July 23, 2017

iMonk Classic: Worship, CCM and the Worship Music Revolution (part one)

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer
Circa 2002

NOTE FROM CM: For the next three Saturdays, we will run Michael Spencer’s classic posts from 2002 on “Worship, CCM and The Worship Music Revolution.”

The evangelical church in particular has continued to travel down the road Michael describes in this article. Nearly a decade has passed, and now congregations are filled with people who have little or no memory of the traditional practices that Michael speaks of in this essay. Thousands of churches have been planted with contemporary praise and worship music placed front and center as the main attraction for seekers and the primary component of worship for the Body. Evangelicals continue to speak of “worship” as if the word only means “feeling a sense of ecstasy through being caught up in praise music.” The “worship set” is the primary sacrament of contemporary evangelicalism, the only one in which they acknowledge the real presence and activity of Christ.

With Michael, I lament this state of affairs.

WHAT I SAW AT THE REVOLUTION
Trading a heritage of Worship Music for a lukewarm bowl of CCM

Not too many months ago, I had the opportunity to lead my “congregation” of high school students in a chapel service of worship music. Realizing that they had learned many new songs in the past few months, I purposely selected songs that were popular with these students two and three years ago. After leading the service, a student came up to me and said something I have never forgotten. “I sure like the old songs, Mr. Spencer.”

Such is the frantic pace of change in contemporary worship music, that “As the Deer” is now one of the “old” songs. Seniors in high school and their grandparents have this in common: they both love the old songs, songs that are rapidly being replaced..

The revolution in worship music that is now tearing up thousands of evangelical churches and rousing generational civil war in many evangelical families has been brewing for some time. The first identifiable “praise choruses” were appearing in the fifties, and the musical revolution of the sixties, largely confined to “youth services,” musicals and “coffeehouses,” never seemed to disturb churches to the extent we are seeing today. In the Jerry Falwell-style Southern Baptist church of my teenage years, drums and contemporary music were welcome in youth services and occasional choir performances, probably because no one ever thought of turning these occasional forays into pop culture into the regular Sunday morning service. Long haired kids in sandals, filling up the front pews on Sunday night, made the church look evangelistic, but we kept our music to ourselves. It was the age of “Jesus People,” and any church would bend over to have a few more young people in the services, but no one was inviting us to bring the band into the choir loft.

In the late sixties and seventies, CCM was growing and taking root in the heart of an entire generation of young Christians. Among those of us listening to Larry Norman, Petra and Resurrection Band, there was plenty of talk of how this music helped us in our walk with God and made our faith more relevant and appealing to our generation, but no one ever thought about such music becoming the standard fare for Sunday morning worship. One of my good friends, a guitarist who loved Kiss and Elton John, always resisted CCM just because of its oddity: neither rock and roll nor worship music, he couldn’t appreciate it. Today he is the lead guitarist, playing in his church’s Sunday morning worship band.

CCM itself seemed to be avoiding such a confrontation. In my vast collection of CCM LPs from these days, one does not find many “worship albums” with music specifically designed for church worship settings. Even Maranatha recordings originally seemed comfortable occupying the CCM niche of personal entertainment, edification and evangelism, not public worship. But that was all about to change.

I’m sure CCM artists began to include “worship” segments in their sets fairly early, but I would suggest it was the Christian music festival that probably first saw the plausibility of a movement of CCM into the realm of congregational worship music. I attended 18 years of “Ichthus” festivals at Wilmore, Kentucky during the seventies and eighties, and I recall the “worship” segments led by Michael Card and Rich Mullins, usually during the communion service. These were powerful corporate worship experiences, and the implications of those experiences were clear to all present: we needed to take this back home to our churches.

Today, musical groups that would have been seen as evangelistic missionaries in the seventies and eighties are put forward primarily as “worship bands,” writing music for the consumption of the local church. Third Day and delirious? are two examples of this phenomenon. Artists like Matt Redmond are top of the CCM charts with an overt mission of writing for corporate worship. Even established CCM artists like Michael W. Smith have gravitated towards worship music, and Christian radio has followed. A couple of hours listening to “K-Love” will reveal a hefty diet of music that one is likely to hear again on Sunday morning.

CCM’s move towards becoming the leaders of musical worship in the local church is unprecedented and significant. This is because of the nature and assumptions that lie behind CCM. Few have the courage to point out these realities, and those who do, like the courageous and truthful Steve Camp, are vilified as party poopers. I would beg my readers to consider these realities, and not to simply follow the “knee-jerk” reaction of so many Christians who are unable to critique anything they personally like.

CCM is a commercial enterprise, owned largely by secular corporate interests, and certainly driven by the values of the entertainment industry more than those of the church. It is part of the entertainment culture, and only partially related to the culture of classic, orthodox Christian tradition. CCM has virtually no accountability to the larger Christian tradition, or even the Christian musical tradition. (A list of the “One Hundred Greatest Songs in Christian Music” shows no awareness of traditional gospel, country, Black gospel, Southern gospel or classical music. Odd, ignorant and sad.) As an industry, it has no accountability to the larger church and only rarely any accountability to the local church (with some refreshing exceptions.) It has no standards of doctrinal orthodoxy, and resists any notion that its lyrics may at times promote error and even heresy. Its only accountabilities are to itself, and to its own commercial interests. In many instances, it has proven to be an arrogant business; with a small vision of success and a haughty attitude towards its custumers.

