More than one person has now asked my thoughts about an article that has been widely-circulated, “8 Reasons the Worship Industry Is Killing Worship.” (Link to article: http://goo.gl/K0nKtp) So, here goes.
First, there is a flaw in the basic premise of the article. The author seems to indicate that there is some nebulous and nefarious blob out there somewhere called the “worship industry.” Later in the article, he refers to the “worship machine.” I’d be interested in a precise definition of that. Is it a gigantic conspiracy to undermine the Church as whole? I personally know some of the best songwriters and musicians, people whose songs are used worldwide. They would be part of the “worship industry.” They have hearts that truly want to help people engage in worshiping God. Are they wrong for desiring that? I don’t think so. Are they perfect? No.
Now, with that as a premise, let’s look at each of the eight points.
- “It’s [sic] sole purpose is to make us feel something.” Where exactly is that written? Again this evil force (the worship industry) wants us to “feel something.” Ask the songwriters if that’s their main motivation. The ones I know would say, emphatically, “No.”
However, I would add this. Worship, divorced from feeling, is not really worship. God doesn’t primarily want our actions; He wants our hearts. The Webber quote, “Worship is doing God’s story” seems to miss the biblical depiction of worship: people whose attention and hearts are fixed on God to reverence and honor Him. Look at the biblical glimpses of heavenly worship in the Revelation. How could those folks cry out with loud voices or fall on their faces without any feeling? They couldn’t.
- “The industry hijacks worship.” I’m a bit confused by this one. I agree that worship should look beyond us and our experience. It’s about God and honoring Him. However, I have frequently heard the very same statement, “I can’t worship with that kind of music!” used by those who advocate a very traditional style of worship. So how can that be attributed to the “worship industry”? I would suggest that the hijacking of worship to be about us has more to do with our sinful nature than with an “industry.”
- “It says that music IS worship.” Again, none of the songwriters or musicians I know would make such a statement. They would agree that things like prayer, spoken words of praise, giving, etc. can all be worship. It certainly does not need to be music. At the same time, the late Dr. Robert Webber said, “Music is the wheels on which worship moves.” It’s a good point. Songs help us express words that we might not otherwise say.
- “It’s a derivative of mainstream commercial music.” It may be influenced by the music that is popular in the culture, but that’s very different from it being a derivative. To say that worship music is a derivative of mainstream commercial music would be the same as saying that preaching is a derivative of speechmaking. There may be similarities. Some people might even use some of the same mannerisms and practical thought-processes. There may be those who use some of the same tools – a dictionary and thesaurus, for example. But that hardly makes preaching a derivative.
Further, using forms of music that are “mainstream” and popular is nothing new. It’s been done for generations in the Church. Why is it suddenly a bad thing now?
- “It perpetuates an awkward contemporary Christian media subculture.” The further in the article I read, the more frustrated I have become. I’m not entirely sure this one warrants a response. Because the author can point out a really good mainstream “Christian” movie and a couple of less-than-stellar ones from Christian movie producers, that proves the point? I don’t think so. There are only a handful of today’s secular songs that will be remembered as classics fifty years from now. The same is true with Christian songs, even worship songs. That doesn’t somehow make the whole idea of writing worship songs – or even songs in general – wrong.
- “It spreads bad theology.” Finally, a point I can guardedly agree with. I have said this for years. Many current Christian songs have words that do not reflect sound theology. However, we can’t stop with the statement that it spreads bad theology. Because it also spreads good theology. There are lots of really biblically-solid worship songs being sung around the world today because of the “worship industry.”
So, the point is that we don’t throw out the “industry” because some have poor theology. (We’d also have to throw out preaching if that was the case.) Instead, we must be vigilant to be sure that the songs we sing are theologically sound.
- “It creates worship superstars.” I find it frustrating that the author makes blanket statements but offers no remedies. So, based on this same premise, we should have no more preaching because Billy Graham, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, Ravi Zacharias, Chuck Swindoll, etc. are too famous. Hmmm. Maybe that’s not a good premise.
- “It’s made music into a substitute Eucharist.” Although I see the point, I think we’re comparing apples to oranges. If we recognize that worship is God-directed, then the Eucharist is not worship. It may, like preaching, cause us to worship. It has frequently provoked me to worship God by remembering what He has done. As I have encountered the Lord through His Body and Blood, I have often been inspired to worship. But the actual act of communion is not God-directed. So comparing the Lord’s Table to worship is not really a fair comparison.
Whereas the author does offer some good warnings, his throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bath-water approach is far too extreme. The “worship industry” (whatever that is exactly) has given us much for which we should be grateful. To trash the entire thing and all those involved because of some abuses is going overboard.
The heart behind the article seems to says, “I want what we do to be real. It should be Christ-focused.” I would agree. But I think that many songwriters and musicians want that same thing.
Instead of demanding that all those who did or said wrong things be thrown out of the Church, most of the time the Apostle Paul simply taught what was right. That might be a good approach for us to consider.