Paying for School

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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

My Problem with Worship pt. 3 (A multi-part post in which I offend many friends)

Part one is here.  Part two is here.

Let me sum up the big idea of part one and two – we have turned worship into a commodity. We leverage it to obtain market share and we treat songwriters, worship leaders and worship music like cogs in our machine.  This has created a number of unintended consequences.

Back in the day, John Wimber, who became the catalyst of the Vineyard Movement, knew music and knew musicians because he was one.  That’s exactly the kind of leader you want to lead a movement with the songs of worship and the experience of the presence of God at its core. Heart of an artist, mind of a strategist, imperfectly perfect to nurture the vulnerable and artistic hearts that gathered to sing and seek, hungry for an authentic experience of God’s presence.

John’s leadership was critical because he understood that the journey to the heart of God always had a singular result – to be propelled back out into the world to love the lost and least, to be the Church. Worship was more than the songs we were singing in the Vineyard, worship was a life laid down in surrender and obedience – a willingness to be a fool for Christ.

And then, worship became popular.

I remember when Christian radio wasn’t playing worship because everyone wanted to listen to contemporary Christian music – it was about God, it was about living for God but it wasn’t usually about God or to God.  It was more often a sermon set to music, sometimes heavy on emotion – “hey kid, who are those Christmas shoes for?” – but it moved away from worship songs.

And then, worship became popular.

The Vineyard had a lot to do with this – not exclusively, but the Vineyard was very influential in making worship (and forgive me for this expression) relevant again. John and the Vineyard influence went overseas – not to plant Vineyards at first, but to come alongside and work together with the churches in the U.K. that were hungry and open to what John and the Vineyard had to offer. It was like fanning a flame or pouring gas on a match – like all these songwriters had just been waiting for someone to say it was o.k. to give birth to new songs and new sounds.  John brought a spark but the tinder was there and ready.

And then, worship became very popular.

And then someone said, “Hey, we can make some money off this!”

Little companies sprang up and big companies bought them and worship as a commodity quickly took shape. And worship filled the airwaves again.

First we bought CDs packed full of amazing songs.  Then we bought CDs with a couple amazing songs.  Then we bought CDs hoping for at least one amazing songs.  Because when we commodify something, we lose interest in quality in our drive to have product to sell.  Eventually we saturate the market to the maximum of what it will bear. And then just a little bit more.

And we start ripping songs, trading and sharing songs because as consumers we know the man is sticking it to us with a 12 song CD that only has two tracks we really like so we’re totally justified in sharing and not paying for our tunes ‘cause, y’know, it’s the man. 

And the artists suffered.  The creators piece of the pie became infinitesimally smaller.  Getting on a CD now was just “giving people exposure” for which they should be thankful and they should stop asking or royalties.

What does all this have to do with how worship became songs?

As we commodified worship, it required us to elevate singing in order to secure our futures.  It’s like toothpaste or shampoo – in order to get your dollars, we have to make the paste about more than teeth and the shampoo about more than soap for your hair.  We’re selling you a brand, a lifestyle, a chance at romance, self-esteem and admiration.  We can’t really brand serving homeless people a meal or speaking out against human trafficking or showing hospitality to strangers or building a racially diverse community or doing most of the things that love does.  Mind you, we’ll brand it and commodify it when and where we can, but it’s just a lot harder than commodifying songs to sing.

Rather than following the Wimberism that the “meat is in the streets,” the commodification of worship has led us to believe that what we do in here is the meat.

And so we influence the Church at large to embrace the belief that songs are our worship.  When we sing is when God shows up.  Because we’re doing this song, miracles can finally happen here.  Social Justice is a code for liberal theology and works based faith, we’ve transcended that with worship and the Spirit will change the world in response to the sweet songs of love we gather to sing.  I don’t need to tell anyone about Jesus or live like Jesus with my neighbor, I just worship him and people walking by will be hit with waves of the Holy Spirit and want to follow him.

Then we started judging Sunday morning worship by whether we did that song we really like, the one that gives us the feels.  Was “Oceans” in the set? Then the anointing was present.  Was “Oceans” still in the worship set? The anointing has obviously left that worship leader/team.  And we’ve reduced our worship experience to measuring the ability of the leader and team to give us the feels rather than our ability to pour out our hearts to God, lose and find ourselves in the Father’s heart and to be compelled by his great love back out into a world full of pain and need.

Recently, I heard someone say, to oppose the powers, you’ve got to oppose the Powers.

I’m writing this as a follower Jesus who loves to worship with songs, who learned to play guitar so he could write songs and sings songs to Jesus.  I’m writing this as a follower of Jesus who has been shaped by worship music by people with last names like Barnett, Tuttle, Doerksen, Park, Smith, Ruis, Prosch, Redman, Mark, Beeching, Hughes, Houston and others.  I am not suggesting that present day worshipers don’t minister to people beyond their songs.  I am simply observing that powers have generally coopted our worship wherever possible, commodified it and marketed it to the singers of the songs by reducing worship to this single expression for which we can be charged a reasonable fee.

And our artists become baristas. (no offense to baristas, I need you too!)

I will now put on my tinfoil hat and sit quietly in my corner.


  1. Dude.... this is a brilliant series of posts you've got going on. (Yes, I read all 3)

  2. This gives me "the feels" - I LOVE it!

  3. Prophetic and pastoral at the same time. Thank you.

    1. You're welcome, thanks for taking time to read it.