This must be understood to appreciate the game that is played in saying that the CCM product is anointed by God for renewing worship in the local church, a claim that is made weekly in thousands of churches where worship leaders are attempting to replace traditional worship music with CCM. On what basis is such a statement made? I would suggest it is made like virtually every other statement in Christian music: it is made on the basis of how much music is being sold. If the music were not succeeding commercially, such a statement would never be made. If “As the Deer” were as commercially popular as “Immortal, Invisible,” we would never hear anyone say God had sent such a song to rescue the worship of the church.

In fact, the claim that CCM is drawing in thousands of new worshipers is patently false. Like so many claims made by the corporate pushers of evangelical products, the statement applies to those churches and individuals who buy the product, while non-consumers are erased from the picture. A jump in sales of the product is announced as the endorsement of God. In actual fact, overall attendance in America’s churches has declined at about the same rate as the ascendancy of CCM as the standard worship fare. I am not pleading cause and effect, because the roots of this decline in local church worship are much deeper than music. Still, the claim of a worship renewal is false and misleading.

So what is being called a worship renewal is, in actual fact, a commercial revolution within CCM. On other levels, such as the unity of the church, the “worship renewal” is the most divisive thing to come along since the first outbreaks of “speaking in tongues” in mainline and traditional evangelical churches. Listening to senior adults talk about what is happening in many of their churches, one cannot help but be saddened by the bull-headed tactics and selfishness of some pastors and worship leaders who have decided to cast aside the worship preferences of whole age groups in order to get some hands in the air and some bodies swaying. As a local church minister for twenty-seven years, I have worked with every age group including senior adults and teenagers and their parents. What is happening in churches who are uncritically embracing the CCM takeover of local worship is one of the most thoughtless and hurtful set of decisions I have ever observed. I can only pray that persons of good will, common sense and a love of unity in the church will quickly prevail before the damage is irreparable.

For example, in one large church of my acquaintance, the staff has, over a period of seven years, eliminated the hymnal, the organ, the acoustic piano and exiled hymn-singing to the senior adult fellowship. Sunday evenings, once a service where pastors could teach scripture to the faithful, are now frequently given over entirely to concert formats where young people dance and do all the expected behaviors of a club set. To say this overlooks and estranges whole generations is an understatement. And the changes were made with breath-taking swiftness, alerting the older generation that it was “my way or the highway” as far as worship style goes. Inter-generational worship, once a solid strength of the church, is now a forgotten part of the past.

In addition to embracing the CCM revolution, the current crop of church leaders has taken up an entire novel and rather bizarre theology and practice regarding music in worship. One will hear worship leaders speak of the Holy Spirit descending into the room as the music is lifted up. Music now apparently “prepares” the congregation for the teaching of the Word, softening up those hard hearts. The new music is frequently equated with some sort of spiritual “river,” bringing an anointing or spiritual renewal to those who will join in the music. This is all, to be blunt, silly and superstitious. I now meet dozens of untalented and undiscipled young people, often living lives of serious immaturity and even immorality, whose stated goal is to follow a call from God into a successful career in CCM. Suddenly, God is apparently wanting to flood America with more CCM artists in need of our financial support. How blessed we are.

Repetition has become an issue even in churches that endorse the worship revolution, as songs are sung over and over and over, with the seeming intent of the emotional manipulation of the congregation. The picture of a swaying, eyes-closed, semi-conscious worshiper is now the picture of the goal of much current worship leadership. The new style encourages public, individual demonstrations of piety, a phenomenon that always divides a congregation into the “truly” spiritual and the dead wood. Of course, such a distinction based on who will raise hands and sway is absurd, but that has not stopped some worship leaders from coming to resemble a cheerleading Richard Simmons, urging demonstrations of enthusiasm that are often never scripturally required of any worshiper. Now, of course, God wants us to applaud everything.

Of most concern to this writer is the blatant emotional manipulation that has become common in much of this music. To call names, much music from the Vineyard particularly seems fascinated with romantic imagery and language, and images of physical affection. Fully aware of the dysfunctional family experiences of many worshipers, the music often plays directly upon this wound, seeking an emotional outpouring that will be labeled as “healing”. A similar awareness of the sexual proclivities of this generation seems to lie behind other songs, with a similar goal of emotional transference. One must commend those contemporary worship writers who stick close to the language of the Psalms and write solid, God centered lyrics.

The turn of some contemporary worship writers towards romanticism and the language of Oprah-esque psychology is not unexpected, since the sheer amount of music being published is immense, and the pressure to create new worship “hits” increases as well. With the constant demand for new songs growing as the movement grows, the subject matter of worship songs often ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the heavenly to the very earthly. It is interesting to hear a defense of romanticism in lyrics with a reference to Song of Solomon. The Song of Solomon is touted as an equally appropriate source of worship inspiration as the Psalms. One wonders why these advocates cannot see the wisdom of the church in avoiding songs about, “Lord, I want to grab your fruit” or “Lord, take me back to your bedchamber.” Yet, with the focus on romanticism, such lyrics often do not seem that far away from plausibility.

