The average church spends over 75 percent of their resources keeping the “house of worship” open. Is that a good thing?
Here’s an email I received from a random follower:
Hi Hugh, I just read your book Sacrilege, and I loved it! You mentioned that you don’t like to sing in church, and as a worship leader, I found your reasoning to be quite intriguing. I’ve read many missional books recently and I’m really struggling with the role of music, worship in general and how this fits into my calling to lead people toward God. I’m at a bit of a loss. Can you help? – Ruth Anne
Yes, in Sacrilege I did mention that I have never really enjoyed singing in church. Other than singing an occasional Black Keys song while riding my Harley, I’m really not into singing at all, anywhere. But as I’ve processed my aversion, I’ve come to realize that it’s not about the singing. It’s about the worship. Real worship.
Just a few weeks ago, I was speaking at the largest missional community conference called Verge. Verge is hosted by Austin Stone, and with Aaron Ivey leading the worship I couldn’t help but enjoy the attempt at vocal engagement! A few days later, I spoke at Austin New Church, pastored by Brandon Hatmaker, and again, I completely dug the artistically beautiful and authentic worship. I actually sang at both events. Not loud, but a few squeaks came out.
So what’s the real issue?
It’s not that I don’t want to sing. It’s that I don’t want to sing with people that JUST sing!
Verge is a gathering of paid saints and peasant saints who are all living against the grain of consumer-church and consumer Christianity and living deep lives of sacrifice, missional community and ministry to the poor, the lost and the least. Austin New Church is also a unique community as told in a book called The Barefoot Church. They began simply by serving the poor. In both cases, the church leaders that come and the regular folks who attend are not trying to grow their churches or prop up the show. In fact, they’re all against the show. Instead, they are learning to live a real story of daily worship. They are trying to balance both worship as a vertical event with worship as a horizontal lifestyle.
Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength” (vertical) “AND love your neighbor as much as you love yourself” (horizontal).
In other words, worship on Sunday is only going to be as deep as our worship the rest of the week. Depth through song, liturgy, spoken word and preaching is only going to be as meaningful as the level of meaning we bring to others around us.
In fact, I’d submit that if we, as Romans 12:1 encourages, “present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, which is our spiritual act of worship” 24–7, we could come together on Sunday, bang wooden spoons on a garbage can and have an amazing time of worship. When God’s people live large lives of kingdom good news, it makes sense to go vertical and get audible about our love for God.
So what about all the money we spend to sing?
I think that was what Ruth Anne was actually struggling with. Should she make a living helping people go vertical if they don’t have much horizontal going on? The average church spends well over 75 percent of their time and financial resources keeping the “house of worship” open for business. How can minimize the consumer tendency, justify the expenses or at least find a balance that brings glory to God?
I think it’s a hard question to give a black-and-white answer to, but here a few things we can know for sure.
First, the worship we live out as missional people can be done for free, so most of our worship shouldn’t cost a dime.
Second, God does like His people to go vertical. The Scriptures are full of references to the power of gathering to lift up Jesus through song, cymbals or choir bells. It’s just there, all over the place, so it doesn’t seem fair to suggest we unplug the entire show.
Third, we should shoot for balance, not purity, on either side. Instead of reacting too harshly or too quickly, consider splitting the cost, at least. If you spend $75,000 on a worship leader and $120,000 on a building for people to gather for vertical worship, then put the same amount of money into serving the poor, equipping people to go out in missional communities or simply giving the money away to smaller church plants that can’t even afford to buy a portable Bose sound system.
Fourth, determine in your own life if you’d feel better serving with your gifts for free. I’ve found worship leaders who make $100,000 a year and some that do the same job for a weekly Starbucks gift card. I think the choice is personal, and if you’d have more fun giving your gift away, I’d encourage you to do it. Personally, I believe anyone making a living from gospel ministry should only get paid if they are equipping more and more people to do what they do. So if a leader takes a full salary and is creating and developing others, great! But woe to any leader, pastor, teacher or worship leader who doesn’t think this through with any eye to fighting consumerism and bringing balance to vertical and horizontal worship.
I’m so happy I finally got to write this. I think I’m going to go sing now!