Do you ever find it odd that we have worship celebrities? I’m not suggesting that guys like Chris Tomlin or David Crowder are odd (okay, Crowder is a bit odd, but in a cool way), I’m just saying that the concept of a celebrity worshiper is strange. In some ways, these musicians are more powerful than their secular counterparts. Everyone loves U2, but I don’t think anyone gathers weekly and sings their songs for 20 – 30 minutes. The songs these giants record find their way into virtually every church in America and shape our worship experiences.
There are many benefits to worship songs with this level of popularity. For one thing, I love that I can visit almost any church and feel right at home with the songs they’re singing. It gives us a more universal and united sense of what the broader church really is.
But I wonder if we’ve become too dependent on the “professional worship leaders” (quotation marks because it doesn’t feel right without them). We have essentially outsourced our worship music. Rather than each group of believers expressing their own praise to God, we pay a “firm” to create songs for us. A very select handful of talented musicians express their worship to God through creative and catchy songs, then every Christian across the country purchases, sings, and internalizes those songs. (Incidentally, I think this is yet another way—like franchising church plants, evangelizing as salesmen, and focusing on entertaining services—that the modern church reflects its tendency to view itself as a corporation).
I think we lose something very important through this arrangement. Where is the church’s creativity? Certainly God’s work in our lives is universal enough that we can all earnestly and passionately sing the same songs. But shouldn’t each cluster of Christians have something unique to praise God for? Aren’t we all learning about and experiencing God in different ways at different times?
Variations in content aside, let’s consider musical style. Should churches in the heart of Texas, inner-city Los Angeles, and small mountain towns across America all be incorporating the same musical styles? Surely these vastly different cultures could come up with some unique and exciting ways to praise God with a variety of musical instruments, tempos, styles, and tones. Would it not glorify God to hear His praise voiced in so many different ways?
To be clear, I’m not organizing a boycott against popular worship leaders. But I am very serious about calling each community of faith to assess its God-given talent and use every ounce of creative expression for God’s glory. Imagine singing Chris Tomlin songs alongside music that has come out of your own church—unique manifestations of praise that could not have found expression in any other setting? I love thinking about the possibilities this could bring.
So if you’re a musician who is also a Christian, find ways to glorify God through your music. And if the Spirit leads you to write something that could be used to edify your church body, take the bold step of sharing that music with the people around you. If you’re not a musician, encourage the musicians in your midst to dust off their instruments and begin creating to the glory of God.
Maybe the songs your church comes up with won’t end up topping any charts, but then again, that’s really not the point. It’s all about using every aspect of our lives and all of the gifts that God gives us to build up the church and reflect Him to the world around us.