Before the contemporary worship revolution, the “canon” of worship music was relatively stable. I grew up with one hymnal, which was well used but certainly not exhausted. My church has a new hymnal and I can see it will take us years to explore it. In the past, the canon of “extra-hymnalic” material was rather small. Today, the congregation may be allowed to develop favorite songs, but they can count on being bombarded with new songs virtually every week, culled from vast databases of new music downloaded into the computers that have replaced the hymnals of the past. I am not hesitant at all to say that it makes one long for a revival of psalm-singing, so that the average worshiper would only have to master the Psalter, and not the “new anointed hit of the week.” Justifying such passive acceptance of commercially driven innovation as “singing a new song to the Lord” is, frankly, dumb.

Consider this: Robbing the children of such churches of the heritage of Christian hymnody is a serious deficiency. I am working with the young people produced by such churches, and they are a generation looking for a kickin’ band and a song with good hand motions. As a former youth minister, I recall the days when such interest was desired in our youth groups, but only on Saturday night in the youth center. That such evaluations would come to dominate regular public worship is a measure of what has happened. I note with predictable irony that virtually every baby boomer I know evaluates churches based on their band, music and projection system. Spurgeon would be in trouble.

Today, I consider teaching the heritage of great hymns to these young people to be among the most important aspects of my worship leadership and ministry, because I am reconnecting them with a great cloud of witnesses and a heritage that belongs to all the church of all times, not just to Americans in LA and Nashville.

In part II of this article, I will discuss the Biblical principles of worship that I believe should guide the overall public worship of God, including music. My point so far: the evangelical church has thrown away its musical heritage in order to buy into the commercial and cultural values of CCM. While CCM has some limited effectiveness as a vehicle for communication within our culture, its primary value is entertainment, and as such it has infected evangelicalism with a virus that may prove deadly to our survival as a worshiping community.

Comments

  1. That Guy says:

    What I wonder is why was there such a NEED for CCM? Why didn’t the youth of the church need Big Band music during its heyday, or twenties jazz during its heyday, or Americana type folky songs of the Victorian/Edwardian era.
    Southern Gospel kind of took on a CCM element but it wasn’t adopted by many outside certain regions. Why was there all of a sudden a need for there the be Rock/Roll and then for it to be imposed on everyone as if they wanted to here it. I find it hard to take in this entire argument for relevancy since there is no lack of students going into universities to study music, and oddly enough, at secular universities one can study sacred music which doesn’t involve any CCM. As a youth the last thing I wanted to hear was anything that resembled what I listened to throughout the week on the radio, yet now on sundays unless its in the top 40 on some CCM chart it is not played..
    Sometimes I steal away to a liturgical church just to be refreshed.

    • From my perspective, the answer is clear—technology. It was only with the explosion of media beginning in the 50’s and 60’s that we could conceive of individuals having a recorded “soundtrack for life.” Music has become ubiquitous because the technology developed to make it so. And so, many have come to make it an essential part of their identity. Combined with consumerism and marketing savvy, pop culture and youth culture has come to influence and even predominate most institutions in the U.S. And that’s what it’s about—the triumph of pop and youth culture, made possible by rapidly advancing technology.

  2. It’s pretty clear what you’re worshipping when you have an altar made of speakers or a drum set front and center. It doesn’t take a seasoned Christian to see that our culture has begun to bow before the idols of technology, expensive instruments, and a groovy beat.

    We don’t want the Spirit, we want the kickdrum.

    • “We don’t want the Spirit, we want the kickdrum.”

      Good one!

      My church makes sure the drums are tamed, though. Along with everything else. The (electronic, of course) kickdrum is at the mercy of the guy at the sound board and he keeps it way low. Any sign of dynamic life from the teens in the band is immediately gated.

  3. Chaplain Mike is right about the technology.

    Wendell Berry pointed out in a recent essay:

    “The human species…is said to be something like 200,000 years old. Except for the last seventy-five or so years of their life so far, and except for their decadent ruling classes, most humans have entertained themselves by remembering and telling stories, singing, dancing, playing games, and even by their work of providing themselves with necessities and things of beauty, which usually were the same things. All of this entertainment came free of charge, as a sort of overflow of human nature, local culture, and daily life…The entertainment industry has improved upon this great freedom by providing at a high cost, in money but also in health and sanity, an egreiously overpaid corps of entertainers and athletes who tell or perform stories, sing, dance and play games for us or sel game sto us as we passively consume their often degrading productions.”

    About says it, doesn’t he?

    • I don’t want to sound like a party pooper or an old fogey, but I think there’s something to be said for people making their own music, rather than buying it from a store. As Utah Phillips used to say, “The best song you can sing is a song you wrote yourself.”

      Of course, I do not in any way meet this ideal; the music I listen to is entirely from the store. But there you go.

      Maybe this applies to churches as well?

  4. I see these guys,mostly in the megas,trying to “work up the crowd” before the socalled sermon is given and it reminds me of a rock concert. It’s all about manipulation of the sheeple.

    • You said it, Bill.

      That’s exactly what it is. Emotionalism.

