Recently I ran into a local worship leader at the Cherry Street Artisan. We talked for awhile, and he expressed a desire to form a band of music leaders that work together to share songs, ideas, and like. I thought there was some merit to the idea. During the course of the conversation, he said, "I bet we sing most of the same songs." He was from a charismatic, evangelical church quite different from ours. Later, having had some time to reflect on his statement, it didn't settle with me quite as well as I initially thought it would. Why? What does it mean if we're singing most of the same songs? First of all, it could be a really good thing. After all, it's doubtful there will be separate sections in heaven for different types of music. No doubt there will be much unity there. So, singing the same tunes, across denominations and movements, must be a good thing, right?
Second, however, it could be a bad thing. Why? Well, in case you didn't know it, pop music isn't always good music. Britney Spears isn't much of a musician. Neither are most of those filling up the airwaves. Pop culture has largely replaced fine culture and folk culture in society. Now there is a type of music, as with all other aspects of the arts, that is imbibed mindlessly by most people. Whatever is most popular, and whatever brings in the most cash, is certainly what you'll hear through your car stereo. But, as we know, as popularity doesn't guarantee truth, neither does it guarantee beauty. Most pop music is frankly pretty bad.
We could argue that Christians have created a parallel subculture in America. Christian music companies have been gobbled up by the larger, "secular" record labels. What gets recorded is what sells. What sells is generally not that sophisticated, musically or lyrically. Lowest common denominator music is what we get.
This has affected the rise in "praise and worship music." In the last 10 years, we have seen that genre of Christian music explode in popularity. As this has happened, it has resulted in more and more churches singing the same songs that are played on Christian radio, that are then being celebrated by worship leaders and churches. We have seen a rise, quite ironically, in worship "stars," many of which have great intentions, and some of which write excellent music. Most, however, I'd argue, don't fall into that category.
The result? A lot of weak, shallow worship. Churches are playing the popular songs, much like Christian radio. But does popularity equal beauty? No. What happens is that what is determining the song sets of worship leaders across America is popularity. What sells? Typically not the true, the beautiful, the good.
Is it a good thing that we're singing all the same songs? It could be. But I doubt it's the case here in our land. Most of our tunes aren't heaven-worthy.