The root of my troubles with worship is this: commodification, the source of all kinds of evil.
As soon as we figured out a way to make money* off of Jesus and the stuff of heaven, we started dancing in the dragon’s jaws. We have to be on guard about this constantly in North America.
(I know most of my musician friends would love to make money from their music and very, very few of them actually do. The couple that I know who have or do make money off their music also happen to be some of the most generous people that I know and they would be embarrassed to find out how the stories of their generosity have leaked out. Making a living at writing, producing or leading worship isn’t what I’m talking about.)
What I will be writing about in this multi-part post:
1) We’ve created a culture that has mistakenly come to believe that worship is primarily songs we sing about God or to God and that loving God is best and most adequately accomplished through singing songs.
2) We have neglected to pay attention to what we sing. Our songs will shape our theology if our theology hasn’t shaped our songs. I’m part of a movement that holds at its core a belief in an enacted inaugurated eschatology. My experience is we quite often sing songs coming from other perspectives that are inherently based on other central beliefs that are in conflict with our own. We have sacrificed good theology for “a good beat I can dance to.” We don’t have to, we just do. I believe that within our movement we’ll soon wake up to find the songs we sing have moved us a long way from the radical middle.
3) The intimacy, vulnerability, simplicity and honesty that was the heart (as I perceived it) of Vineyard worship is being altered by #2 above and as a result we are beginning to experience a new norm in preaching and teaching that neglects these same virtues.
4) We relate to our worship leaders, songwriters and singers as commodities. Within the worship community they find encouragement, support and understanding from one another, but seldom do they experience these things from senior pastors and leaders. Us vs. them feelings are generated by the way senior leaders relate to worship leaders and communities. Bands and worship leaders come to our churches to play and lead worship and regularly receive, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” but we are giving them nothing or whatever is right next to nothing for what they've done.
To be clear, it’s not the songwriters in the Vineyard that are at the root of this. It is the diminished emphasis we are giving to worship and worship music generated in and by the Vineyard that I believe is at the heart of this. It is our propensity to commodify.
It’s a leadership issue, not an artist issue.
As local pastors, we have adopted a new credo – growing my church is the most important thing on my agenda. It is my only agenda. If we’re growing, God’s blessing is on us and therefore on whatever I do or don’t do to get there. I am judged by the size of the church I attend or lead.
A friend of mine was leading worship at one of our churches during a season of personal grief as one of his children was attacked by cancer. This season drew deep and powerful songs of lament from my friend who was kindly asked by leadership to, "stop singing the sad songs..." because it was bringing the worship vibe down on Sundays.
So much for weep with those who weep.
And so we play to the crowd because attendance and offering equals salvation and success. We reinforce this on so many levels that it must be true. We emulate other wildly ‘successful’ senior pastors and ignore when they crash and burn or leave a trail of broken and bloody people “under the bus.” We ignore all the stories we know of worship leaders and worship pastors (in and out of our movement) that have been burned out and tossed aside like commodities rather than image bearers. We stop listening to our veterans and the wisdom they have earned because we need what’s new, what’s sexy, what’s getting air time on the radio. Because we’re competing for market share and we have to produce something better than the church(es) one block over.
And deep down, you know that’s true.
Worship has become commodified. And worship leaders are a commodity. And our worship services have become about the market. Again, this commodification is not the work of the artists, but the system of which we are a part. And that atmosphere you permit is the product you will create.
The Church is at its best as a prophetic witness to the world by living with a different agenda, in a different way that looks more Cross than marketplace and looks at people as image bearers and not fodder and see worship as a way we live and not a commodity we leverage for a greater share of the market.
And thus ends my homily for today…
Feel free to comment and suggest ways to fix me or fix the problem.
Part two will be posted Monday.
(* and money's just a symbol.)