When Financing Invades Our Worship

In our society, what works and produces profit is what we value. While we hunger for a post-modern identity and story, the structures, all around us scream utility, conformity and results. Money rules. This might even be true in our houses of worship as we may have unintentionally turned business metrics on our expression of worship. The question is this: Do we value utility more than beauty in our worship? The answer is that our culture-infused church in modern America apparently does.

How does this look in our churches today? I think there are some clear values that have to be identified and questioned in order for us to face the challenges ahead of us. These invaders into our worship expression are so tied to our culture that they might be hard to spot at first. But, I challenge you to take a look and open your eyes to the “why” that drives the “how” in our worship.

Is worship music as a marketing tool a bad idea?

Whether it’s the person or the style or the production, the position of a church in a marketing sense today is the music or musical leaders. Their ability to resonate with the desired group and draw them into your church is what is measured. Simply, butts in seats added is the metric, not the spiritual content, leadership skill or beauty of the music.

If pushing “play” to a track will draw the crowd, then so be it. The trend in recent years has been to brand your church by music style. Techno tracks or banjo folk are chosen with the hope to draw a specific group of people. When the right people like what music is on the on the platform then that is the win. Or, is it?

In this go-go-getter world, we push creativity out and end up with lizard-brain copying of the ideas of successful churches. Where is the critical thought to what is behind the ideas we copy? Do we ask? Do we dig? Creativity needs a story. Results demand output. While we need to be aware of results, are we measuring the most important foundations that build our worship? If heresy draws a crowd, we should at least balk at the idea, for instance. Of course, we need to identify our own values first before we can filter innovation. Sometimes, it seems we rather not ask about what we are doing as long as it works.

Are the songs we are singing in line with our theology?

Speaking of heresy, the idea behind the music is important. While in secular music the ideas can be hidden or mysterious, singing creeds or prayers are more concrete in nature—even if our God himself is mysterious and transcendent. We ask of sacred music a sense of purpose and clarity in the context of mystery. This provides an actual space for beauty as we reinforce the more concrete tenets of faith.

In these guardrails of theology, history and practice, the worship has space for beauty because utility has been put in its proper place. Without clarity, the lowest common denominator becomes the metric. It is all we have left to evaluate with. Ironically, something avant-garde is less creative without a clear purpose.