Has “Modern Worship” Become Corrupt?

thinkjump29Have We Lost The Heart of Modern Worship, Are Things as Pure as They Once Where? or Has “Modern Worship” Become Corrupt?

In the early days of praise and worship growing up in the church, it was popular for “defenders of the faith” (those who preferred the established style of music at the time) to attack the new style because they said it lacked substance, and pandered to the culture. Over the years, this criticism actually helped make modern worship songs become better theological representations of Christian teaching. The arguments about style eventually waned and died when clear-headed adults realized that musical style has almost no relevance in a theological instrument. “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord”, at least that is what David said. What was David’s point?  Simply this- no matter the instrument, the sound, the form or even person, the call remains the same “praise the Lord”.  Simply review Psalms 148-150 and you begin to see that God is calling us to praise Him regardless of our place in life (Psalm 148:11,12), regardless of the art form (dance or music – Psalm 149:3), regardless of the instrument (Psalm 149:3-5), even regardless of whether you are a human, angelic being or just a part of creation (Psalm 148:1-12). So while the “worship wars” may have happened in our churches for the last 30 years, it became obvious that David probably had won the argument about format a good 3000 years before we started discussing it in the 20th century- Let everything that has breathe praise the Lord!

But no sooner had the “old” vs “new” fight subsided, than we began to hear rumblings about the “corruption” of modern worship. After 30 years of infancy, its growth into adolescence was met by some amount of disdain by a good group of its progenitors. The original “guard” that was around when praise and worship burst on the church was now becoming vocal about the ongoing change that continued to propel the stylistic growth of the music. But more than just that, there was a “we told you so” attitude developing that began to expound the idea that the community of practitioners was now becoming enamored with the commercialization of the musical genre that had grown up around the music. In other words you could hear this said in a thousand different ways from some people- “this modern worship isn’t as pure and humble as the original stuff”. Also there is the idea that “worship leaders are just trying to become artists with record deals”.

You could tack on a hundred variations to those two previous statements, but most often they boil down to those ideas.

So, let’s talk about it. Is “modern worship” corrupt?

I’ll answer that with another question. Is Christianity corrupt?

I think the truth is that you have to say both no and yes. For the most part, honest followers of Jesus are not bent on corruption of their faith or others. Also within the community of honest followers of Jesus, there are those who are (to varying degrees) corrupted by painful, sad choices and poor character. And finally, there are those who are actually apostates- people who willfully seek false doctrines for their own selfish motivations. Christians- the community of those who declare themselves to be honest followers of Jesus- I believe or not largely corrupt. They are instead, redeemed, and indeed, being more redeemed as they apply their lives to His guidance and instruction. Yet, they are still humans living on earth and are subject to brokenness. So there will always (until He returns) be a schismed vision of the Body of Christ- one which portrays a Bride to which Christ will return. And yet still, one that is in need of His continuing and ongoing work of purification, renewal and mercy. We are redeemed, but in daily need of a tethered existence to His faithful mercy for our lives.

So if this is the place we find ourselves with our existence as a Christian community, what can we say about “modern worship”?

Personally, I don’t think “modern worship” is any more tragically perverted than anything else in “Christiandom”. And the same arguments that I applied above apply to those involved in worship ministry today. On the whole, I believe we have a worship community within Christiandom that is sincerely devoted to Christ and seeks Godly goals in their work within the community of bringing forth praise and worship.

Often times I hear people getting negative as though they are hoping for some “good old days” of worship. It seems people love to jump on the bandwagon of bashing worship these days because they perceive its gone so commercial. Is there a misconception and excess now that has grown up with the creation of an “industry”? Sure there is! But frankly, that has existed in Christian preaching and leadership for years. The same is true of CCM (contemporary Christian music), television personalities, and healing/deliverance ministries. Did we throw them out as wholly “abhorrent”? No! Instead, we learned to weed out the good from bad.

To me, it comes down to each person, each church, each song and each worshiper. As we talk, look, listen and encounter them one at a time, we find a whole different story. When I look at each person and situation, and stop generalizing, and talk to individuals and churches (or investigate specific songs), I find something surprising. The devotion, the heart, the desire and the humility far outweigh the excess. And the devotional pulse of the local congregations is more, not less, participative in the gathered worship times than it has been in decades. Only 30 years ago the gathered church sang songs that almost NEVER spoke intimately with God, now its normative. Wow. That alone is a significant change.

