Why We Need More Christian Entertainers
Is it just me, or does jumping off of someone’s back and doing a karate kick in mid-air make for an awkward transition into corporate worship?
I recently attended a concert featuring four popular Christian bands. Three of them asked me and the other audience members to join them in worship. We were asked to repeat simple praise choruses, raise our hands, close our eyes, and sometimes sing lyrics that were projected artfully onto a massive screen at the back of the stage. These musicians leading us didn’t look like typical worship leaders, though: most of them wore skinny jeans, some wore leather pants, and they had cool hair and impractical shoes. And one did an impressive karate kick.
There is a reason these men were dressed the way they were: they were entertainers, and yet it was clear throughout the night that these entertainers felt the need to transition from mere entertainment to “worship.” This seems to be a pretty common trend in the world of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM), as more and more bands are releasing worship albums. If market trends are any indication, it would seem that worship sells. I can’t help wondering if the bands I saw were seeking to create a genuine worship experience or simply doing what Christian artists do to sell their product. While I cannot possibly judge these artists’ motives, I can, at the very least, point to the strange identity crisis that many CCM artists appear to suffer from. Christian artists seem uncomfortable seeing themselves as entertainers, and I think that is unfortunate.
As the evening went on, each band seemed to follow the same general outline: They played two or three energetic pop/rock songs and finished with a few slower “worship” songs.As the evening went on, each band seemed to follow the same general outline: They played two or three energetic pop/rock songs and finished with a few slower “worship” songs. The moment that sticks out most in my mind came when the Christian boy band asked us to join them in worship. I do not personally care for boy band music but I have nothing against Christians who like boy band music, nor do I presume that Christian boy band music has no place in the market. However, the most natural thing for Christian boy bands to do is to play boy band music while sporting perfectly styled hair, tight leather pants, and pearl snap camo shirts — not seek to be worship leaders.
The bands at this concert were dressed like entertainers, danced like entertainers, and sang and played instruments like entertainers. It’s clear that these artists see themselves as entertainers, and I think that they should. But CCM’s insistence on transitioning any entertainment to a culturally defined form of corporate praise results in less palatable entertainment as well as an awkward form of corporate worship.
I recognize that we are called to do all things to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31) and God can indeed be worshiped in a myriad of ways (Psalm 33:1–3; 150), but these bands were not seeking simply to worship: They were seeking to lead us in worship. This is an important distinction. If these bands merely intended to worship the Lord through their music, there would be no need to post lyrics on screens or to encourage the audience to raise their hands. These bands were doing what most of us expect to do at church, and they were doing so more extravagantly than most of our churches will ever be able to. In general, worship leaders should not draw attention to themselves–the fact that I bought a ticket to this show and these artists spent their first three songs trying to impress me makes the transition to singing worship songs even more jolting. I believe that corporate worship should be led with excellence but that does not mean it needs pop culture adornment. In fact, I find it difficult to hold sacred that which adorns itself with the trappings of the entertainment world.
Perhaps CCM would experience a renaissance if more artists would embrace their role as entertainers. If it is possible to eat and drink to the glory of God, then certainly it’s possible to entertain in a manner pleasing unto the Lord. Scripture never condemns entertainment, and Jesus certainly had a penchant for fellowship and celebration. He turned water into wine at the wedding at Cana (John 2:1–12) and so regularly celebrated with others that he was accused of being a “glutton and a drunkard” (Luke 7:34). So perhaps a good step forward for Christian entertainers is to stop feeling guilty for providing their patrons with entertainment. Why be embarrassed to do something God made good? Certainly I would hope that CCM artists would craft meaningful and spiritually edifying music, but I think an unnecessary “praise and worship” rubric has been implicitly placed on Christian artists. I think this rubric stifles creativity and results in rather uniform and predictable music.
Furthermore, this push to provide a worship experience has resulted in an odd conflating of CCM and corporate worship. Entertainment is a gift from God, and Christian artists should consider how they might entertain with excellence and creativity rather than feel their craft is less valuable if they don’t produce a worship album or close out their latest EP with a worship ballad. Of course, we hope that Christian artists will produce music that transcends our expectations for entertainment. We hope that Christian art will resonate with our experiences in the world and produce spiritual reflection in us, but such is not possible if we continue to subject it to unbiblical and utilitarian rubrics. So here is to hoping for Christian music that is fun, full of joy, and unapologetically entertaining.
