8 Reasons the Worship Industry Is Killing Worship

Kill the worship industry before it kills worship

It spreads bad theology. Mostly because it comes from the wrong sources. The best of the church’s hymnody was written by pastors and theologians. It was crafted by poets and scholars. The result are texts of high quality. But the industry in its quest to be marketable only has room for marketable people who write marketable songs. It entrusts sacred storytelling to many with dubious credentials as artists, poets, or theologians.


I grew up listening to contemporary Christian music. I’ve still got the Michael W. Smith cassette tapes to prove it. For a Baptist homeschooler, there was really no other option, it seemed. Our church was also contemporary, but in the late 80s and early 90s, that meant we sang little choruses, a few early CCM songs (think Keith Green, Maranatha, that sort of thing) and some gospel hymn medleys, not the stuff we heard on the radio. That’s not the case anymore. While there may not be complete overlap, there is virtually no difference between “church” music and “radio” music.

I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

In a recent post about the decline of contemporary worship, I suggested that it might be time for Christians, particularly those who recognize the importance of worship, to kill the worship industry before it kills worship. Here are some reasons why I think this is the case.

  1. It’s sole purpose is to make us feel something.The industry, as with the mainstream music industry,must engage us on a purely sensory level to find widespread appeal in an entertainment-addicted culture. It must make us feel something on a purely emotional level. It strikes a match for the initial excitement of the spark. It must hook us in to be profitable. And so, the quality of theology, poetry, and music suffers accordingly. And we trade the beauty of God’s story for the initial excitement of sensory stimulation. Singing love songs to Jesus is not the point of gathered worship. I find Robert Webber’s definition helpful: Worship is doing God’s story.
  2. The industry hijacks worship.When the mind is disengaged and worship is reduced to an emotional experience, worship descends into narcissistic and self-referential meaninglessness. It becomes, to borrow a term from my experience in evangelical culture, “unchristian.” It turns us inward. How many times have we heard people say, “I can’t worship with that kind of music!” or “I really felt like I could worship today!” What they mean is, “I wasn’t entertained” or “I didn’t understand it.” True Christian worship happens when we engage with the Christian story through Word and Sacrament. When it’s done well, the only possible response is one that looks outside the self to the goodness of God and God’s work in human history, and searches for our place in God’s story.
  3. It says that music IS worship.For the industry, the “worship” is the music part of the service. It uses the old revival meeting order, with a long singing block followed by a long preaching block. In most instances, the invitation is replaced by a another singing block. The singing is the “worship,” the preaching is…well, we’re not sure. It’s not really worship. No corporate prayer, no creeds, no confession. No more gathering, proclaiming, thanksgiving, and The industry’s “worship” music, “worship” albums, and “worship” leaders have helped solidify the contemporary church’s departure from historic liturgy.
  4. It’s a derivative of mainstream commercial music.In the 1960s, Leonard Bernstein said that perhaps five percent of the pop music explosion had something of value to say, givingBrian Wilson’s masterpiece as an example. After fifty years, that percentage is undoubtedly lower, because of the exponential increase in output. And because the industry is committed to creating christianized versions of popular forms, there is little creativity. It just copies the marketable sounds and adds jesusy words. (Does the David Crowder Band sound like Hootie and the Blowfish, or is it just me?)

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