Is it perfect? Is it the ultimate? By no means. Do we need more authenticity and more foundational return to cultivating Biblical consistency mixed with relevant language in our song vocabulary? Absolutely! Can we keep working on humbly following God in all this, without mixed agendas? No doubt.

Should we worry about our young leaders pursuing “music careers” because an industry has grown up around “worship” that has provided a few people with occupations? How sad if we fixate on that.

First, as far as an “industry”, we don’t have to worry there. The Christian (and worship) music “industry is practically vaporised. Today, whether you have a real ministry from God in worship, or an imagined one from vanity, your chances of “making it” are about 0.000833%. Seriously. Because of the 120 million people who claim to be Christians in the US (and that is being very generous, since we know that many people don’t actually go to church!), only a few hundred of those actually make their living as bonafide, full-time, Christian musicians and artists who work in the “music industry”. The point is this- the industry is not just small, it is minuscule. Additionally, it is shrinking at an alarming rate in due no small part to the collapse of the commercial music model at the hands of the internet age. No one is making a living in music these days unless they are providing something real– like the ability to actually perform live music, a gifting to truly minister in a local church, a heart to genuinely care for people. For all intents and purposes, selling “product” is dead. CDs don’t sell, and only 1 in 20 downloads of music are legal. Illegal stealing of music (Christians included) has destroyed the music industry. What remains are simply people and God’s gifts on them. If that is not a return to reality I don’t know what is.

Should we teach young leaders to not fixate and seek a musical career of “glory” at the expense of a contrite devotional heart? Obviously we should teach them. But to judge “modern worship” as corrupt is as short sighted as the praise and worship naysayers 30 years ago because it lays on the heads of every Christian, musician and worshiper a judgement that really only applies to a very, very small minority of hurting people who are looking inappropriately to follow a misguided sense of ministry by relying on a worship industry to make them famous as they “serve God”.

Is there a place for talented young musicians, writers and leaders? Yes there is! Because while there are a tiny number of “jobs” in the Christian music industry, there are literally tens of thousands of jobs for good musicians, leaders and songwriters. “Where?”, you ask. We call them music ministers, worship leaders and choir directors. They are needed and employable in a place called the local church. Should their gifting and exceptional songwriting prove encouraging to their local church, other churches may benefit from it. Should other churches be built up by it and tell others, then eventually that gifting may open up invitation and opportunity for that person to minister in an ever widening scope of local churches. At some point that gifting will carry that person into an industry where they may, for a time, bless an entire nation through God’s blessing on their lives in music. Do we look down on the ones who come and go through an “industry” because it suits our need to criticize? Or do we disdain them because it wasn’t us? Are there some that have tainted motives? Do we have tainted motives? I think we all know that there will always be something of a mixture in anything we seek to do that is virtuous. But as we surrender to God, He is faithful and just to work on our hearts in it all.

And while we will do well to surrender our hearts to his cleansing, purifying work of the Holy Spirit, why don’t we also trust that He will do His work in the hearts of those others we are concerned about, who happen to be the current artists, worship leaders and songwriters of “modern worship”?

Perhaps the challenge is all of ours then, to be open hearts instead of pointing fingers.

In Christ,

Kim Anthony Gentes

Kim is a local church guy, currently serving as a worship leader at Gilbert Vineyard in Arizona which is a church in the south east valley of the Phoenix metro area. Kim has been amazingly blessed to be with his sweetheart of 20 years of marriage, Carol, and to have the wonderful opportunity to grow up with his 3 sons – Jordan, Jared and Cody.

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  • Ed Ballard

    I was talking with the bass player about this subject about 6 months ago. We came to the conclusion that as worship leaders we must hold our pride in check. We also thought it would be almost impossible to judge others who lead worship. If we are aware of our own weaknesses we can repent and change what we are doing wrong. I’m glade for the Christians who would mention to me that I am putting glory to myself. This is something we watch for consistently. I wouldn’t want to be in disagreement with God.