      • Not that worship should be emotionless. To a certain extent, part of the hyper-emotionalism is an over-reaction to a single focus on the more intellectual aspects of the faith. Also it is an extension of worship from the pioneer era where liturgies were scrapped to reach largely illiterate people. Now the people can read, though, and the worship hasn’t changed. Big problem, imo.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “Work up the crowd” — why do I have this image of Shaking Stacy cutting loose at Lakeland with the 60Hz head-whip?

      And if it’s all about The Worship Experience AKA Emotional High, what happens when they find something that gives them a BIGGER Emotional High?

  5. david carlson says:

    just an observation….when Wesley was writing his hymns, what did people say than? Just asking….

    • David, I agree with the premise that I think lies behind your question–there have been many conflicts over music in the church throughout church history. I may be wrong, but something tells me today’s situation is different. The combination of rapidly changing technology and a media-oriented culture may well be leading us into changes as dramatic as those brought in the days of the Reformation when the printing press sparked a revolution. Perhaps Phyllis Tickle is right, and we are at one of those 500-year turning points and a “great emergence” of something new is at hand. I just hope we are able to carry ancient wisdom, traditions, and practices with us along with whatever new music the Spirit is making.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        We can take this back at least five centuries or so. The introduction of polyphony into liturgical music was controversial at the time. For that matter, Luther borrowed from secular music.

        That being said, the lesson to take away is not that anything goes. Yes, there has always been tension between conservative and progressive elements in church music. That is a good thing: stasis is bad, but so is unchecked change. The situation IMonk describes is a runaway train with nothing to keep it on the rails. A bit more tension would be all to the good.

      • scottee says:

        This definitely does feel different. Less than 20 years ago, yes new praise songs were constantly being brought into the church, but you still only sang the songs that were in the little “praise/worship” song books that you got at the Christian bookstore. They were just another form of a hymnal, except you had a few more options in the store and they were updated more often. But each church still took their songs out of one or a few books.

        With the shift in CCM and the arrival of the internet, any person can download pretty much any song, find the lyrics/music for it, and insert it into that week’s youth group or church service. It’s a bit like today’s generation suffering from information overload. When you have access to literally EVERYTHING, what do you end up doing?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          When you have access to literally EVERYTHING, what do you end up doing?

          Sitting in front of Reality TV and drooling.

  6. Steve Newell says:

    Part of worship music is that the congregation is part of the singing. CCM music is more written to be performed by a small group than sung by a congregation. Also, much of the CCM music is theological light and more emotional then theological. Also, the pronoun “I” is more often seen in CCM then in traditional hymns of the Faith.

    Finally, traditional music usually places the musicians and singer/choir in the side or the back of the congregation with the alter, pulpit and cross being is focused. Can a CCM “band” handle being in the back of the church were they are only heard, not seen?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      The choir at St Boniface can. They normally sing from a choir loft in the second floor above the narthex, above and behind the congregation.

    • I’ve actually seen a few groups do this. But for some reason, it really hasn’t caught on. Of course, there was no altar, pulpit, or cross to focus on. Instead, the lights were dimmed and people were ushered into an environment where they could connect with God freely and personally without regard to the people next to them. Hyper-individualism, perhaps? This may be part of the root cause…

  7. Just got a flyer from the latest church plant in my community. It advertises “rockin’ music, practical message, quality kid’s program, real people, real casual & real change.” (Ironic interlude) Seems like everything that the epistles talk about.
    Maybe off topic a little, but the phrase that caught my eye was “real change”. It seems as though part of the business of church is making us constantly feel as though there is something wrong with us without every mentioning sin. So the answer that we seek to make us o.k. is pop-psychobabble, emotional music, and fun, not Jesus.
    This may be especially true for those of us who just do not get emotional about music, so we need “real change” in our lives. Hopefully we’ll catch the Spirit and tap our feet a little. We are often told and made to feel like there is something wrong with us that keeps us from getting excited about God. It’s almost as if music were a fourth part of the trinity (please excuse my math) and synonymous with God.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      It’s almost as if music were a fourth part of the trinity (please excuse my math) and synonymous with God.

      Well, Ayn Rand already is, so The More The Merrier!

      • Remember, there are three types of people in this world: Those who can count, and those who can not!

        • Louis du Plessis says:

          Almost like ol’ Genl. Grant who said he had such a tin ear for music. “I know/can recognise only two tunes , one is Yankee Doodle and the other one aint” or someting along that line

  8. I appreciate Michael Spencer’s take on this, but I think I he’s a bit more pessimistic on this than I am. I’m a pastor’s kid and a musician, and I’ve been involved in church music in one way or another my whole life. I do agree that there are churches that see music as just another cog in their entertainment machine, and I also agree that it really seems like a lot of CCM artists hopped on the worship music bandwagon to make an easy buck. How many covers of “God of Wonders” do we need, after all?

    Perhaps because I’m so removed for a liturgical tradition, it’s simply hard for me to imagine worship being so decisive as Michael is describing. I have of course seen some tension, but largely, the congregations I’ve been a part of simply expect that the music for the most part will be contemporary. They still do hymns, but they don’t use a hymnal.

