I was trying again this morning to listen to some of the local Christian music stations, and did not receive any surprises. The reason I don’t listen to popular Christian music is that I find most of it (what gets air-play) trite, shallow, and woefully homogenous. Not only is there not much originality out there, there is very little depth. This morning, one fellow was thanking God for “being by his side.” He also noted how God kept him safe as a child and then “let me go.” Just like a good, hands-off earthly father, God raises us, lets us leave the nest and then wires us money when we get desperate. From a religious tradition that has produced the best music the world has ever heard, we are currently an embarrassment to our heritage.
Reflecting on this, it dawns on me that there is at least one serious culprit to the state of affairs in Christian pop music, and that this culprit is also complicit in why many evangelical churches are in the same place.
This simple practical equation rules the day not only in our culture at large, but among many Christians in position of leadership and influence as well:
Money = Success = Right
If a Christian band comes along, sells a lot of CDs and has a successful tour, producers and companies are prepared to copy that success to make more money. And because we are good American Christians, we like to tag on the thought that we must be putting the right message across if Christians are buying the CDs and t-shirts. As a result, more and more of the music sounds the same and because homogeneity is friendly to radio stations, the plainness spreads like a virus.
The same is true if you follow the trends in evangelical ecclesiology. I use the word “ecclesiology” loosely here. Where our forefathers once wrestled with the question of what a rightly-ordered church looked like, we now wrestle with how to unblinkingly assimilate corporate structure and managerial trickery into the body of Christ. How did we get here? A very small handful of churches successfully assimilated church and corporate success, and because of the equation above, became very influential.
As a result, we have homogenous churches, many of whom have very little character or depth. Being different doesn’t sell very well. Being like the other big guy on the block but with a different colored building does tend to sell.
Is there a solution? I think there is, but it will have to rise like an underground swell from individual musicians, artists, pastors and churches dedicated to what God called them to be in the culture God placed them. The lure of money and success has too much of a hold on us generally to hope for a sweeping correction. Individuals will need to show some spiritual courage and refuse to drink the kool-aid. Christian leaders and influencers will need to have the moral and intellectual wherewithal to pay attention to the character and nature of God and be driven by what he wants done in the here and now.
Like the wise parent responding to their teenager telling them that everyone else is doing it, I think God wants to tell us, “you are not everyone else!”