a great deal of popularity with his albums for ICC is Captain Alan. During his worldwide travels Captain Alan, otherwise known as Alan Price, has found that Britain is far in advance of other countries in children's Christian music. "It's gutsy and real, expressing faith and worship to God," said Alan. He grew up in Liverpool, joining the Scouts and the Anglican church choir. His faith was mainly nominal until 1967, when friends invited him to a Billy Graham rally. There he met Jesus and was born again. His involvement in gospel folk groups, rock groups and an evangelistic music group blossomed into writing his own words to familiar tunes. In 1969 (aged 19) he joined the Church Army's three-year training course. Evangelism and children's work started him composing music, at first mainly filling in gaps. He uses words that children understand, memorable tunes and music that average musicians can play. "It's important to be careful not careless, and to get the theology right."

A Church Army evangelist for 22 years, Alan worked as Children's Officer for Anglican Renewal Ministries in Derby. An exciting development of this work was the formation in 1994 of the Teknon Trust with Alan employed full time. The Trust exists to enable children and young people to experience God's love and purpose for their lives through the power and ministry of the Holy Spirit. Training and equipping leaders is one of their functions. "Our vision is to see children find their rightful place as effective members and workers in the Kingdom of God now, not just when they are older. We believe that the power of the Holy Spirit is for them, even in all their immaturity. Children in the Church are often the second class citizens, getting the "leftovers" of the churches' resources." Alan's work has taken him throughout Britain, Scandinavia, the United States, Australia, Singapore and New Zealand. 98 per cent of his ministry is to primary school children. 1995 will be a busy year, with parish weekends, conferences, seminars and workshops for local church leaders. Two key events are Living Water in May (ministering to 400-500 children) and New Wine in August (with 1,000+ 5-10 year olds). The Teknon Trust plans to develop a range of quality material and resources with children's booklets, songbooks, resource packages, videos and cassettes, including Captain Alan's own work.
Bounce and enthusiasm have brought Richard Hubbard to the forefront with five praise and worship albums, two books and numerous conferences and seminars. Rich grew up in a Pentecostal church, was born again at seven and called into full time ministry at nine; he was given his first guitar for his 10th birthday. On leaving school he trained as a solicitor. Involvement with his worship team was geared towards children and young people and he began writing his own songs. At 29 he was ready to quit his professional job and step out in faith (live without salary!).

Over the past five years Rich's emphasis has gradually shifted from working with children to writing for the whole church family, with music that is accessible to young and old. "Involving children does not mean barrages of action songs and puppets - most mainstream worship material is suitable," said Rich. "While age-specific teaching is clearly necessary, children need to feel that they are part of church life. Praise and worship to God transcends all age barriers. As a church leader my concern is for children and young people to be integrated into the life of the church as a whole. My own vision is not for children's work per se. Rather it is for the church as a whole - adults, children, young people, older people, new Christians, church leaders and so on. What I aim at in my own local church is to bring adults and children together so that children can own what is happening in mainstream church life. As far as the future direction of children's ministry is concerned, I believe very strongly that the future lies in bringing all ages together."

Sammy Horner
Sammy Horner

Rich travels nationally encouraging churches in renewal, restoration and revival. His international engagements have taken him to India, Africa and the Middle East. 1995 is an eventful year: in addition to all-age celebration concerts, Rich is available for prophesy training conferences and seminars covering a number of contemporary topics as well as worship.

Best known to CR readers as the singer/bassman/composer with Celtic rockers the Electrics, it's Sammy Horner's now nationally acclaimed children's ministry (with its concept the Wonder Kids) which is equally dear to Sammy's heart. Belfast-born Sammy rebelled against "churchianity" at age 11. He became a Christian at 16 and involved himself with youth and children's work at a local Elim church. In 1980 he went to Glasgow to study at the Bible Training Institute. Following graduation he worked for four years as a youth evangelist in Glasgow for the YMCA of Scotland. It was while working in Glasgow that his children's work burgeoned. In Scotland older children look after their younger brothers and sisters; his youth group brought along young kids and Sammy realised he would have to do something for all these children. Traditional choruses did not relate to children from poor housing estates, so Sammy wrote his own songs. He recorded little tapes with the children to boost their self-esteem. The best way to reach unchurched kids proved to be through children's clubs involving the Arts -participation in theatre, music and painting attracted many youngsters.

After working for a Dumbarton evangelical church, Sammy became involved with Scripture Union, YWAM, Frontier Youth Trust, Ishmael and the Glorie Company, Campaigners and the Salvation Army, as well as many youth groups. 50 per cent of the time Sammy tours Britain and Europe with the Electrics in universities, teenage events, pubs and clubs; the rest of his time is devoted to children's work in schools, clubs and festivals including Impact, Spring Harvest and In Word And In Action. Sammy gets his inspiration from the Bible to produce songs that teach as well as worship material. 'S.W.A.T.' was his first energetic children's album. His latest album 'Powerpoint Live' was recorded jointly with Rich Hubbard. 1995 is already well booked: in March he flew to Nashville to record an Electrics album; from May he will be touring Britain with Youth For Christ and YWAM. A highlight is Children's Powerpoint at the Scottish Exhibition Centre in Glasgow. One of his aims is to train 7-9 year olds to be active in evangelism and worship.