To preach or not to preach? That is the question that Reese Roper, lead vocalist for Five Iron Frenzy, asks each time the band does a concert. "Instead of saying we are going to preach every night, we just say, 'We'll be led by the Holy Spirit,' " says Roper, a "not very charismatic" Presbyterian. "Our band is about being obedient to God. And God doesn't want us to preach all the time."

The band's name, which comes from an offhand remark about how a golf club could be used as a weapon, reflects the band's less-than-straightforward approach to ministry. Songs like "My Evil Plan to Save the World" and "These Are Not My Pants (The Rock Opera)" from the band's most recent album, Quantity Is Job 1, could be considered confusing and silly.

The eight-member band plays a style of music called ska, which uses horns to transform the music's edgy, punk energy into an upbeat, jubilant sound, like a nineties version of the band Chicago. Although ska has been around since the sixties, it has crept into mainstream music in the last five years.

Roper, 25, who writes most of the band's lyrics, is joined by bass player and best friend since eighth grade Keith Hoerig; a horn section of Nathanael Dun ham (trumpet), Leanor "Jeff the Girl" Ortega (saxophones), and Dennis Culp (trombone); drummer Andy Ver decchio; and guitarists Micah Ortega and Sonnie Johnston.

Most people who come to the band's concerts are older teens, according to Hoerig. Five Iron Frenzy's performances often include goofy getups and Roper's bizarre facial contortions. All this has led to misunderstanding and criticism by some Christians who come to concerts expecting to hear the band preach and do "serious" ministry.

Why would God want a Christian band not to preach? Because God reaches different people in different ways, suggests Roper. "It's wrong to put God in a box, to say that he only works through bands that preach at shows. He's so much bigger than that."

Fans buy T-shirts, albums, stickers, and patches directly from the band members. "When we started, we couldn't afford to have somebody doing merchandise for us," says Roper. "But now it's by choice. It's a really cool way to meet and talk to kids."

From some of these postconcert chats, Roper discovered that "some kids would have left if they heard us preaching. They would have just walked out." But because they stayed, those kids got "encouraged" or even "saved."

Fans also come to the merchandise tables looking for an autograph. Although the rest of the band will sign autographs, Roper will not. "My hope is that people would not put me on a pedestal. [I want them] to look past what we are doing and see the reason why we're doing it, instead of all that rock star stuff. A lot of times when people ask for an autograph, it's just an excuse to talk to you. The whole reason I'm in the band is to talk to kids, to share the hope of Jesus with them."

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Since its beginning, the Denver-based band has gone to places not normally found on the Christian concert circuit. A secular club in Denver needed an opening act for a band and asked Five Iron Frenzy to play. They were well received and kept getting asked back. "There weren't many ska bands in town," says Roper, whose music is keeping him from the one semester he needs to earn a college degree in biology.

In the spring of 1998, the band was invited on the month-long Ska Against Racism Tour, which featured one of the best-known secular ska bands, Less Than Jake, and six other non-Christian bands. Five Iron Frenzy sent out fliers to youth groups asking them to keep the band in their prayers as they took "the hope of the gospel where it is rarely heard."

The group did very little preaching from the stage on that tour but played a song called "Fistful of Sand" at each show. Roper introduced the song each time by saying, "This song is about the Book of Ecclesiastes." From that simple introduction, every member of the Blue Meanies, one of the other bands on the tour, read Ecclesiastes. "Somebody from every band came up and talked to us about God and Christianity," says Roper. "It wasn't trite talk. It was really deep, spiritual talk."

During one of the last stops of the tour in Casper, Wyoming, Roper picked someone from the audience to join the band on stage. A young man wearing a Marilyn Manson T-shirt danced along for one song. (Marilyn Manson is a rock group well known for its blasphemous anti-Christian lyrics and actions.) Five Iron Frenzy played on without comment.

"I hope that guy felt loved," says Roper as he reflects on the incident months later. "I'm glad he got up on stage, because I guess he wasn't afraid of us.

"At a lot of Marilyn Manson concerts they get picketed, and there's people yelling at kids telling them they are going to hell. It's like they forgot what being a Christian is about, what Jesus is about. So often people take the easy path.

"I've seen God work through bands that hate God. A song about suicide or something touches a kid and scares him into going to church. God can work through whatever he wants. Like in the Old Testament, he spoke through a donkey."

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Last November, Five Iron Frenzy teamed up with the two best-known Christian ska bands, the Supertones and the Insyderz, for the 18-concert Ska Mania Tour. Roper found some differences as he compared the band's two biggest tours.

Roper felt his devotional life was better during the secular Ska Against Racism tour in the spring. "My walk was better out of sheer terror," says Roper. "We were the only Christian band. It made us fight really hard to keep God first. I didn't want to do anything that I'd regret. I made sure I was praying every day and reading my Bible.

"On the SkaMania tour you knew all the guys around you were Christian and they weren't going to take it the wrong way, so all of a sudden you start joking crassly. You start to slip up."

Roper found Christian audiences' expectations to be different. During Five Iron Frenzy's performance in Denver the band appeared as they did throughout the SkaMania tour dressed in Star Trek outfits. Their between-song banter consisted mostly of Star Trek–related dialogue. At one point, some members of the audience began to chant, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus."

"If they were offended by the Star Trek thing, I apologize to them," says Roper. "Our intent was not to offend anybody. It was to be funny, to entertain. I have a big problem with people who go to concerts to get preached at. That concert cost 20 bucks to get into. If you want to hear preaching, you can go to any church for free on Sunday."

The criteria used by some Christians to judge a band's merits is a concern to Roper. "In the Christian arena, you can be a terrible band but if you say Jesus five times in a show, kids love you."

Roper saw different approaches to selling merchandise on the two tours. "Less Than Jake [the secular band] marks up their merchandise a dollar a shirt, so they have shirts for seven bucks. Then you go to a Christian concert and see them selling their shirts for 25 bucks because they know they can get away with it or because they have to pay for a tour bus. It really makes me wonder what it's about to those [Christian] bands."

Ken Steinken is a high-school journalism teacher and freelance writer who reviews Christian concerts for the Rapid City Journal (S.D.).

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