(pic credit: ©2017 by Joshua Meyer. Used with permission)
Hello, Adore The Lord blog-readers! We continue our Interview with chief Blog author Crisbaj regarding Modern Worship Industry bands out-and-about, on tour and playing big public venues…
Q: Did I miss something, or did the large-scale ‘Christian Music’ concerts we saw in the 1980’s with artists like Amy Grant and Petra morph into ‘Modern Worship Industry’ artists like Chris Tomlin, Hillsong and Bethel Collective?
A: You noticed! Veteran bloggers like Dan Wilt (www.danwilt.com ) and Don Chapman (www.worshipideas.com ) have been writing recently that ‘Christian Music’, which was pop and rock music infused with ‘Jesus lyrics’ has shifted to the ‘Modern Worship Industry’ featuring today’s incarnation of sacred music… filled with songs that quickly find themselves on the Sunday morning service set-list of large and small churches around the world. ‘Christian Music’ isn’t dead, but the Gospel Music Association pivoted towards Mod Worship as the main floor of the industry in 2015.
There are still ‘Christian Music’ bands slogging it out, but that’s because they are attractive to Marketplace clubs and the House-of-Blues circles. Switchfoot, Lifehouse, Jars of Clay. Some bands straddle that dichotomy, as Delirious did. Some old-schoolers like Phil Keaggy are still doing Saturday-night shows IN churches.
Q: What changed? Why the shift?
A: The music-buying public shifted. Sacred music in a pop, rock and emo formats became OK in the 2000’s, and became OK in church. The culture-warriors keeping rock music out of churches in the ‘80’s basically caved. The major shift… in the US, but also UK, Australia and throughout the English-speaking world… of the Western Protestant to mega- and modern churches meant a different approach.
Over half of the US church-goer population attend a church over 2,000 people. Studies have shown that those big churches significantly play the ‘Mod Worship’ formats, and are more likely to have bands and big sound-systems. They have created a market, and the billions of dollars spent on Mod Worship recordings every year prove it out. This has shifted artists out of the ‘slough it out as an artist’ in dingy halls and small cafés mode, to ‘become a worship pastor’ in a Mod Worship-friendly church while you record your follow-up tune to ‘Good, Good Father’.
Q: All this a bad thing?
A: Not at all, especially from my world-hopping travels-perspective. It HAS created another ‘unintended consequence’, which is hot Mod Worship songs from the US or Australia get immediately translated and imitated all over the planet, with some disastrous translations. Regardless, getting God-ward art and music out in the Marketplace is part of our ‘Salt and Light’ calling. It has many, many implications, both big and small, and there have been problems of context and assumption.
Q: Implications, like… ?
A: It means that churches and leaders have to sort out the issues of Christians doing big-event Christian-things in the fallen Marketplace, in a place like an arena… and figure out the difference of the Marketplace from where the People of God come together to engage with God in what we call a Church setting or building. All the recent building of church-spaces styled after secular-styled stages, auditoriums and sonic designs… the gathering-places of God’s People now bring context-confusion. People need a distinction between Sacred spaces and Secular spaces, and the current format of ‘Church’, especially with the mega-churches, blurs this distinction. These days, it’s hard to know if you are in a hockey arena for Princess on Ice, a Mod Worship arena concert or Sunday service in a mega-church building.
I also perceive that Mod Worship’s commercial success is blunting the understanding of the calling of the Church in the Marketplace. Some people like Matt Redman, Bethel Collective and Brian Houston of Hillsong get it, that their role isn’t to be ‘Mod Worship Super-Stars-to be-worshipped’, but equippers and wide-distributors of the sacred tunes being released. When those that ‘get it’ release a new batch of songs, their web-sites are giving the lead sheets away for free, on-line, to the Church.
However, the thoughts of some younger bands and ministries swim when they start doing arenas. Large public venues can be very seductive and intoxicating, and our culture has taught us to value and respond to that setting in performance-based ways, some of which is counter-productive to God-adoration. The modern psychology of stage-facing-audience is pretty engrained in the culture, and people will respond out of that.
Q: Is the reception of Mod Worship in the Marketplace all warm-and-fuzzy?
A: The music business has embraced it, and tossed it onto the money-making train. There is some push-back; the ‘Christian Blog-o-sphere’ is constantly ablaze with people’s negative reaction to seeing a concert in a big arena with someone like Tomlin and his band… who are great brothers and tooled in keeping the stage-presence controlled, may I say… and that it is somehow a minor abomination to them that artists would try to ‘hold church’ with a massive sound and light and smoke show in a secular arena. I suspect the critics are music leaders in small, struggling churches with struggling music programs… but the tens of thousands who come out to the big shows keep the Mod Worship industry moving in that trajectory, regardless of the small percentage of push-back.
However, I DO hope that the Mod Worship ‘industry’ people will take a step back and begin to ask serious questions about motive and intention, and to what extent have they bought into ‘feed my self-image and ego with your applause, O adoring audience’? What un-conscious message are the lights and smoke sending to the Christians who come to the shows? To what degree are the parent music distribution companies of the Mod Worship product forcing secular behaviour in the work of the Mod Worship artists? It is never value-neutral.
The question of how Christians behave properly in the Marketplace has always been a difficult one… like it or not, there’s still lions about in the Arena…
Q: What about the large stadium events?
