by Dave Heller on Apr 29, 2013
If you spend any length of time with me, the conversation will eventually turn to money. I find the relationship people have with money fascinating. It affects us all on a daily basis. It has the power to control us. It can limit our choices. Money can turn us into slaves, but somehow we still love it.
I’m intrigued when someone stays at a job they hate because they were paid a high enough salary. I’m puzzled to hear of millionaires who steal because they were driven by a desire to attain more wealth. But is money really at the core of the issue? Isn’t money just a powerful tool for evil, but also for good?
When JJ and I touring, I often listen to podcasts as I fall asleep in my bunk on the bus. One night I listened to a sermon by Timothy Keller (titled "Treasure Vs. Money) on a section of The Sermon on the Mount that provided a new perspective regarding my relationship with greed.
In Matthew 6, Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eyes are bad, your whole body full of darkness...”
Jesus goes on to say more about money, about serving two masters, admiring flowers and birds, and how worrying isn’t a productive use of our time and energy. It’s one of my favorite passages in all scripture, to tell you the truth. However, the few verses about the eye always felt out of place to me.
As I kept listening, Keller provided insight on the matter. He shares a passage from Luke 11 where Jesus uses the same illustration about the eye being the lamp of the body, but in Luke 12, Jesus follows up by saying, “look out for greed.” What are these verses about the eye doing in between two passages about money? Jesus is saying that materialism has a way of blinding and distorting the way we see everything!
I don’t often come to the conclusion that greed is the root of my motivation in life’s big choices. Greed is sneaky. It’s appealing. It whispers that I deserve that thing someone else has. It tells us our lives won’t be complete until we have that next gadget, or car, or house, but after we get those things, we’re still hungry for more. After our greed has played itself out, we’re left with worthless stocks, with homes that are underwater. We end up bankrupt.
I don’t have to tell you that musicians are prone to greed. Just pull up VEVO’s most popular music videos of the last month and you’ll see beautiful, scantly clad women, the allure of luxury, the message that you deserve better than what you have, and that life is about living for yourself. It’s a message that I want to hear, but then again, I’ve got a problem with greed. We all do.
In my high school and college years (late 90’s and early 00’s), most of the music I purchased was in the genre of Christian/Gospel. I assumed that the Christian Music Industry was above making decisions based on money. It was an exciting time when bands like Delirious? , Caedmon’s Call, and Jars Of Clay were establishing their audiences and making records that profoundly impacted me. For some reason I thought that the rules of business didn’t apply to ministry through music.
Worship music developed a fresh sound (thanks to our friends from the UK), and was separating itself from the choir and pipe organ sounds of liturgy, or the cheesy non-pop melodies that I grew up singing in the 80’s. But then something interesting happened.
After establishing a new more pop-friendly sound for worship music, the record labels realized that there was a market eager to purchase lots of their CDs. Soon it felt like just about every signed act was releasing a worship or hymns record. New hip worship bands and solo acts were being introduced regularly. Christian music had found a new genre within a genre to market to the church-going masses.
Since most signed artists don’t make money from their in-store (and now digital) record sales (that’s the subject for another day), they had to hit the road to sell records at concerts. This is where things start to get complicated for me.
Over the course of a few brief years, instead of paying a ticket to listen to a seasoned performer share their original songs, to connect and be entertained, concertgoers started paying admission prices to sing songs that were already sung in church. As one of those concertgoers myself, I was often conflicted.
Why was I paying for a worship experience? Was this really worship at all, or was it a strange form of church-oriented entertainment? Why did I feel odd when I passed a worship band’s table full of T-shirts and CDs after my worship/entertainment experience? Why did I sometimes get the feeling that some bands viewed this event as just another gig that happened to involve worship songs? I knew I felt unsettled, but it was hard to determine what needed to change. It still is.
Pretty soon, Christian radio stations started playing the new worship music on the air, which drove demand for more worship bands, but here’s an interesting side affect. The target market for worship music is members of the church. Even though the records were selling well, chances are they were selling well to listeners who were already Christians. That essentially begs the question, is the music produced by the Christian Music Industry intended to be missional? I suppose that’s a subject of a future blog entry.
Even more disturbing, I started to notice a trend of worship leaders beginning to dress like their idols. They weren’t just the people who humbly led their community in the praise of their Creator anymore. They had the potential to be the next big thing. They could now record their own CD, then an A&R guy from a Christian label would happen to be visiting and hear their amazing talent during a service, and then they’d get signed, move to Nashville, hit the road with other famous worship bands. Eventually they could retire after receiving millions of dollars in royalties because churches all over the country sang their music each weekend.**
Greed is very good at hiding behind noble ambition. We tell ourselves that we want people to be moved and ministered to when they hear what we’ve written or how we sound, but we also want them to think we’re something special. We love their applause and their compliments, but we’re confusing our role as fellow sojourners.
I love thinking of musicians like JJ and myself as postal workers or servers in an amazing restaurant. We’re delivery people. When we do our jobs with excellence, we’re almost invisible. The people we’re serving notice that we’re there, but the real star of the show is the sender of the gift or the master chef in the kitchen. It’s hard to take credit for sharing a gift when it came from someone else.
This is not to say that my ego is never a problem, but JJ's pretty good at keeping me in line. It's amazing how effective the needing to change a child's dirty diaper can put you back in your place.
Greed remains as stealthy as ever in its mission to keep us imprisoned by desire for more. It has the potential to influence the way JJ and I write songs, the way we tour, the way our records sound, and myriad of other choices related to our career. But when we remember the example that Christ set for us; the way he gave everything to be with us because we are his treasure; when we embrace the knowledge of being worth that much to him, we are truly free.
One final note:
This post has the potential to offend some of you. I want to make it clear that I believe worship leaders should be compensated for their time and energy. I hope my observations cause us to reflect more frequently on the intersection of ministry and business, and of good intentions and true motives.
I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I know this is a conversation worth having. If we stop asking questions, we start getting ourselves into trouble. There’s much more to say about this subject. I look forward to exploring alternatives, and would love to hear your thoughts about this.
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**I know this description is extreme. It certainly doesn’t describe every worship leader. Over the years, JJ and I shared music at many churches with amazing, genuine music ministers who have a heart to share their gifts with humility.