    I think one positive thing about modern worship music is that it’s sort of has a democratizing effect. One issue is simply the training and ability required to play hymns from a hymnal. I’ve seen churches that still use hymnals become so dependent on the one woman who plays piano or organ in the church, that the pastor would almost resort to begging. On the other hand, it doesn’t take a whole lot of training on an instrument to play simpler worship tunes.

    I’ve seen abuses on both sides of the musical spectrum, I guess. I’ve seen bands that think they should lights and fog and make Sunday morning resemble a rock show. I’ve seen churches where you literally had to be a classically trained musician to play on Sunday. I’ve also people who have business being up front leading worship trying to do it. Personally, what I’d like to see is music that means something to the congregation, but also connects it to the church universal in some way.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      “I’ve seen abuses on both sides of the musical spectrum, I guess…. I’ve seen churches where you literally had to be a classically trained musician to play on Sunday”

      That’s not an abuse. That’s the ideal that liturgical churches strive for. Music is part of the ministry, and should be taken as seriously as such. It is old fashioned now, but it used to be common for seminaries to offer degrees for people entering this ministry, with no intention of being ordained. The musical training was part of the expected background, in the same way that a ministerial student needs requisite educational background.

      This ideal isn’t always attained, of course. Many congregations lack the resources for a fully trained music director, and make do with what they have. But having a music ministry operate on a simple enough level that there is no difficulty finding people whose training is up to the task? That is no more the goal than having the preaching ministry operate on this level. Of course many non-liturgical churches have their own ideas on that, too.

      • Well, it used to be that the only place anyone could get an education in music was through the church. So in one sense, passing down a musical tradition through the church was built into that system. So really, the democratization of the music ministry is something that I think can be tied to the Reformation as well. The reason I see having the requirement for classical training to be an abuse is that it can become exclusionary beyond the original intent. Classical musicians playing at a service can become a show in a liturgical church as a rock band in a low church setting can be. I know of liturgical churches that sell tickets to their Christmas services, for instance.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          Selling tickets to a service? That certainly is appalling, but an outlier. On the other hand, I have no problem with a church using its sanctuary for concerts, and charging admission for this. I wonder if this isn’t what was going on. What do you mean by “Christmas service”? Are we talking about December 24 or 25, complete with communion and a sermon? Selling ticket to that would be remarkable. Or a concert earlier in December, perhaps with a sing-along of some best-loved Christmas hymns, and perhaps a chorus or two from the Messiah? Selling tickets to this would be much less remarkable.

          There is a valid broader point that there is some danger whenever the music is good. It is tempting to turn the service into a concert series. There definitely have been liturgical churches that fell into this trap. I heard once about an Episcopal church that ran through the entire corpus of Bach cantatas, a week at a time. At the time I heard the story they were (IIRC) on their third run-through ever the course of about a decade. There had been a rector who had tried to suggest that perhaps the cantatas were taking over a bit much. He didn’t last long. That would be an example of a concert series in the guise of a worship service.

          It isn’t at all a bad thing for people to come for the music. Music is a powerful evangelism tool and not a few come for the music and stay to worship. I agree that there is a line between worship and concert, and some churches slide over it without noticing. I don’t think that the typical liturgical church having classically trained musicians in and of itself places the church on the wrong side of this line.

      • Booklover says:

        Thank you, Richard, for pointing out that having a classically-trained pianist is not an abuse. If the church would need a carpenter to fix the roof, they would hire someone who knew what he was doing. If they needed someone to fix the leaky toilet, ditto. I wonder why the musician, who is dealing with the very Words of God and the very moment of meeting with Him in worship, should have a lesser skill. ??

  9. as a now 30-something youth pastor, i see some push back on this trend. i see young people longing for tradition and rejecting the “emotionalism” of the current movement in worship music. do you see this too?

    • scottee says:

      I am hoping this is the result. I’m of a similar age and have worked in youth ministry. I do see young people who are put off by the emotional manipulation, but they have not necessarily turned toward anything that comes from tradition, as that is associated with narrow-minded ‘older adults’. If anything, it seems like become suspicious of anything because they have seen it all abused. But I am hoping the younger generations will at some point say, “Hey, why don’t we look at how the Bible shows us how to worship?” And this is coming from a guy who has done plenty to perpetuate what Michael Spencer described above.

    • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

      I’m 32, and have found that the folks who most have been advocates of the traditional forms of… well, everything… in my denomination are those in their 20’s and 30’s.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I would guess that this is because they’ve burned out on the New Relevant Forms Of Well Everything.

        Nothing gets stale faster than Over-Relevance. Except Pretentious Over-Relevance.

        • The more relevant something is touted as being, the faster it will become irrelevant.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Type example: Scare up some old videos (YouTube, maybe?) of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, that Relevant cutting-edge comedy revue of The Sixties and take a look how it’s aged.

            To be fair to Dan & Dick, they weren’t creating anything for the ages, just an over-the-top topical comedy revue for a contemporary “hip” audience. They didn’t intend it to have staying power, just give Sixties audiences a good laugh. SOCK IT TO ME!

