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