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Nine Inches

Why Our Worship Does Not Please God


And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities. And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds. And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities. And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin...  —Luke 19

The biggest problem with this stuff we bloat ourselves on these days, these simple choruses we sing over and over and over and over until we brainwash ourselves, is that they don’t actually share Christ with anyone. The uninitiated—the so-called “sinner” among us—simply stares at us and thinks we’re crazy. He lost his job. She’s struggling to raise her kids. Are we even talking to them? No. We’ve literally turned our backs to them while we mouth these toothless panegyrics to Jesus. Meanwhile, Jesus is standing in our midst, shouting into a megaphone, “Over here! See this brother? See this sister? You should be singing to them.”

Our music ministry should—write this down someplace--minister to somebody. As is, it ministers only to Christians in a self-reinforcing delusional way, as a kind of therapeutic hypnosis, while having little or no relevance to people who don’t know Christ. As a result, our Sunday experience becomes increasingly extemporaneous and irrelevant to the man on the street, to the average person. It becomes The Other; this great multitude weeping, arms outstretched, singing over and over and over and over and over:

Hallelujah! You have won the victory.
Hallelujah! You have won it all for me.

What does that even mean?!? Somebody’s standing there, with real problems. Maybe they’re sick. Maybe they’re literally hungry. Somebody’s thinking of suicide—life is just too much. And nobody, I mean not a single solitary soul in that church, is even talking to them. We’re all caught up in our emotionalism, our backs literally to these people while out music playlist is full of this code:

Death could not hold you down. You are the risen king.
Seated in Majesty. You are the risen king...

Jesus did not come so that we might worship Him, that we might bless His name. He said, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost…” [Luke 19:10] He said, “They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” [Luke 5:31-32] That, beloved, is our model. Jesus did not come to entertain righteous folk; to provide spiritual eargasms and shouting fits. Pastors are not charged with simply holding on to Church Folk, holding the one pound (Luke 19; see top of page). But we’re not emulating Jesus, we’re emulating the adoring crowds who followed Him, singing hosannas and worshipping. But what was the lesson of those adoring multitudes?

Few of those thousands actually knew Jesus. They criticized Him for staying with the sinner Zacchaeus, for eating with men and women of ill repute. They’d heard of Him, that He was a great preacher, teacher, a prophet. But did they actually know Him? If they did, why did the crowd turn on Him when Pilate tried to release Him? Where did the adoring crowds go when He was framed for sedition and sentenced to death?

Whose behavior are we emulating, through our deeds, through our music? Would Christ stand there, His back to the seekers, and ignore them while singing praises to His father in some unknown language laced with coded catchphrases? Is there a record of His having done that in the Gospels?

In the best scenario, we are emulating David, who wrote amazing love songs to God The Father. But David’s mission was vastly different, as were the three Hebrew boys singing praises in the fiery furnace. The lesson of both: those praise songs ministered to them, delivered them, brought comfort to them. In neither example were these biblical figures ever charged with the mission of The Gospel: to connect people to Christ.

Our model should be Jesus. The church should look like, sound like, smell like, love like Jesus. In our Black Church tradition, we typically sound and function much more like Paul, whose finger-pointing, rebuking tone was often stern, argumentative judgmental and threatening. We need to stop skipping past Jesus to imitate Paul. We need to jettison all the extra rules and regulations, let go of all that nonsense We Done Heard Someplace from Mama ‘Nem, and read the Gospels—and only the Gospels—as our core of truth and our guide for Christian conduct.

Everybody Wants To Do The Prince Glare: Millions of records, lots of awards. "Angry Moose"
Prince-Wannabe Constipation Face "I'm The Joint" pose: 1 pound.

The Gospel of Hypnosis

“Awesome” is just one of many examples of the very worst thing the Black Church does. Today’s Black Church is a largely self-indulgent mess where the pastor is the center of the universe like some ersatz James Brown and the church itself functions much more like an Elks Club than a hope station. In fact, most black churches I am acquainted with function as a hope station only reluctantly and under certain conditions. The overwhelming majority of their energy and efforts are directed toward the pageantry and spectacle and, of course, shining a light on her pastor; feeding both his ego and his checkbook.