Illustration courtesy of Seth T. Hahne. Check out his graphic novel and comic review site, Good Ok Bad.
I have been pondering this very phenomenon recently but have been unable to put it into words. Thank you for writing this.
I have craved Christian artists to just be real. If you paint, paint real. If you write music, write real music. Don’t make things Christian for the sake of being Christian. If you’re depressed, be real about it. If you doubt God, be real. This desire to turn things into a Christian event because “it’s expected” is something that in turn pushes me away from Christian entertainment.
@Heather–thanks glad you found this helpful!
@Kellen Freeman–I am inclined to agree with you.
Hello, I am a 100% genuine man of God, “not perfect” but genuine in my love for people, my love for Jesus and God. My destiny is one that uses my gifts , talents, and passions as a poet/artist/spoken word performer as a means for giving the gospel and my testimony into the world of HipHop/rap music, one of the many kinds of music/entertainment that the enemy uses to spread filth, the 7deadly, and bread a spirit of doubt, rebellion and a general “antiChrist” atmosphere” …the largest following of HipHop is the youth of this generation…
Are u one that would also write another article expressing your problems with “gospel rap” music, while critisizing the artists for giving the audience what MOST of them came to see and experience in the first place? Would u suggest that worship in the form of an R&B song is blasphemous? Do u suggest we allow the world to cater to the wants and “needs” of the people, and us “christian artists” should just throw our hands up in defeat as we perform for a crowd 10x smaller because we performed ONLY worship songs, or that we leave the worship completely out of it so that all those “still lost” who came for entertainment will never get a feel of the beautiful “REAL” experience it is to worship God?
Here’s my critique on your rant: With the love of Christ, I submit to you these truths…
You are being far too critical on these performers, most of them have sacrificed their lives to stay commited to their profession, a profesion that Will always be somewhat dictated by what the audience desires! Most of them have a genuine desire to “infiltrate” the enemy’s camp “pop/rock/rap music” etc. The only somewhat descent observation in your entire article would be your observation on their dress, shoe and hair choice! Lol. Really? Did u not say they were entertainers? …some of us are actual messengers of God, bringing the gospel to a lost and defeated world in a way that is relevant to our time. Amen.
I feel u are far too self centered, as if the hundreds or thousands of other audience members agree with your feelings on this. I believe u are in the minority and even a mostly isolated “incident”. And in Love I suggest u go to a concert that suits “your” needs better. Either Creed, Natali Grant, or Lecrae “gospel rap” just sayin”;-) Cuz unless u find an artist who is Only one dimensional in their entire performance, there’s gonna be some fun, some serious, some worship, and entertainment, and in some cases maybe all of these values in One song!
With the Love of Christ, a man of God named Daniel… and a messanger named ANGEL, “A.merica N.eeds the G.ospel to E.mulate L.ove” Not Religion! Grace and Peace to you… I am looking forward to comments and or opinions. :-)
Spot on brother. This quote resonates with me: “In fact, I find it difficult to hold sacred that which adorns itself with the trappings of the entertainment world.”
I enjoy some Christian music, but some comes across so worldly ordained that it’s nothing more than worldly entertainment with a little “church” sprinkled around the edge for attraction.
Kellen nails it on the head when he says, be real. Pushes me away too.
@Daniels Angel – I think perhaps you misread my article. I am not saying that Chrsitian music should be mere entertainment and should not be worshipful. In fact I stated that I hope Christian music would be worshipful. What I find awkward is the conflating of all types of Christian music with corporate worship.
Perhaps it was not clear enough in my article but I am distinguishing between worship and corporate worship. Everything we do (1 Cor. 10:31) should be worshipful and should be done to bring glory to God. But what a lot of Christian artists are doing these days is trying to lead their audiences in corporate worship–it feels forced and unnatural and I think they are doing so in part because they feel like that is what they are supposed to do. I am willing to be proven wrong on that point and of course, like I said, I cannot possibly know these people’s hearts and movitations.
I just think that entertianment is a good thing and can be done in a way that brings glory to God and that Christians shouldn’t feel ashamed for providing entertainment to their audience in a god-honoring way. At this particular concert, there was one band that did this–they never tried to transition their show into corporate-church-like praise time–they just played good music and everyone enjoyed it. Their lyrics were good and even worshipful but they certainly maintained a vibe of playing rock songs for a rock concert. It was great, I felt edified even. I think that is fine.
