The short answer: Nothing. Wait. Everything. Wait- what? Who’s says what’s good? Or who says what’s bad?
Wow. That was clear as mud, huh? (this is probably why I’m not a professional writer…..even if I do think I write gooder than others do…..)
This is a difficult topic to make into some kind of esoteric, individualized grandstand topic. It’s really easy for people to say, “oh, you just don’t like the music” and leave it at that. Let me be clear on this part of the topic- it’s not that I don’t like the newer praise music. It’s not that.
It’s that I hate the newer praise music with a passion that burns brighter than the sun in late July when viewed from the bottom of Death Valley while standing under a giant magnifying glass.
I hope I cleared that up. Moving on.
Here’s why that’s so important- worship music today is a microcosm of what is wrong with the church as a whole today. It’s pablum. It’s grossly over-simplified. It utterly lacks depth and impact. It’s the same thing over and over again. It’s hype. It’s messy but claims to be “cleaner” and “simpler” and “more accessible” but in reality it is ill-contrived, formulaic drivel that has no real topicality. It has been reduced to (and, yes, I’m thinking of a certain South Park cartoon episode even as I write this) nothing more than initially filthy R&B music with the nouns changed from “her”, “she” and “baby” to “Jesus”.
Look- I said from the outset I was going to offend. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Oh- and I’ve heard all the arguments, too.
“Hillsong United sells more records worldwide than…..”
“It appeals to the masses……”
“I really feel connected…..”
Geez. Give me a break. Those are probably the most myopic reasons anyone can ever give. Bands like KISS and Abba have sold more records of single albums than Hillsong United ever will. “It appeals to the masses” can equally be applied to Britney Spears, Justin Bieber and American Idol. And, “I really feel connected” can be applied to all kinds of things like mass riots, genocide and a host of other things.
The really scary part of this is that almost no one can really explain why this is so important, especially within the church and especially when talking about worship. But, folks- yes, I do know the answer to this, and I expect many people reading this know the answer to and don’t/can’t admit it. So, here goes:
We (the church) want to belong to the world at any cost.
There. I said it.
Oh, I know that a lot of people are going to rail against this full-on. You can if you want to, but if you’re really honest with yourself, you’ll admit that when Hillsong United does sell all those records, you find some kind of gratification that the world has acknowledged something you like, and you feel better about having made the choice in the first place. Still fighting me on this? Just stop it and back up a second, and try really hard to not equate the fact that you are a Christian and therefore saved with the idea that somehow this means that those ideas are ok because you are a Christian that is saved by Grace. I got news for you:
You’re still a sinner, and you’re still capable of the same amount of corruption as everybody else. And, that doesn’t change because you call yourself a “Christian”.
So, yeah- I’m saying that if you think that worship music is more relevant today because of the above arguments, you are wrong. Period. Just wrong, and you need to get over it.
(At this point, I feel the need to point out that I said I wasn’t going to pull any punches when I started writing this series. It’s about to get a whole lot worse.)
The church, as a whole, has found it absolutely necessary to sublimate every single thing it does in order to “appeal to the masses”, and since corporate worship is the cornerstone for the western church (way more so than solid teaching or theology) it begins there. It began with the “seeker sensitive” movement of the late 80’s and early 90’s, and has morphed slightly into something even more pablumized like smaller churches attempting to become larger ones like Willow Creek or Hillsong. We’ve gotten into the mindset that unless we directly correlate absolutely everything we do with today’s pop culture, we’ll be seen as “non-relevant” or “not hip” and people will leave- but in doing that, we actually make the people who have been in the church their entire lives feel “non-relevant” and “not hip” so they leave. And, somehow that’s ok? Huh?
It’s now as though unless your church isn’t filled with 18 to 30 year olds you’re not “successful”. If you don’t do things that directly appeal to millenials, you’re out of touch and non-relevant. Yes, I totally get that the generation I’m speaking of is growing larger by the moment while my generation is steadily moving towards room temperature and the generation before that has largely already kicked that nasty oxygen habit. The issue here isn’t one of generation, but rather the lack of finding value in the entirety of the congregation and serving it.
Let me try this another way: worship today is about serving the ones that agree with leadership’s vision and no one else. If you don’t agree, then leadership sees YOU as the problem, not themselves. In fact, it’s rarely ever even examined any other way. “Oh, you know- that guy’s old and he doesn’t like what we do here, so he can just go somewhere else…..” – who hasn’t heard that in their own church? Better yet- who hasn’t been guilty of saying that?
Right here- this guy has said it. Hell, I’ve done worse than that- I’ve engendered it many times. I admit it, and I admit that I was wrong to do so. If you are one of the people that I have somehow marginalized like this, I apologize and if you are someone that I work with and I do it again, I actively ask that you call me on it when I do it, and I don’t want you to be kind about it, either.
So why did I do it? Because it was easy.
And this, right here, is the crux of the problem- easy. It’s really easy to only want to partner with a small group of select individuals that agree with you. It’s a LOT harder to work with those that don’t, and in a church congregation there is disparity and diversity in it’s rawest forms and those people have just as much right to be there and have their needs attended to as the ones that do agree with you. Worship – real, authentic worship – is hard, hard, messy work because it’s all about people, and people are messy and hard to deal with.
As worship participants, we have completely lost sight of this, and it translates everywhere if you know where to look. The music is easier, the charts are “easier”, the technology is easier, the communication methods are “easier”- we’re so concerned with being “relevant” that we never actually stop to think if we are serving our entire congregations or just a select few. We can plan a service that is so complicated that a year’s supply of Ritalin won’t begin to cover the attention deficits we create, but we never stop to wonder if that’s what our congregation needs. We can create elaborate and hip videos, use the technology we have access to to make our meager bands on Sunday morning sound like the London Philharmonic by using loops, and we can obsess about “dead air” during a service, but we can’t be bothered to consider the ones who don’t agree with what WE are “trying to do” because the mission has become the mission, and Jesus is very often marginalized in the process.
As the church, we are supposed to be set apart from the world, not trying to garner its favor by turning everything we do into something that looks like a major concert event. But, instead we have somehow decided that it’s more “relevant” to be “relevant” by the means and measures of the world, and the whole time our congregations actually do suffer for it.
And, before you say something like, “that’s not my church” – ask yourself this: are you saying that because you are part of the agreeing crowd? If that’s the reason, then you are actually part of the problem. That is, unless you want to do something about it by rolling up your sleeves and getting dirty.
Hey- this whole topic is difficult. I get it. And I know that I sound angry in this installment, and that’s because I am. Yes, it’s partially because I am now in the generation that is being ignored in a lot of cases. It’s really more because I realize that the excuses being given by the people who do this are bullshit at the very core.
If you find yourself being angry at what I’ve written here, all I can say is that being angry is part of taking the easy road. If we can’t talk about this honestly, then I am forced to wonder what the hell we all do this for in the first place. People are messy animals and have warts and horns and things we don’t want to see – especially ourselves – but if you are a worship participant in any form, you signed on to work with these messy animals, and to think that there’s an easy way to do that makes you delusional.
If you are someone who organizes worship services, or even just participates in them, there is nothing wrong with some introspection here and you know that. No doubt, I’ve ruffled some feathers here, and as I said when I began this series, I will not apologize for that. A good feather ruffling is necessary sometimes, and just because the writer of this blog has been a “behind the scenes” player in a lot of this doesn’t make my viewpoint any less valid. I understand your job is difficult, but so is mine in supporting you and I dare say that the job of supporting you is even harder for a congregant who feels like they are on the outside looking in. All I would ask is that you consider those people – even before you consider me – because those that are on the outside don’t really like being there.