Worship CDs are Impoverishing our Worship

Of making many [worship CDs] there is no end.

—Ecclesiastes 12:12

While there certainly are benefits to the recent proliferation of worship CDs, I am convinced that often more harm than good comes from their production and existence. Consider:

1) Worship CDs are pushing worship songs beyond the congregational vocal range. I love me some Chris Tomlin, but if he were a mere local church worship leader, the men of his church would mutiny after the nineteenth high-F of the morning.   It’s not Comrade Tomlin’s fault: that tessatura is ideal for his voice and sizzles through my speakers.  However, most church worship leaders (ironically high tenors) only bring it down a capo or two, still leaving their people in the dust.  Tell them it’s too high, and you may hear “That’s the key from the CD.”  True, but  . . .

2) Worship CDs are impoverishing worship song forms. Previous generations of worship recordings primarily concerned themselves with capturing a local worship event. The worship leader’s primary concern was to serve their local gathering; recording was incidental. The Vineyard album Winds of Worship 4, for example “features live, unedited versions of worship sessions that took place during Vineyard’s ‘Let Your Glory Fall’ Worship Conference . . .”

Now, however, songs on Worship CDs are constructed for radio play, or (worse) for iTunes preview. This is a different mentality altogether. The radio format dictates that a song hit its emotion peak before the one-minute mark. (“Don’t bore us—get to the chorus.”) The end result is most Worship CDs*** structure their songs in this way.

3) The production of Worship CDs are getting some local church Worship Leaders off target. To say it baldly, some local church Worship Leaders are closet recording artist wannabes. They spend unhealthy amounts of their time and attention (and their church’s budget) generating recordings which might do more to build their egos than grow the faith of their church members. These Worship Leaders are then tempted to spend unwise amounts of time publicizing (twitter fouling, FaceSpace-ing, blogging) their products.

There are good reasons for churches to record their songs, but the pursuit of celebrity by Worship Leader must not be one.

4) Worship CDs often feature songs that have ZERO track record with a local church. It is always refreshing to meet Worship Artists who are plugged into their local churches (Crowder, Baloche). This is because very few recording artists that I have met have actually been plugged into their current local church for more than five years.

Still more startling, most songs on Worship CDs released by local church (catch your breath) have NOT been sung in those churches. This is not a scientific finding, but my anecdotal evidence is overwhelming. Here’s a fair test: (1) Pick up a church’s CD; (2) Call that church and ask how many of the songs on their albums have been sung in their services six times in the last year. In principle, we shouldn’t embrace songs in our churches that the Song Writer’s own church won’t sing.

CONCLUSION

This is more “rant-like” than anything I’ve posted in a year, and it comes out of some personal failures on my part. But I want our churches to free themselves from the pattern of worldly thinking that shines the limelight onto people which should belong only to Christ.

Let me be clear: there are good ways to record CDs and many ministries are doing it well. (There’s a distinction: Is a ministry releasing an audio record of the work God is doing among them? To me, that is an indicator of health.) But this fascination has a seedy underbelly, and the longterm effects are impoverishing our worship.

NEXT: How could Worship CDs actually help our churches?
– – – – – – – – –

*** yes, I know that Hillsongs [United] does interesting arrangements. It seems the more they love a song, the longer the intro lasts. That’s a notable exception.

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6 thoughts on “Worship CDs are Impoverishing our Worship

  1. Matthew- Good food for thought. I’m priveleged to participate on the worship team in a relatively small church with big ambitions (ministry-wise) and very little budget. We sing a mix of contemporized hymns (due to the nature of singing hymns through the medium of a rock band, essentially) and more contemporary/”popular” worship songs. We are also blessed in the fact that our pastor and his wife have been fairly prolific worship song writers over the years, so we have a nicely unique flavor to our worship that has a lot of flexibility. Our lack of budget for producing worship CD’s is probably a blessing in disguise, although I hope that some day we can get some of our ‘indigenous’ songs on CD so that others might be blessed. I especially like the songs our pastor has written that are centered around his teachings on the advent of Christ. Even with all the positives, we still wrestle with the style and expression of our worship in striving to be pure in our motives for how and why we worship and the means of creating for the congregation a distraction-free worship environment where they feel free and drawn into worship. May God continue to bless you and your family and the ministry to which He has called you. Grace & Peace, Phil

  2. Matthew – I appreciate your thought on this. This topic is often a rant of mine. Another point I have is that the popularization of “worship songs”, I believe, has created a generation of worship music fans and worship leader fans, but not real worshippers. Comrade Tomlin is from a little town about 12 miles from where I live. Apparently, he is coming to do a concert next months. There are billboards all over town that say “Chris Tomlin is coming home. October 17”. This is quite disturbing because it has become more about Chris than Christ. I doubt this is his intent. I’m sure it is being proliferated by the local promoter or radio station or whatever. It is, however, indicative of a larger more pervasive reality that people will drive from many miles to see Chris Tomlin in concert but many of those same people (a) will not spend a significant in Bible study and/or prayer, (b) will not share their faith with anyone, and (c) will not pause to consider the deficiency of points (a) and (b) in their spiritual lives.

    I’m writing this from the uncomfortable position of someone who writes “worship music” and leads worship for a local church. These are issues I have considered quite a bit but haven’t had to wrestle with too much. I’m still blessed with relative obscurity. 🙂

  3. Great thoughts, Matthew. Another concern I have for worship CDs is that some places want to use them because it “sounds so good” rather than the local talent God has provided in their church. The local church we are involved includes both Hymns and Worship choruses in our weekly music. Sometimes they struggle with singing the “correct” rhythm and/or pitches. As a “trained” musician God reminds me to put those imperfections aside. He sees the heart and many times we can sense His Spirit is pleased with what He is hearing, no matter how poor the quality from human perspective.

  4. I love the new worship song by Natalie Grant, Human. Chorus “I’m human, You’re human, WE ARE HUMAN”

    Can’t wait to sing that at our church.

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