I am just pointing out that I find it awkward that so many bands are adopting culturally defined genres of music (rap, boy bands, R&B, punk rock etc.) with corporate worship (i.e. singing together with the body of Christ). It feels strange and sometimes it feels a bit forced. If you want to be a Christian rapper–please do so! Be the best Christian rapper you can be, but don’t feel like you have failed your audience if you haven’t gotten them to join you in a sing-along praise chorus.
Just make good music and make good music as unto the Lord ;)
Drew… what u say seems fair and observant, but all in all I think this is perty much one of those cases where one finds it very easy to “be the coach or the quarter back, while sitting back in the stands watching the game” ;-) its much more intense on the field where the opposition is bringn all it has to keep you from winning! “Souls” for Christ…
Now, to be fair to you as 2 brothers in the body should be, I will say that perhaps some artists are still young or growing or simply not as Gifted as others at incorperating “worship” with entertainment… perhaps some are really not even “called” to be worship leaders, but let me remind you… somewhere in the scriptures it says that only the Holy spirit can proclaim Christ as the WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE, so somewhere in the middle of that spirit lead statement/concert it is only natural to bring worship to the father..
Maybe sometimes it seems tacky to a person to see a rock/rap/pop concert transition into corperate worship, but where is that persons heart really? Is it critcal and judgemental, or is it a child of God who came not only to be “entertained” but also to get their Praise on!
Yes, this makes sense. It however begs the question of what the “artist” is trying to accomplish. I think being a singer/performer is okay, and it can “be done for the Lord” with no problems. I think attempting to be a worship leader is a whole other story.
For instance, I have seen Chris Tomlin in concert. It was an okay concert. As a worship session though, it was phenomenal. I have seen Jars of Clay in concert. As a concert it was good, as a worship session it was horrible. But it all makes sense for what they attempted to do that night.
I recently went down to join Phil Wickham in his “Sing Along 2” concert where he records it. He straight out said in the beginning, if you are here to see a concert and a show, that is okay and I sincerely hope that you enjoy yourself. But the point of this is to gather together and worship God, and that is what we are going to do, so please join in.
If we are attempting to worship God (and thus far we have only really discussed it in the common musical area) then we need worship leaders. If we are attempting to have a nice album to listen to then we need artists who happen to be Christian. Is there overlap? Of course there is. But really we need people out in the world doing what they do well, and they happen to be Christian for both believers and non believers to hear and enjoy. We also need some worship leaders that can come inside and lead us as we gather together for worship. So we need both, and artists need to determine what they are going to do, and then do it well.
As someone who has argued on this very site that turning a church service into a rock concert is problematic, I have to agree with Drew that it’s equally problematic to turn a rock concert into a church service, especially if the performer changes horses in mid-stream. Concerts and corporate worship are wholly different animals, even if you are singing “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun” (let’s see if anyone gets that joke). Don’t compromise, sure, but if your motto is “Why should the devil have all the good music?” don’t act as if God isn’t already present–and even amused–when you say, “Jesus is the Rock, and He rolls my blues away!” We don’t have to act church-y to exalt His name together if we’re not already in church.
(That’s not to say Ben’s wrong. He’s not. One simply has different expectations at a Gaither Homecoming concert than at an Audio Adrenaline concert, and one is likely to get whiplash if the latter stops on a dime and turns into the former.)
I’ve seen bands like Delirious do both amazingly well together, but they position themselves (particularly older stuff) as more of a worship band, so it’s less of a transition, its seamless. But I think they are the exception to the rule.
