As an Australian Christian it almost seems un-Australian to not appreciate Hillsong and the wealth of inspiring and God-glorifying music that they have given us over the years. Given indeed to the world. I am just returning home to Oz from the Philippines where, on one Sunday night, I endured a three hour concert where 4 invited worship teams seemed to compete with each other in replicating as much Hillsong as they could manage, complete with the same stage and audience mannerisms that make up the usual Hillsong DVD. I don’t blame the guys back in Sydney for that, but it does leave me with concerns and questions about the nature of modern Christian ‘worship’. How much of it is true worship and when does it just become soulish hype. And a pleasant experience on the plane on the way to Manila only served to heighten my concern.
I’m a great Sting fan. I love his music style and his skill with lyrics. So how great was my joy to find his Berlin Concert, complete with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, as part of the Qantas in-flight entertainment. It was a fabulous concert, filling up my senses and having me at times in tears. I watched it twice and told my wife that I’d love it for Christmas. But here’s the concern. A month earlier I had been into our local prison to facilitate the Sunday services and the lads in the first session had the latest Hillsong DVD which we used for a couple of songs. I’d not seen a Hillsong production for a while and so I was suitably impressed with the whole production, the smoky blue effects, the crowd angles, the music style, so professional, so drawing. I enjoyed it, worshipped to it and thought of some teenagers I’d love to get it for.
Have you already got my drift though? I don’t have any doubt at all about the integrity of the producers of the video BUT … when you put together a team of amazing musicians, skilful writers and a brilliant audio and visual team you have to finish up with a successful product that has all the dangers of leavings its participants emotionally high but not necessarily engaged with God in a life changing encounter that continues after the lights have faded. Especially when churches all over the country see Hillsong as the benchmark and are trying to replicate their style, all in the name of a spirit of ‘excellence’. So the push for talent in the worship team becomes a subtle mini version of Australian Idol and the expectations of an entertainment-driven generation of young churchgoers are catered for and driven higher. And we confuse the results for worship that pleases God.
And here I am reminded of David trying to bring the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6), on a ‘new cart’ (driven by the spirit of excellence?) replete with a plethora of professional musicians and skillful music that would surely rival heaven – but God was not in it. Indeed it was not until this new thing stumbled and God’s wrath burned against Uzzah for trying to keep it going, that the participants, as earnest as they surely were, were even remotely aware that their ’worship’ fell far short of God’s measure of excellence.
What was missing was the blood (verse 16). God’s presence is not brought down by highly skilled (and sometimes unknowingly ego-driven) musicians and polished performances but is carried each day by New Testament priests (ordinary believers) who are dead to performance driven religion and who’s worship is more about service than singing. Such worshippers do not need a professional song-leading team every Sunday and are quite satisfied with a poorer but sometimes more honest worship session when they do get it. Indeed such a genuine mixture of sacrificial service and heartfelt singing makes a big noise in heaven whether it is accompanied by excellence or not.
So will it be Sting or Hillsong at Christmas? Hopefully both. I’ve no doubt that God raised Hillsong for His purposes. And just as David “served the purposes of God in his generation” so I trust will they. May they do it though through a pathway of blood.