The Scourge of Pop-Stars

Recently I was at a conference where one of the keynote speakers was the internationally acclaimed photographer, Tom Ang. As part of his talk Tom described the change that has taken place with the digitization of photography, and the proliferation of photo sharing websites.
The result of this is that all pictures, even the very good ones, struggle to gain an appreciative audience through the sheer volume of photographs being taken and disseminated. This of course, isn’t limited to photography – it is true for any creative endeavour – music, film, fine art, poetry – all competing for an audience.
What results is that creative endeavours are no longer able to stand on their own merits, and need some sort of “point of difference” to make them rise above the crowd.
Particularly in the entertainment industry, this point of difference inevitably ends up being the secondary attributes of the artist, such as lifestyle or relationships. An example would be Lady Gaga. Although she produces pop music of a typically high standard consistent with current trends, what Lady Gaga is best known for is her outrageous persona and attention grabbing antics. Subsequently Gaga is not so much a musician or singer as an entertainment package encompassing music, drama and performance art – both on stage and off.
Other figures in the entertainment industry are known for their aberrant behaviour or dysfunctional relationships, gleefully reported by a mainstream news media that is increasingly indistinguishable from trashy tabloid news vendors where credibility and accuracy have taken a back seat to titillation.
The saying “all publicity is good publicity”, appears to be true for many people who have garnered the dubious title of “celebrity”. Inevitably creative endeavours are high jacked by commercialism, where focus is more on the person, and less on the creative work they produce. The songs, or the movies, or the artwork in whatever form becomes a vehicle for the ego of the artist.
What does this mean for us in the community of followers of Jesus?
Believe it or not, “pop stars” have always been a part of the Christian landscape. Jesus of course, fully deserves every bit of attention and devotion we can lavish on Him – that’s not the issue. But right from the beginning of the early church, believers were aligning themselves with pop-stars.
In 1 Corinthians 1:12 Paul writes

“What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas ”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

In the 19th Century, Charles Spurgeon was a pop-star preacher – regularly attracting Sunday service crowds of 6,000 people to London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle to hear him preach. Throughout Church history there have been numerous people who have enjoyed (or maybe endured?) immense popularity.
This hasn’t always been a bad thing; many of these people have managed to harness their profile to achieve great things for God. The problem comes when people begin to believe their own publicity, and start seeking attention with a motivation that isn’t paying due deference to Christ.
Maybe rather than pop-stars, another name that works would be “idols”. Of course, an idol, in its truest meaning, is anything that claims allegiance that rightfully belongs to God.
Since the charismatic renewal of the 60’s and 70’s, there has been a much greater emphasis on experiential worship, most obviously in the form of music. There has been a trend towards “doing music” in a manner consistent with secular trends, which results in a fairly common formula of a band of musicians on stage, facing the worshipping congregation. In itself, this is amoral – nothing wrong with it. In the secular world, the message of a band on the stage is “look at me and what I’m doing”.
However, in a church music worship setting, the role of those leading is not to draw attention to themselves, but to point attention to Christ, and to serve the congregation by facilitating their singing songs of worship. This clash of purpose has resulted in what must surely be an oxymoron: the pop-star worship leader.
There seems to be a trend whereby people tasked with facilitating the congregation’s expression of worship, are assuming the trappings of pop-stars – or idols.
We see this in promotional material describing “today’s hottest worship leaders”. We see worship albums with carefully cultivated image and accompanying music video.
As a worship musician and sometimes worship leader of quite a few years’ experience, I don’t feel the need to cultivate for myself a point of difference. I don’t feel a need to make myself stand out from the crowd, and I certainly don’t want to be guilty of seeking for myself allegiance that rightfully belongs to God.

In this age of rampant consumerism, who is the “customer” when it comes to corporate worship? Is this right? Who should be the “customer”?

Tim Page
Image: Lars Kristian Flem Creative Commons Flickr
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