Money, power and worship

I thought I’d follow up a little further on the question of VIP worship experiences. There’s been some helpful further conversation on the topic including this article from Steve Kneale.

Steve comments:

“Some have objected to the existence of a tour at all. How can we be using Christian music – especially of the kind we sing in church – to make money? Personally, this doesn’t bother me at all. Musicians go on tour and charge for their tickets. If you’re happy going to listen to the Messiah, and pay for tickets at Christmas, I’m not entirely sure what the difference is here. Likewise, if you would happily listen to secular bands at a gig, why shouldn’t Christians do the same? If you are equally happy to listen to Christian bands (that is, bands whose members happen to be Christians) perform their not-explicitly-but-obviously-Christian-informed songs at a gig, I think we are straining gnats to worry about it only because some of us might choose to use those songs in church (not least when many of the songs we sing in church weren’t always written for church, we just co-opted them for that purpose!) I see no reason why an artist – Christian or otherwise; explicitly writing hymnody or otherwise – shouldn’t be free to tour and charge those who want to go to see them.”

Similarly, others on twitter have commented about the dangers of us seeing music and the arts in purely utilitarian terms. That we think it is only okay to use music, especially music with Christian lyrics as part of corporate worship.

I think both points are right. Indeed, to be clear, whilst I will say explicitly that I think certain things are wrong, there are other aspects to the issue that I would say I feel dis-ease or discomfort about but I’m not saying that the situation is definitely wrong.

There are two reasons for this. First of all, I agree with Steve and AJF. There is nothing wrong with going to a concert, nothing wrong with enjoying the arts.  Indeed, I would also say that there is nothing wrong, in fact it is absolutely right that we enjoy corporate worship too. These are part and parcel of what it means to “enjoy God and glorify him for ever.” 

Furthermore, there is the issue of cost and support. Like Steve, I don’t particularly care whether the money raised from some events goes towards a mission cause, charity or the personal income of the artists concerned. Indeed, if they happen to be making a decent income and choose to enjoy that income by buying a nice car, a slightly bigger house and enjoying a foreign holiday this year then to be honest I don’t think that’s any of our business. Just as (like Steve) I have no interest in policing what my pastor spends his pay cheque.

A few years back we had a bit of controversy when it was discovered that a missionary our church supported was sending one of their kids to a private school.  I say “discovered” but in fact, they told us because they felt under significant pressure to justify why it was necessary. For me, there was no issue. Plenty of other Christians choose to send their kids to private school, move into catchment areas to get their kids into better schools or pay for tuition to coach their children through the 11plus. We don’t consider that any of our business so why is our business what the missionary does?

The other thing to remember is that there is a cost to certain things.  We pay for tickets to conferences, we buy books, we pay visiting preachers expenses because we recognise that there are costs involved. In my last post I talked about some of the experiences that church planters have when trying to raise support. The reality is that some of us do have to raise support. In January, I stepped down from pastoring a church. I was paid to do that. As regular readers will know, we’ve been taking time this year to see where God needs us next but I’ve also tried to be useful by providing resources to help train and encourage those involved in urban ministry.  So, here in Faithroots I invite people to donate to support that work.  I know that quite a few people who make use of the resources here are also having to think about how they raise support.

So to be clear at this stage

  1. Performance and entertainment are not bad things in and of themselves
  2. It’s not wrong to talk about money.

My discomfort was more with how these things can come together, how they are presented and how that might be read by others. I’m asking us to stop and think about the messages that we might unintentionally send out.

We need to be careful that we don’t send out a message which says that there are things that are part and parcel of normal church life, specifically preaching/teaching and praise but that we can offer a better experience of such things away from the local church with prominent people and that therefore such an experience is worth paying for.

Further, I also do think there is a connection between this and even the style in which we conduct worship within the church. Hence my preference is that we do things to make it clear that we are a congregation of worshippers gathered to sing praise with the help of the musicians and not an audience come to watch. 

Now to be clear, I’m not saying that this is the intended message or that it is what everyone hears. I’m just asking us to consider whether or not we might sometimes convey that impression to some. Further, if we do start to communicate that message and culture, even unintentionally then I don’t think we can be too surprised when people start selling VIP tickets.

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