The biggest draw of the black church is also its biggest failure: the “ministry” in music. In my 50+ years’ experience, music in the Black Church hardly ministers in any real sense. Rather, it exists to create and maintain a certain atmosphere, like a hypnotist. The music is specifically designed to emotionally manipulate and entertain such that the congregation will sit through the pastor’s usually way, way too-long sermon. However, music, in our Black Church tradition, typically misses the mark of the church’s actual mission. Sadly, few if any seem to notice or care.

What is the point of “Gospel” music? What does Our God Is Awesome even mean to the guy on the street? To the homeless mother? What’s the point of our choir, standing on a street corner, singing in this… this impenetrable *code*? This is the point modern Gospel songwriters miss: they have no idea what music’s true mission is.

What did Jesus ask us to do? He asked us to go and tell people how to be saved. This is something contemporary Gospel songs fail, miserably, to do. Our current crop of “Gospel” hits do not functionally preach the Gospel. The music turns its back on the unsaved, the uninitiated, the church burnouts, the skeptics, and speaks only in this code—this Church Folk language that only other Church folk can decipher or appreciate.

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Anointed And/Or Crazy: Norman at Stonehenge. Humility (even if feigned): 10 pounds.
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In Another Land

Larry Norman, whom I’m sure few if anyone reading this has ever heard of, was vilified for his so-called “Jesus Rock,” which spoke plain English not to Church Folk but to the man on the street, to the woman lost in despair. He didn't write encoded "worship" music, so he didn't get rich and ended up dying broke because he couldn't raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars for a needed heart transplant. So far as we know (and, in deference to Pastor Crefloe Dollar's extant assertions), Jesus died broke, too. So did Paul. John The Baptist. Peter. Stephen was killed by Church Folk hurling rocks at his head.

Most of our "gospel" artists are moving with the trends, simply trying to make a living. The current trend is not so much toward "Christian Worship" music as it is toward white audiences. Why? Because black Church Folk are, my guess, statistically less likely to buy music as to illegally download it from somewhere or burn off multiple copies of discs to pass out to friends. Now, there's a whole economic lesson behind that, but the fact is I know pastors—pastors—men of God—who don't even think twice about illegally downloading movies from pirate sites. I mean, without hesitation or discussion. Many black gospel artists are simply struggling financially, and white audiences are where the money is. In my experience, white Christians have demonstrated stronger personal ethics than black Church Folk. So the output from many of our favorite groups is growing whiter and whiter, black artists pursing Hillsong and Planetshakers.

Would Jesus Pose Like This? A perfectly nice picture ruined by arrogant I'm The Joint effeminate gold-filigre Ray-Bans and Fonzie thumb. Christian "stars" should actually keep Christ in mind when posing for photos as these kinds of egotistical (and ridiculous) images speak directly to the quality of their relationship with Him. To know Jesus is to be more like Jesus; He just kind of rubs off on you, His major quality being humility: 1 pound.

The Gospel of Lyfe

This is my big hang-up with “Gospel” music: it does not, in any sense of the word, preach the Gospel. It entertains Church Folk and enables them to turn their backs on the world we were sent into to evangelize. In this perspective, Lyfe Jennings’ 268-192 is far more of a “Gospel” album than virtually anything on the Gospel charts in the twelve years since its release. 268-192, a virtual journal of a lost soul seeking God, speaks in parables and metaphors, Jennings speaking from a life experience in our church tradition and how that tradition has both failed and deeply wounded him. In spite of that experience, 268-192 makes it obvious Jennings desires God, seeks God, and clearly misses that familial church experience despite how it ultimately failed him.