  • http://www.gccnh.com Jacob Downing

    Kim,
    I think this is a timely and accurate article. I see a great shift in the “industry” of worship leaders that serve dually in their own local church as well as in a touring schedule that allows them to minister to the masses. For example, Chris Tomlin, Chirsty Nockels, David Crowder, Lincoln Brewster, Steve Fee, and so many others that I wouldn’t have to space to write them all down here. There are two things that really challenge me as a “young” worship leader of 28.
    “Do we need more authenticity and more foundational return to cultivating Biblical consistency mixed with relevant language in our song vocabulary? Absolutely!”
    I have been having a hard time finding worship songs that I want to sing on a Sunday morning for this very reason. I feel like the Spirit of God is bringing us to this place. It is stirring in all of our hearts and I really feel like this will be the next big move of “modern worship”.
    The second thing,
    Is there a place for talented young musicians, writers and leaders? Yes there is! Because while there are a tiny number of “jobs” in the Christian music industry, there are literally tens of thousands of jobs for good musicians, leaders and songwriters. “Where?”, you ask. We call them music ministers, worship leaders and choir directors. They are needed and employable in a place called the local church.

    I feel like this is where a lot of people are missing the mark. We are to worried about getting a seasoned musician rather than taking in the young and training them. Not just musically but in the Word and how to live a life that is pure and holy. If we bring them in young when they have the passion, and teach them, when they do began to bless more than just our church with there gift and maybe the nation, we will no longer have and issue with “corruption” at all, because they young would have been taught by the old.

    WE NEED TO BE DISCIPLED BY YOU!!! WE NEED YOU WHO HAVE BEEN THERE TO TEACH US HOW TO DO WHAT YOU DO! YOUR NOT TO OLD! WE WANT TO LEARN FROM YOU AND THEN PUT OUR MUSICAL TWIST ON IT!

  • Steven C Stark

    I have been a worship leader over the past 27 years and I have to say, I’m actually glad to hear that enough people are complaining enough to get other worship leaders to start taking notice enough to even write about it. I’ve been wrestling with this problem for over 20 years now and though my response maybe a bit winded, please know I share this with love and grace.

    I really appreciate your view point in your article and I even agree with you in may ways, but I find one thing lacking in your article that I have found lacking in so many of our worship leaders over the past 15 to 20 years. What I find lacking is a genuine concern for the people we worship leaders have been leading in worship all of these years.

    I find that most worship leaders are more concerned about defending their right to express themselves artistically then they are in the condition of their congregations. This is not to say that I get this from you and your article, but your article was a bit on the passive side of the argument of our Modern Worship becoming corrupt or not.

    To me, the real issue isn’t whether or not our Modern Worship has become corrupt or not – the issue must become: has our Modern Worship produced any fruit or not in the congregations we’ve been leading.

    As a missionary for the past 17 years, I have traveled a lot and have been to many different churches throughout North America as well as Europe and I have consistently seen a similar pattern in most of the churches I’ve attended who incorporate our so called, “Modern Worship” – what I consistently see are congregations that are filled with “Spectators”. What’s even more troubling is most of the worship leaders who are leading these congregations are so busy producing great sounding worship services that they don’t even notice that the majority of the people they are supposedly leading in worship are just standing around spectating.

    The real tragedy of Modern Worship is that it hasn’t produced the lovers of God we once saw in the “Old Days” when contemporary worship first started showing up. The bottom line is I don’t see any fruit from it. I think we all agree that it started off really great and then somewhere down the road everything changed. I personally think the reason why it started off the way it did is because the “Heart” was really the motivating and driving factor in the early days of Modern Worship. It wasn’t that the modern music and choruses we were singing was a new thing we didn’t have previously and that is what was driving the worship, it was that people really did Love God and finally had away to express that love with passion towards their God in away that was heartfelt instead of the old conservative way that constrained our hearts as we used to worship when all we had were hymnals. With choruses, we finally had away to tell God we truly did love Him and worshiped Him with passion and sincerity. In other words, what I think I’m trying to say is Love is what was driving our Modern Worship in the beginning, not the new musical style.

    Love should always be the driving force behind our worship and the way we worship our God. I think Modern Worship became – as you say “Corrupt” only because worship was no longer being driven by love. Instead, it was being driving by musical style and artistic expression and yes, even money was driving it as it was becoming so commercialized. Granted, the music in our Modern Worship these days sounds so much better than it did in it’s infancy stages back in the 70’s and 80’s, but without the love, really, it has become nothing more than a clanging symbol.

    Now, I could be wrong on this, but if so many people in the church are complaining about “Modern Worship” becoming “Corrupt”, don’t you think it might be because so many people recognize how truly empty the sound of clanging symbols really sounds.