Now excuse me while I go dig out my old delirious playlist…
@Jesus is the Rock and He rolls my blues away! ;-)
I can dig ‘your’ comment, its much less “throwing stones” and more calling a lily a lily and allowing a rose to have thorns… I however am much more than a “rapper” I am trully a messanger/evangelist/performer/ spoken wordsmith. I am definately called to do major things for the Kingdom. I am also a bit of a minister and on staff at a “Hip hop/R&B” church in the inner city! I am however relatively new to being a “Gospel” performer and its even been years since my teenage spoken word performances… I just turned 30, slightly old for the general age of the rising “secular” rap artist, but prime for the job of bringing the gospel through the platform of christian rap. I would have to say that in my case its like the “once you learn how to ride a bike” deals, mixed with the “born to ride” ;-)
This being stated, I must take some advice from this “whole” post, and keep in mind the transition element, the who’s my audience, and even my calling… but somethn tells me that I will do just fine at incorperating some worship in with my evengelical aproach to rap music mixed in with my testimony… and I love to worship, as “I am” in love with Jesus and our heavenly father. Can I be a worship leader and an evengelistic poet? Well, perhaps I won’t be inviting Drew to my first official concert! Lol… jk Drew, just keep your critiques in your diary til I have a chance to get my feet wet…lol. God is Good, -InChrist4life- ANGEL
@Daniels Angel: Genre and audience do indeed play a huge role in determining how you find that balance. Someone who’s going to a Southern Gospel concert, such as a Gaither Homecoming, likely already knows that the artist’s repertoire will include camp meeting songs and hymns from a certain era, so the transition between those and newer tunes is seamless, as is the case with groups like Delirious or artists like Chris Tomlin. But B. J. Thomas sang “Mighty Clouds of Joy” at an oldies festival I attended a few years back–the only explicitly Christian piece on his set list that night, and one that had made the Billboard Top 40 back in ’71–and got grumbles from certain parts of the audience. I don’t know the hip-hop scene at all, but I imagine jumping into “Be Thou My Vision” wouldn’t go over nearly as well at one of your performances as it would at a fiddle festival.
You might remember some of the pioneers like dc Talk who started pushing the boundaries of CCM toward genres like hip-hop in the ’90s. Have you considered studying some of their concert videos to see how they balance the Christian content with the hip-hop style and the concert vibe? Those bands might be more useful models than would some of the original “Jesus freaks” like Larry Norman or Keith Green (though you might want to check out the Keith Green “Ministry Years” anthologies for their lyrics; he was very much an entertainer with an evangelist’s heart).
Thanks Rose :-) …I may check out some of them, but I’m already surrounded by some wonderful performers and ministers who are supporting me and helping to mold me into an effective performer… I am however, original, with my own style, and open for even bringing a somewhat new aproach to the whole thing… honestly though, even though I do need to have a fan base and sell albums, my main objective is to reach the lost through the WORD, and my testimony! Amen… so a brothers gonna have to learn/figure out how to effectively balance out my heart with the “industry”… but, like I mentioned, this IS my destiny, so I think I won’t have to much of a problem ;-) Godbless……… -Daniel aka ANGEL
Wow! What a wonderful article. I think this phenomena is very true and I’m glad that you brought it to the forefront of conversation. You might be interested in checking out the Cantinas Ranch Foundation (www.cantinasranchfoundation.org) – they’re dedicated to raising up performing artists and entertainers that have strong foundations in Christ. Not necessarily focusing on Christian entertainers, but seeking to infiltrate the entertainment world with a strong Christian backbone.
Furthermore, there is a concert series called the Cantinas Music Festival on August 25th in Paso Robles, CA where MercyMe, Newsboys, and Building 429 will be performing. One of my good friends (Kylie Hughes) will be opening for them and though she sings Christian music and country music she’s first going to pursue country music. I’m forwarding your article to her as I think it’s something all entertainers should explore! Thanks for the great read!!
thanks for postings this article Drew. It all made sense to me and learn also from the comments. though it seems someone here exalted much of himself. he is the kind of spirit who provoke people and show off what he’s got as a christian not in a humble terms. errr
There’s a long history of Christians–and people who seem to not be Christians but have some strong feelings for God–who are entertainers who create sacred works in their own native language. A few come to mind: Boots Randolph’s album of hymns near the end of his recording career, about which he said that he wanted to save it for when he was good enough for the task; Hank Williams Jr did an album Sunday Morning http://youtu.be/HeO6ojspvCU . Grover Washington Jr and Leonard Bernstein also come to mind.
Drew, I appreciate your observations of the Christian music industry. Being a member of a church family that only sings a Capella praises to God, I find instrumentation in praise music to be unnecissary in worship due to it’s lack of example as being used by first century Christians in Scripture, and it can be distracting to the singing that God commands the church to praise Him with in the New Testament. However, I have a passion for playing music and I’m actually a part of a rock band. While we don’t consider ourselves technically a Christian band, all of us in the band are Christians; and while most of our music deals with the subject matter of life and relationships, we seek to reflect certain values in our music that are true and that, without directly worshipping God, can bring glory to Him as He commands us to do in everything that we do in passages like 1 Cor. 10:31, as you stated above. I’m thankful we as believers in Christ are able to notice our flaws and question ourselves and our motives, such as I’ve seen you do on this website, so that we can better understand how we should live for God. Kudos to you for your honesty and realistic approach to entertainment and worship.
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