Well Done, Thy Good & Faithful Servant: The Life of Keith Green
Oh Lord, you're beautiful... your face is all I see. And when your eyes are on this child, your grace abounds to me. This line from a famous modern hymn, written and performed by Keith Green, does a good job summarizing Keith Green's heart. If you read lyrics or listen to his worship music, you'll quickly become aware that the focus is entirely off of him or the people listening or looking, and wholly upon God. This was indicative of Green and of his ministry. This posture was one of the reasons, too, Green's short life left a legacy that lives on today. I recently heard this very hymn at a church service in Chambersburg, and I felt immediately impressed, as I was moved to tears, to study his life and record it for you all, and anyone that might stumble upon our blog. Here's his story, in short.
Green's immediate and apparent musical talent was highlighted by a record deal at the age of 11, but according to his mother, his acumen with music started long before. It's documented that in her view (she had been a professional musician) he had perfect pitch at just two years old. At six, he began writing his own songs and had already become versed with the piano and guitar. With an almost Mozart-like gifting, Green was on the way to stardom. His style and sound was compared to Elton John, and his songwriting was far from lacking. Then, in an almost mystifying turn of events, Green, over the course of several years in his late teens and early twenties, was unable to sign a recording contract to showcase his soft pop/rock talent. Those close to Green at the time remember being shocked that someone of his musical caliber would not be inked to a secular music label. But this fact released Keith into what would become his calling in life - evangelism. At around the same time that his mainstream, secular career sputtered, his constant and "spiritual" search for truth arrived at the feet of Jesus, and he never looked back or lost momentum.
Keith's conversion story is a common one for young people of the 60's/70's, even a bit cliche seeming. After searching for the truth for some time, experimenting with other religions, drugs, and even forms of mysticism, he found Jesus. This isn't atypical at all for "hippie" Christians coming out of the Jesus movement, but what he did with his newfound revelation was special. Keith's wife Melody described Keith's 'born again' experience as one of extreme excitement, enthusiasm, and an almost uncontrollable zeal. Others described Keith as this time as having a "profound hunger for God," that he had been "radically transformed," and that he "took the Gospel very seriously." Keith resolved as a brand new Christian that the Church didn't need any more music - it needed disciples. And so his ministry of evangelism was birthed, although he would be known for some great worship pieces too. That was all secondary to him now that he had found the one true living God. At the start, especially, this transition was not without challenge. Keith's loyal audience of spiritual seekers, who had grown accustomed to his lyrics about searching but never finding were surprised all of a sudden that Keith claimed he now had the answer. Further, his vigilance and urgency around Jesus were hard to stomach for some. His style of evangelism at gigs and concerts was even characterized as 'abrasive' by others. A close friend even added about this time that his zeal far preceded his spiritual maturity, leaving some offended and others frustrated.
The below entry from Green's journal at this point of his still very young life details his pure heart in wanting to affect people through Christ while not pushing them away.
"Lord, change me. Get rid of my radical tendencies, help me control my overwhelming enthusiasm, people get wary if I go off the deep end, instead of showing them I care." KG
As much as Keith submitted those 'radical tendencies' to the Lord, he sustained some as well. He and his wife of not long, Melody, began opening their home to the homeless, widowed, prostitutes, and those that were dejected, almost immediately after having a born again experience. Not long after their home filled up, Keith rented out other buildings in the area to shelter more down-and-out people. This environment became known as the "Greenhouse," not only because of the lodging the Green's provided but also the bible studies and discipleship that they oversaw for many people. Apparently, the admonition concerning sheeps and goats from Matthew 25 gripped Keith in such a profound way that his ministry to those that were hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, and in prison became a central part of his living testimony. It was clear that he had been radically transformed by the power of the Gospel.
[Below - Jesus Culture cover of Keith Green's famous hymn: 'Oh Lord, You're Beautiful']
Keith hit the ground running after signing a contract with Sparrow Records, producing Christian music. In a relatively short period he was putting out worship music that was as popular as any at the time in the Christian genre. His powerful voice, terrific musicianship (mainly with the piano) and hear-felt and convicting lyrics were a perfect complement to the Jesus Movement revival in the 70's. After accruing enough momentum with royalties from his albums, Green sought out to make his music free and his concerts "pay what you can," which he accomplished. As he established a following, his audiences increased dramatically in size from some 20 or so very early on in his career to over 12,000.
But the music was a means to end for Keith. His life's concern was souls, and it showed at his concerts, especially in the twilight of his life. Altar calls were normal and regular, and over the course of a half decade, he and his ministry partners had led thousands to Christ. His concerts and shows were less about performing tracks that were high on the charts and more about ministry, maturity, sharing the Gospel, and even charging young people to become involved in global missions. In the final two years of his life, his passion for missions and 'the great commission' was expounded by a budding friendship with YWAM founder, Loren Cunningham. He was also greatly influenced at this time by prominent charismatic speakers Leonard Ravenhill and David Wilkerson.
Last Days Ministries
After moving from Southern California to East Texas, the Green's began Last Days Ministries, which continued its commune-style goal of feeding those physically and spiritually. In addition, Last Days Magazine would be printed and distributed free of charge for a mailing list of hundreds of thousands. The magazine featured articles from Keith, Melody, and others that would encourage, teach, and exhort many people.
At just 28, along with two of his young children, Josiah and Bethany, Keith fell victim to a small Cessna plane crash. He left his wife Melody, who was pregnant at the time with their fourth child, Rachel, and their one-year-old daughter, Rebekah. At the height of his ministry and career it all ended; a terribly sad crescendo to the story. Yet, his ministry moved forward, with the leadership of Melody, and God continued to reach people through Keith's story, music, and those very many people that he influenced.
It's amazing to look at Green's life in hindsight, which is overwhelmingly convicting, and see the maturation process at work. An excited yet over-zealous infant in the Lord came to understand God's grace, then put on Christ-like-ness, righteousness and holiness, then in his final years master the feat of 'becoming love.' The thing that's unique about his life is that very few in history, at least that I know about, so quickly forfeited themselves for the sake of the Gospel than Green. Almost immediately upon becoming aware of Jesus and what he had done, Keith radically followed him in a way that few do, and never paused to look back. His boldness and intensity for the Gospel and other people were unmatched, and his ability to pour himself out without tiring, becoming burnt out, or losing focus was truly remarkable. His zeal for young people and missions has been carried on through YWAM, which is now the largest mission organization in the world. His music, too, has survived the test of time and still encourages and empowers people today. His story also lives on. It's adequately summed up in a biography written by his wife, Melody, called "No Compromise."
“The only music minister to whom the Lord will say,'Well done, thy good and faithful servant,' is the one whose life proves what their lyrics are saying... And to whom music is the least important part of their life. Glorifying the only Worthy One has to be a minister's most important goal!” KEITH GREEN