This is the primary focus of music ministry in our churches: entertain the Sunday crowd. The better the show, the bigger the drop (the offering). The biggest mission is to keep them coming back and to get them to invite their friends. Child, you gotta hear that choir sing. And them boys sure can play. A traditional black church without a strong music program is dead on arrival, period. The goal of Sunday’s music is to whip the congregation into an emotional frenzy and prepare them for the pastor’s often toothless and ultimately meaningless sermon. It is the rare sermon I hear preached from today’s black pulpit that actually means anything, that actually changes anything.

So we sing these ditty little choruses, You have won the victory … who?! Our God Is Awesome… what?! Then the pastor comes out—James Brown and his Famous Flames—puts on his minstrel show, preaching some feel-good “empowerment” sermon, tunes up into his hoop, escalates the emotional frenzy until the crowd breaks out into the Chicken George “shout.” That, the shout, is, for many if not most of our churches, a home run. We're high-fiving after service, Man, them folks shouted! There was no order whatsoever in the place! None of it—not one bit of it—pleases God. Not one bit of it has anything whatsoever to do with what Jesus actually asked us to do.

Our music, which we applaud and holler and fall out—is utterly meaningless to those who are lost, while this preaching, this teaching, is seen as foolishness [1 Cor 1:18-31]. Unsaved folk don’t know the code, they don’t know what any of this means. In our ignorance, we believe we are pleasing God but we’re not. We’re turning our back on the lost and exhausting ourselves on the spiritual equivalent of masturbation. This is what monkeys—in the zoo—do: amuse themselves with self-gratification. Then we throw ourselves these parties, these annual days, congratulating each other for doing nothing more than taking up space year after year.

Skipping Past Jesus to Follow Paul: What on earth made her think this was a good idea?
Would Jesus ever pose like this? Look how wrong we are. Look how lost we are: 1 pound.

Risk Is Our Business

If the bible has taught us nothing else, it clearly demonstrates serving God involves risk. In example after example, the biblical model demonstrates how those who serve God with a pure heart are typically rejected, mocked, persecuted, jailed and killed. The fact nobody’s raising a ruckus against us should be a warning that whatever we’re doing is too toothless and impotent. A pastor who plays it safe or, worse, a pastor who does not even realize how utterly meaningless his “ministry” is, is simply lost.

Nothing we do, nothing we say, nothing we sing has any relevance to actual people. It is all designed by us for us. It is insular and virtual impenetrable for the uninitiated. It does not speak globally or universally to all people. It does not address any real problems of modern life. Our black church experience is, therefore, by definition, escapism; no difference from going to the movies or, better, the circus. And I’d rather not waste my time there anymore. I get more done by staying home and washing my car.

Music is the tip of the spear for evangelism and ministry. This ridiculous thing we do in our churches violates everything the bible teaches us. There needs to be a revolution in our approach to music and ministry in general, a reevaluation and a turning away from tradition and back to the bible. Yes, our God is Awesome, but the song He wants us to sing is Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus.

Preaching To The Choir: Okay, I'm a "sinner." Am I going to pay a hundred bucks to come see this?
What are they saying? What are they doing? 3,000 lights, two semi's full of equipment, thirty roadies: 1 pound.

Priest Unplugged

For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down , and reapest that thou didst not sow. And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow: Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury? And he said unto them that stood by , Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds. (And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.) For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him. But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me. And when he had thus spoken, he went before, ascending up to Jerusalem. —Luke 19

I don’t want a single note sung in my church that does not offer hope to somebody, that does not offer Christ to somebody. I want us to snap out of our daze, wake from our coma, remind ourselves of the mission of the church, and conduct ourselves along the lines of the model given us by the Master. I want our music to pass the Christ Test: does it tell people about Jesus, or is this all some secret code known only to Christians? Does it address any problems of modern life, or is it all just fluffy fiddlesticks? Does it point the way to the cross, or does it just entertain Christians?

If you actually have to think about it, your music program is worth a close review.

Christopher J. Priest
23 August 2015

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