            Now imagine if they HAD tried to do it as a Solemn Important Message thing for the Eternally Important Message of the moment, like so much you see today…

    • Here and there, but not much, at least not in my geographical area. The big churches with the best shows are a big draw – they’ve all built even bigger facilities in the last few years and they’ve sucked away most of the young crowd from our little church and many others as well. I rub shoulders with a lot who are still pretty enthralled.

  10. I think technology is a part of the story. Technology has affected everything today. From cars, to toys, to phones, to office work. Look at how complex the vehicle you drive today is? It wasn’t always like that…technology changed that.

    A few points….

    I looked at the image up top and recognize many artists that I listened to, and while I threw away a good chunk of my Christian material a couple of years ago, I still held onto my CDs. I think the reason why is because I think of how much money I’d be throwing away if I did so. But from up above I can recognize the covers for Steven Curtis Chapman, Newsboys, DC Talk, Greg Long, Cademans Call, Nicole Nordeman, Jars of Clay, FFH, and Rich Mullins.

    I remember going to my frist Christian concert in California. It was Steven Curtis Chapman’s Speechless tour. I was getting more involved in evangelicalsim but I was not yet baptized. I was impressed by the preaching but one thing that put me off was seeing how commercialized it was. Shirts, bracelets, jewelry, etc.. and I remember thinking..”Is this neccessary?” Later on I noticed and was troubled by how commericial Christian music had become. But it didn’t stop there…walk into a Family Christian store and look at what they have. Books, candy, shirts, toys, bookmarks, license plate holders, etc… Not to be disrespectful but I think the only things I have not seen a Christian label or a Bible verse slapped onto is sheets for bed, toothbrush and birth control. But if someone could make money selling that…I’m sure it will happen.

    But the commercialization bothered me greatly. Christians as I see it have created their own culture apart and away from the world. And they retreat from the world. They have done the same thing that the Mormons have done in this area.

    I do think the Christian music and conteporary praise and worship is worshipped. In my mind it has become and idol. However, I also think some people turn old hymns into idols as well. So I would suggets all sides are guilty. And for some strange reason I still believe in sin, and as such I can look at idols blossiming on all sides of the spectrum. But remember even hymns such as “How Great Though Art” and “Amazing Grace” were new at one point in their history. Christianity does have to change if its going to grow. But a lot of the classical hymns many people cherish probably were introduced with some controversary as well. If I am wrong than call me on it.

    My biggest beef with Christianity is how much of a facade it has become. Worship means singing your heart out in a white, upper middle class, comfortable church in a suburb of Minneapolis, St. Louis, Washington, D.C. ,etc.. Worship is not a day to day event, and I don’t think Christians know what worship is. Its like grace, love, etc.. as I learned many Christians don’t know what that means either. Quite simply what should be simple and kind has become complex. Many parts of modern Christian music is made to worship the chruch. It’s like children, marriage, mega churches, missionary work, etc….all those are worshipped by the evangelical church as well. But the manipulation is what I saw which really pissed me off. You’d go to mega church conference, or Christmas conferences with Campus Crusade for Christ. You’d do passionate praise and worship, people would be crying. Guys down on the floor prostrate, people being really emotional…AND then they would do the push for missions and say, “We need goldly people to step up and commit to the gospel in Kenya, South Africa, Romania, etc… And people would sign up and make major decisions on an emotional whim. That made me boil. It was a good thing no one said, “Oh and by the way…drink the cyanide laced Kool-aide while you are at it.” Because I am sure that would have happened.

    Looking forward to reading other thoughts.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Not to be disrespectful but I think the only things I have not seen a Christian label or a Bible verse slapped onto is sheets for bed, toothbrush and birth control.

      Give ’em time…

      Eagle, your line reminds me of a 1976 momento from Dr Demento, about the kitsch being peddled for the big Bicentennial:

      “Bicentennial party napkins,
      Bicentennial rings;
      Bicentennial stripper’s pasties,
      And other Bicentennial things…”

      But the commercialization bothered me greatly. Christians as I see it have created their own culture apart and away from the world. And they retreat from the world.

      It’s called “Of the world but not in it.”

      Tip: If it can be described as “Just like Fill-in-the-blank, Except CHRISTIAN (TM)!” — Run.

      • In The World says:

        We were at a “Christian” festival one year and they were selling shirts with slogans like “Do the Jew” and “Christian Girl” on a thin material wife beater that left nothing to the imagination. When we talked with the vender he said, “hey I just sell the stuff”. I’m not sure but I wondered if he was even a believer.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Let me guess:

          “Do the Jew” in a direct copy (in color, font, layout, and graphics) to Mountain Dew’s “Do the Dew”? And “Christian Girl” in a similar direct knockoff of Madonna’s “Material Girl” and or the latest “California Girls”?

          After seeing a “TheLight” T-shirt (exact copy of “Twilight” in color, font, layout, and background graphics — talk about “Jesus is my Edward Cullen”) a couple months ago, you have to work to top that.

          I’m not sure but I wondered if he was even a believer.

          Where the corpse lies, the vultures will gather.

    • I certainly agree that for how much they talk about it, Christians often are the poorest examples of what grace and love mean. As a matter of fact, the living out of a Jesus shaped life often seems inversely proportional to the amount of time spent talking about it! Consider this: How many churches advertise their emphasis on “community?” Ever been to one? It can become pretty lonely at times, even after a few years and countless hours of service.

