Christian worship music is big business. To get some perspective on just how big I recommend you read this interesting CNN profile on the King of Christian Worship Music, Chris Tomlin.
Personally I find myself deeply ambivalent about the whole thing. It is not that I’m committed to hymns (though I do think it is worthwhile singing more of them). I like diversity. I’d love to sing a Weslyean hymn one moment and Larry Norman’s “Put your life in Jesus’ nail-scarred hands” the next. (I miss that good ole’ Jesus freak seventies music.) But I must admit to finding most “contemporary choruses” rather insipid both musically and lyrically.
And then there’s the shift in nomenclature in recent decades that equates the corporate singing of choruses with dubious musical merit with “worship”. Hence, the “worship” pastor is the guy who sings songs at the front for twenty minutes a week. Don’t get me started on that.
Tomlin is good at what he does, no doubt. As the article notes, his new album topped the Billboard charts in January. And last year estimates are that his songs were played 3.2 million times in churches. That all feeds into the royalty machine (something I, with my meager book sales, know little about).
But is there something untoward about monetizing congregational singing? On the one hand, it irks me and in my weaker moments I find myself sympathetic with the snarky quip “Who are they really worshipping?” (I become especiallly snarky at the idea of worship “concerts”. Beiber on the marquee this week, Chris Tomlin the next.)
On the other hand, should Christian authors get paid for their Chrisitan books? Of course. Should Christian publishers get paid for the Bibles they print? No doubt. So what justifies the double standard? Perhaps I’m just a curmudgeon who hides my distasted for a particular kind of music by publishing the success of those who produce it for the free market.