Thursday, October 18, 2007

Celebrity Worship

Christians (especially ones involved in worship ministry) love videos like this.

We should like videos like this because it reminds us that worship is truly about the creator and the cross. Sometimes our commercialized worship culture conditions us to, figuratively speaking, “admire those admiring the sunset” rather than admiring the sunset itself.

Here’s my problem. Today I was a guest lecturer to grad students at the University of Iowa who are in the Sacred Music program. My job was to teach them about the ins and outs of a contemporary music/arts ministry. All in all things went very well and it was a good learning experience (hopefully for them and me). I worked hard to set-up a solid biblical and strategic basis for some of the choices we make within the Evangelical church movement when it comes to communicating the gospel of Christ. Our main priority being to communicate this life changing message in a way that engages our culture. I also honestly talked about the dangers of a CCM industry that tends to make decisions based upon the bottom line of what sells. When I came to the point of the lecture where I began showing the class contemporary worship resources, I went to and Songselect and was totally surprised what I saw when I looked at those sites through the eyes of these students. On the main page of both these sites are pictures of “worship celebrities". Upon seeing these web pages some students actually laughed out loud while I said something like “yes, here are some of the worship celebrities”.

My concern is that we all get very excited about songs and media that proclaim our allegiance to the King while at the same time pandering to consumer culture by making worship leaders into celebrities. The outside world looks in and laughs at the hypocrisy.


James said...

I somewhat understand the concern. I think it's faced by Christians beyond music, e.g. how some give a lot of credit to a certain preacher.

But at the same time, however, I think about how, for example, the distinct ministry of Beth Moore has affected so many depressed women, how many college men have been inspired by John Piper or why worshipers are moved by the unique works of Jason Upton. In each case, God has given them talents or tasks in which they faithfully served and glorified him. I find it hard to imagine that God would deny them an ounce of credit for portraying His truth or inventing a methodology for worship.

I think what it largely amounts to is the definition of worship. Like the word "love," it's tossed around a bit much. Regularly I find myself saying that I love my wife and I love the TV series "The Office." Obviously, the term can't be interpreted the same way each use. In the same way, to its credit, I have yet to see any fan of CCM "worship" a worship leader to a degree anywhere close to the biblical context. Back then, the term seemed to be reserved for gods and ego-maniacal rulers, not for a human whose efforts you simply admire or find agreeable. Nevertheless, the "outside world" tosses it all into one term.

Adam said...

And, realistically, western culture needs heroes. We look to sports figures or movie celebrities, but we can't actually claim them as our heroes (other than by dressing like them or cheering for their team). Especially in Christian circles, we try to give glory where it is due to those who inspire us and move us...and the primary target becomes the people pointing us toward the sunset (good alliteration Scott!)...almost as if to say to the secular world, "See? We can still have OUR heroes!" What a challenge it is to remain transparent and humble while pointing toward the Creator and not the created.

Jim Coates said...

Interesting post Scott...

I think the bottom line might be that the secular world expects us to be different in ways that we really aren't.

This is not to say that we are wrong to respect the talents of worship leaders and authors etc., but rather to say that we have been wrong in allowing Christianity to be perceived by the world as a religion that DOESN'T acknowledge talent, beauty and wisdom.

I'll leave it at that.

Scott Sterner said...

James and Adam,

I certainly concede that we tend to make celebrities of lots of people. As you point out, to a certain degree it is understandable (and perhaps even good in some cases like Hebrews 11). One of the Catholic men in the classroom yesterday asked in regard to some famous preachers that “if they died in a car accident, wouldn’t their church just disappear?” I think he was getting at the fact that we (Evangelicals) tend to build churches/movements around certain people and that people outside the church look in and see the celebrities, not the savior. We could respond “as long as it gets them in the door, that’s ok.” The only problem with that thought is that it is the celebrity status that may keep them from coming in the door at all.

To be honest, I don’t think we can totally get away from this; however, I think we should take care in our selling of worship to not anchor our campaign to any name but Jesus. It’s just too risky and comes across quite cheesy and fake to the watching world.


I hear you. I know this post is pretty strong. Let me clarify a bit more. I don’t have a problem with CCM artists having their faces on album covers, posters, advertisements, etc…. What I’m talking about here is congregational worship music that is for the people of God to adore and engage with God. Presenting worship leaders as celebrities crosses the line for me. I am not saying they shouldn’t be recognized or not have their face on their CD covers. I guess celebrity human faces being the selling point on a portal where worship music is sold for the congregation just feels wrong. It was especially noticeable to a group of people outside of the Evangelical faith who were left asking “is this about God or worship celebrities in super passionate worship poses?” It just felt very cheesy, slick, and fake. Perhaps this is just a bad move on the part of some marketing person. Perhaps this is just me showing a bit of my frustration with the big business side of the worship industry. I certainly appreciate the people who are writing great worship music. I just don’t want it to be all about them. I wonder what they feel when they see their mug shot on these worship music sites?

Adam said...

Yeah, the journalists definitely had an antagonistic motive going into those church groups. Any one thing that threw them off was noted and exploited...almost as if they had a grudge against it. Many grains of sand to be sure.