    • All this bashing of “emotionalism,” I see things very differently; I was raised in a non-emotional church, chose a field of engineering as a career early on, was very proud of my intellect, and looked down on emotional people. Then came the realization that God created my emotions. Emotions are a big part of who He is according to His book and should also be a big part of who I am.

      I stopped stuffing them down and denying them. Now they are a part of my worship experience and my daily life. And not just the “cool” ones like anger, disgust, etc. but the vulnerable ones too. I know people can be manipulated through their emotions, almost anything can be abused. But they are also a big part of what God wants from us, “heart, soul, mind, and strength.”

    • A quick google of ‘Christian toothbrush’ and ‘Christian bedsheets’ reveals that sadly, you CAN in fact get Christian version of these products. Color me not really surprised.

  11. A great critique of CCM, Mike! Thank you. And I, too, steal away to a liturgical church at times. I noticed one song you hold up as a (now archaic) example of CCM is “As the Deer.” A song I always despised when I heard it. It takes part of a verse from Psalm 42, which is a powerful Psalm of feeling far from God and longing to be closer, and turns it into a sweet, syrupy bit of mush that would put a diabetic in a coma.

    One thing that really encourages me, is the fact that more and more people are turning to the Psalms in worship again. Those are songs that are far more realistic than the “happy, happy, happy, all the time, time, time” stuff you hear in church all the time. The Psalms speak to every human condition, from the happy times to the times of deep depression, to anger and many other conditions. It shows what the walk with God really is, without the rose-colored glasses.

  12. Todd Erickson says:

    The worship team at church is tortured over how people are not responding to the Holy Spirit in the midst of the music. If you can’t feel God, he can’t be there, and they NEED to feel God there, so that people will change.

    It’s manipulation. In another age, it might have been witchcraft. I have carefully pointed this out, but I’m accused of digging in my heels and working against the will of God.

    Why should I need guilt and flowery language to get me to respond to God? What happened to actual relationship? Do you ask your dad to cradle you in his arms of love?

    Frankly, I’ve given up on ever being anything but offended by the worship in any church I attend until I die. It seems the only reasonable conclusion.

  13. Kelby Carlson says:

    I’m a college student who is beginning to study classical singing. I used to love CCM, way back in junior high. I got away from it pretty fast once I got into older, more “sophisticated” forms of music. I’m a huge fan of the old hymns and have a couple of hymnals on hand. I think the lyrics, on the whole, are much better. And yet I can’t just dismiss CCM as a valid expression of worship, not with some of the artists I’ve discovered in the past year. Part of the problem, at least right now, is that there is insufficient attention payed to things like tradition and the Scriptures themselves. So what we get, instead of a new form of music richly imbued with tradition and Biblical ideals for worship, is a watered-down worship informed mostly by contemporary culture. I’m of the opinion that there is no form of music that’s inherently bad, and no form of music needs to be inherently detrimental for our worship. But speaking as one who’s been in a youth band, I’ve seen CCM really abused and the way of our worship not well thought out at all. I guess what i’m trying to say here is that contemporary worship certainly has its place and can be a great source of edification. But like anything ellse in the church, we have to actually think about what we’re doing and not just do whatever seems “hip” or strikes the fancy of the average un-churched teenager. (Also–if anyone’s interested in a fantastic source of contemporary worship, check out Sovereign Grace Music.)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      And yet I can’t just dismiss CCM as a valid expression of worship, not with some of the artists I’ve discovered in the past year.

      Have you ever heard of Sturgeon’s Rule?

      “90% of anything is crap.”

      And the Rosenberg Corollary?

      “But oh that 10%!”

  14. Pam Burns says:

    I recently went to the funeral of a Pastor of mine who lived into his nineties. He was a Pastor during the “Renewal” movement of the seventies and for a couple of decades after that. His service was the best blending of traditional hymns with contemporary worship music I’ve ever experienced. It was truly beautiful and full of true worship. I still believe it’s not the style of music that matters but the heart of the musicians, leaders and worshipers. If the focus is on Jesus and not on me, it will be worship, whether contemporary or traditional. I love the old hymns and new hymns alike. I do however hope that the churches that use almost exclusive contemporary music will teach their congregations the traditional hymns too. Once upon a time they were the contemporary music of their day.

    • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

      I’m a big fan of good blended music programs. We tend to do that in my church. Usually the processional and recessional are hymns, the three songs played during Communion are usually CCM worship tunes, and the offertory can be either. Of the musical bits that are always part of the liturgy, about half are contemporary and half traditional. In our context, it never feels weird to have such blending. I’ve also become a big fan of the 2008 hymnal by Lifeway that is published both as Baptist Hymnal and The Worship Hymnal. The pew hymnal is in four-part harmony despite being a good blend of traditional hymns, contemporary CCM, praise choruses, and a few gospel tunes.