    For me, when worship is driven by the heart, then the fruit will always be Love. When it’s driven by the music, then the fruit will always be a clanging symbol. When Love drives worship then I believe what you will eventually find on the other end is a congregation filled with lovers of God. When the music is what drives worship, then what you will find is exactly what we have today – Song Singers or worse – Spectators.

    We’ve all had our fill with MUSICAL STYLE, and we’ve come out on the other end empty and I believe the church is realizing that STYLE doesn’t bring fulfillment. The people are complaining about our Modern Day worship and our worship leaders seem to be spending more time defending themselves rather than listening to the people they should have been leading all along and adjusting to their needs.

    Isn’t that what WORSHIP LEADING is all about anyways – leading the church so that they can truly worship their God? If the people have become spectators instead of lovers, shouldn’t our worship leaders take notice of that and choose to do something about it? Shouldn’t we start examining why our congregations have become so impotent instead of continuing on producing the same old stuff?

    I would love to read something about this from a really good writer such as yourself. It’s time to start standing up and fighting for the people who have stood around long enough spectating. It’s time to do what Matt Redman wrote about years ago: Lets’ really get back to the heart of worship and make it all about Christ. If we do this, then and only then will the people in our congregations learn to start expressing their true love towards God instead of just standing around spectating.

    Thanks for allowing me the time to respond to your article.

    Blessings,

  • http://www.loribiddle.com Lori Biddle

    “The real tragedy of Modern Worship is that it hasn’t produced the lovers of God we once saw in the “Old Days” when contemporary worship first started showing up.”

    Man, at least in our area of the country I couldn’t disagree more with the above commenter.

    We receive no compliment at our ministry without the person mentioning their love for the worship! The only people in our congregation (about 2,500) who spectate are new attendees checking out the church. Some of the lost that come to know the Lord specifically have told me over the years that the music played a HUGE part in their conversion. They say they understand it and the way it described the Lord far easier than the church they grew up in that was filled with music that contained hard to understand church language at times.

    Don’t get me wrong, I completely cherish the old hymns and we make sure to include them in our services often.

    Our young college aged and upper high school kids are being strategically targeted for mentoring and new small groups are created to care for them and teach them. I oversee all the Technical and Musical areas of the ministry and it is ME creating the connection points for our young adults. I am completely committed to raising up the next generation to lead the church!

    I don’t wait for the youth group to do it, or parents to do it, if I as the leader want young people committed to leading worship – I have to create the opportunities and connect them to solid Bible teachers.

    Just this week as I walked down the backstage hallway I passed a graduating high school guitarist talking and laughing with our 50 something drummer. Cool stuff.

    I don’t try to define our churches music in any certain genre, but, instead explore whatever I feel best supports the pastor’s teaching that weekend and communicates God’s love the clearest.

    I had an eye opening experience just this week that I wrote about with a Christian genre of music I don’t care for, but, now must admit God is using it. I have become my parents scared of new styles, just as they were with the Modern worship of today! ha ha you can see what I mean by reading this…

    http://www.loribiddle.com/2009/06/night-to-remember.html

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPF89_Y0vJY yod

    I think our worship music is a reflection of the corruption of our nation which has influenced our congregations. We are what we have become.

    Only a national repentance is going to make a lasting change. In the meantime, there is always going to be remnant of saints seeking reform.

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  • Nathan

    This post is lukewarm. Are you really saying anything, or is this a mere defense of error?

    I’m sorry to sound harsh, but really–what are you saying . . . that people should just take it for what it is?

    How do you think God feels about it? I know that God does not appreciate vain words and will not suffer any flesh to glory in His presence.

  • Robey Tulak

    It is my opinion that current services in organized religion are pretty much soulish. The band walks out and entertains people. LOUD/SOULISH music. Professing Christians have become conditioned to that. I was raised attending the Kathryn Kuhlman services in PGH, PA. Those services were like no other that I have ever attended!! The services were Spiritual, not soulish as today. Get a copy of “The Latent Power Of The Soul” by Watchman Nee. — Not heresy! I really contend that this is now the Laodicean church age. Spit out! There may be a few exceptions.
    Will Jesus find Faith? I think that is individual. I want Him to find Faith regarding me!! To God be the Glory!!!

  • Robey Tulak

    Also Kim, I see that acoustic piano. Sure would like to come and play it and lead in True, Spiritual Worship. I live in Henderson, NV–Not too far from you.