A: Go, enjoy! Be ready to fork out a lot of money, close-up seats to the stages are beginning to run into the hundreds of dollars. Enjoy being with people from hundreds of churches, singing sacred songs in the middle of the Marketplace. Just know that this IS a huge, across-the-spectrum gathering of people, many of whom are NOT following Jesus. There will be moments where you are stirred to give God worship, and there will be moments where the concert setting is stirring your emotions… know the difference.
It also strikes me as very… unique… that the big shows like Hillsong will attract some peeps from very, very conservative church movements. Those folks sometimes bristle when a young person from a Charismatic praxis is jumping and raising their hands, but… I guess these events can serve as a unity-breeding playground.
Q: Should these events be evangelistic events?
A: I’ve always struggled with the idea of asking somebody to pay $50 for a ticket to a Christian show, then we preach to them and hold an evangelistic event. Is that ethical? I’m not sure.
If you want a big-stadium event and a big-name band but it being evangelistic, then Billy Graham and the Harvest Crusades have demonstrated a sound model. These are stadium settings that are evangelistic, the music can be sacred in the middle of the Marketplace, but the money thing is different.
Q: What about churches going ‘seeker-sensitive’ and replicating the style and feel of the Marketplace club and concert events as their Church-life?
A: Seeker-sensitive is still a hot-potato issue. The ancient church right after Jesus and before Constantine wouldn’t know what you’re talking about. I do know that people who profess being a Christian from the seeker-sensitive approach are tacitly sent a message that church is about being a consumer and that their tastes should drive their experience. Is that what we want to instill during a call to discipleship and self-sacrifice for the life with Christ? It has many implications later on.
Q: SO, the crashing question: can Christians go to these big-event shows and actually worship… or is it all about smoke and lights?
A: One thing I’ve found about gutsy Worshippers in that ‘John Chapter 4’ sense is that, when-ever and where-ever they sense a break-through of the manifest Presence of the Lord, they acknowledge it and give Adoration to the Lord. It can be in the middle of a Mod Worship arena gig, or on a busy street corner in New York or LA; these Worshippers really don’t care where they are at.
There will be many moments during a large-scale event where Worshippers will sense break-through, and worship. Others will enjoy a night of very professional music in a positive context… I have a habit of talking to arena security peeps, and they love working Mod Worship shows with no violence and few intoxicated people… Others will be captivated with the performance aspects, since a show that size mostly requires performance ethics to pull them off… and that’s what probably rubs some people wrong.
There are some huge-scale events, like the Passion meetings every year, that run the event like a Church camp in a stadium, with times meant for connection with the Lord. I hear great things coming from that gathering, including people who really sensed a connecting with God.
(ed note: see John 4:19-26)
Q: What’s next? What’s the future going to look like?
A: Well… that’s the big question, isn’t it? This blog, Adore the Lord, has been launched to contribute to that conversation.
The Mod Worship movement, with the accompanying industry, seem to make many people believe that all the current presentation formats and styles equate to ‘all things Worship’ historically, and for now and into Eternity. We need to blow that up.
Heaven-styled worship and adoration IS the Telos, the final goal. Isaiah, Revelations, the Moses and Elijah and Mount of Transfiguration encounters DO teach us about Heaven. It doesn’t have a stage; it has a Throne room and a King surrounded 360 degrees in a sea of people. Oh yeah, and it will be loud, except for the occasional half-hour of silence (see Revelations 8). Yeah, there will be music, and every billion years or so, it MAY resemble the current pop-rock-gospel format for a few minutes, but all the new songs and explosions of the un-countable styles and expressions of God-adoration will blow us away in Heaven. The smoke will be us chopping our accomplishments up and burning them as an offering to the Really Worthy One. Like it says in 1Cor 2:9, “as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him..” We really have NO idea how amazing worship is going to be… especially because we will have full knowledge of WHO the worship and adoration is going to.
Q: Any examples of helpful things going on to move the needle?
A: What I call the ‘organic God-adoration’ movement is growing, and it’s way more than just ‘worship unplugged’. The current ‘Harp and Bowl Worship’ movement is trying to sound out what Revelations 5 worship is all about, which has been interesting. A number of churches have limited the number of Sunday services with a band to monthly, going single guitar or even acapella the rest of the time, just like old Frontier churches. I’m hearing of a ‘catacomb worship’ approach, which is totally paired back. The current rise in the number of House Churches has meant a meaning-search for Ephesians 5, “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord”… those words were written for the gatherings of the first-century Church IN homes.
I am a bit worried about an unintended consequence of the current Mod Worship thing we are currently in. Big-performance band sets at Sunday church, professional recordings, concerts in arenas, the whole thing… I’m seeing a stunting and huge push-back in many people who have ‘average’ singing capability or ‘OK’ guitar-playing skills… which is most of the people who are in Church! The current landscape has created a no-can-do for most of the Saints. People don’t want to sing in their private prayer times, they don’t want to sing or play in a small group or a home church meeting… why? Well, because they squeak and are off-pitch and they can only bang out a dozen chords, and they just can’t sound half as good as the professional band that plays on Sunday. They have become intimidated by the big-band, pro-recorded music they are experiencing in the life of the Church, which is huge and professional and slick and over-whelming, and can NEVER be replicated in a small group or prayer-closet.
My wife says we need a revival of the ‘make a joyful noise’ (Psalm 100:1 KJV) crowd in church, the one’s who can’t carry a tune or play an instrument, which is the vast majority.
TAKE-AWAY: Arise, O Sleeper and sing it out!
Blog written by crisbaj
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