  15. A few thoughts;

    Someone mentioned this in an earlier comment. Musical tastes do change over a periods of time. I remember when I was younger there was a big controversy over praise choruses. They couldn’t be sung during morning worship only Sunday and Wednesday nights.Just like today’s worship music, they were viewed as being fluffy and lightweight. Part of the problem is that many hymns were written during different social and economic times. While, they do contain timeless truths, some contain references to things like sailing and agriculture which many people have a lack of first hand experience. Some fresh material is always a good thing. Not to mention the fact that many hymn tunes were lifted either directly or indirectly from the music that was contemporary to the time that they were written.

    Just a side point, hymnals contained about 300-400 hymns. On average only about 100-150 were sung with any regularity.. My bet is that at least half of the hymns in any given hymnal are never sung in any given church.

    I will grant that many CCM worship songs are theologically and/or musically weak. I believe that I could make the same accusation against many hymns as well. Standing the test of time doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

    Finally, the subject of emotionalism. Anyone who has been to any type of church service has been subject to varying degrees of emotional manipulation.Even in the most liturgical of services, there are mood enhancing/changing things. For those of us who come from a slightly more rowdy background (say IFB, SBC or Charismatic) our emotions are definitely manipulated. Everything from joy to guilt can and will be used.

    I do agree that there is too much centered on the singers/musicians. Good musicians have always tended to take a more central part of the worship. I can think of several organ/piano players who could stop a service dead in its tracks.

  16. Well, there’s always the seminary-trained organist and choir director, who denies Jesus Christ in his or her beliefs and really wants to fill the sanctuary with the dissonant cacophany which is modern avant-garde “classical” music, but who grudgingly sticks to the old standards for a paycheck.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      …the dissonant cacophany which is modern avant-garde “classical” music…

      In one of his letters, didn’t Screwtape wax ecstatic about Noise vs music?

      Nya Ha Ha, My Dear Wormwood…

  17. Kenny Johnson says:

    I’ve never really been a fan of CCM or contemporary worship, I actually like my church’s worship music, which plays CCM, but also incorporates hymns. I guess I can see a problem with the rock show worship at some mega churches, but to be honest, this has rarely been my experience in Christendom. I think often times when we Evangelicals are self-reflective and self-critical, we tend to think of and use the worst examples to make our point. We beat our own straw men.

  18. “the evangelical church has thrown away its musical heritage in order to buy into the commercial and cultural values of CCM. While CCM has some limited effectiveness as a vehicle for communication within our culture, its primary value is entertainment, and as such it has infected evangelicalism with a virus that may prove deadly to our survival as a worshiping community.”

    Sorry, but most of what is said here is nothing more than focusing on typical problems and blowing them way out of proportion. Is there market driven junk that passes itself off as CCM? YES. But there is more great Christian music written from the hearts of true believers.

    To try and build a case for writing off the whole movement is wrong. It isn’t the fault of CCM. It is up to church leaders to use discernment and select good music from all that is available in order to assist their people in meeting God in the corporate service.

  19. Questions of style and emotional manipulation aside, the main problem I see with CCM is the constant need for the worshipper to insert himself into every aspect of it. Instead of the focus being on God or Christ, it’s on the singer’s experience with Him. Subtle difference, but an important one. Plus, CCM seems to feel the need to be constantly DOING something; there’s no allowance for silence or stillness.

  20. Have a mixed opinion about Michael’s post.

    The earliest Christian bands, such as Love Song and Children of the Day started out playing music that crossed over from praise to more contemporary music. They were not trying to create CCM, they were merely singing music to praise Jesus. Keep in mind that these early musicians in the Jesus Movement, grew up during the 60’s. They didn’t know hymns, but they did know CSNY, Dylan, the Beatles and the Beach Boys. So, when they were thinking about praising God, they did so in the folk-country-rock medium that they understood and knew. Their praise songs, were the one’s that got sung in churches during the 1970’s.

    Other artists like Keith Green were all about praising God. Many of the early praise songs owe themselves to these artists. This was the early days of praise, with simple lyrics, often taken straight from the Bible. Having gone to Calvary Chapel as a kid, I still sing these early praise songs to my daughters. They are that memorable to me.

    Next month is actually the 29th anniversary of Keith Green’s death. This is a guy, who was Internet Monk before Michael Spencer, a guy who saw his musical talent as a gift from God to edify and bless others. He was truly one of those evangelistic missionaries, mentioned in Michael’s post. He gave his music away for free, for crying out loud. He rebuked his fellow musicians for being too commercial.

    I think part of the problem with these current praise songs, is that they are not meant to be sung, and in some cases, they are not really meant to be worship. They are all about perfomance. I for one have no problem with getting rid of the organ or the hymnal. The bottom line really should be about praising and worshipping Jesus. If the music, or the worship leaders detracts then it’s a problem. Unfortunately, I think what often happens is that the people who are talented and gifted in music, are not necessarily spiritually mature enough to lead worship. Spirituality doesn’t necessarily follow talent.

    Personally, I found Michael’s post too cynical and critical by far. Yes, there clearly excesses, but overgeneralizing and basically invalidating people’s worship experience as trite and superficial, is not helpful and doesn’t work toward’s building up the body.

    I don’t disagree that CCM is not a problem, either. However, interesting, through the internet of all things, Christian musical artists no longer need the big music companies to release music anymore. They can release their music directly through the internet, which means that we might see something of a revolution in the way music is produced and distributed.