I suspect this will not be a very popular post but I think it is time for me to put in writing a trend I noticed in Singapore and even Asia – ticketed worship concerts where people buy tickets (with top priced tickets as much as over $100) to be in concert of international worship bands. I guess many will say what is wrong with paying for the tickets as there is cost in putting up something of this scale. I do understand there is cost, perhaps better than a regular consumer as I was a show promoter (event organiser who specialises in putting up concerts) of commercial music shows in Asia Pacific and I definitely understand the amount of financial investment involved in putting up a big show. I have never ventured into ticketing worship concerts even though I have been in worship ministry since I was 17 years old, not including years served in youth ministry as musician and worship leader. I could have “married” the commercial show promoter job with worship and put up worship concerts simply based on the skill sets I have. In an attitude of prayer and submission to the Holy Spirit, I present to you my conviction after years of struggle in prayer and studying of the Word.
UNDERSTANDING OF BIBLICAL WORSHIP
I will start from the basis that worship is not music, although music can be an expression of worship. I am not doing a word play here. Mark 7:6-7 quoted the Old Testament.
“And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” – Mark 7:6-7
As you can see from this scripture passage, clearly worship has been offered through their mouth, which can be prayer or songs, but it is not acceptable worship to God. It is the heart that God is after, not the outward appearance or audible sound. Biblical worship is a heart attitude and not a genre of music. Not just in Christianity, but humanity understands worship as offering something of value to please a supreme being to gain favour.
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” – Romans 12:1 (NASB)
The New Testament in Romans 12:1 gives an imagery of believers coming before God and presenting ourselves as sacrifices before God. The world’s understanding of worship is to offer God something to get something in return. Biblically it is the opposite. We offer God ourselves in worship because God first reached out to us and blessed us. Romans 11:33-36 gives the reason why Paul wrote 12:1. Biblical worship is a response to God when we catch a glimpse of His greatness and know in the depths of our hearts that He is worthy.
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” – Romans 11:33-36
Worship is sacred. Sacred not as in religious sacred that is bound by religiosity but sacred as in one that is set apart and precious. Our accessibility to enter God’s presence to worship cost Jesus everything by becoming the sacrifice. The price to worship is fully paid in Christ. The value and significance of worship founded in this act is more than sufficient to consider worship sacred. If someone gives you a gift that saved your life while costing his own, you will consider that gift sacred, of a completely different standing from your other gifts and things. This gift in your heart is set apart, precious and cannot be compared with anything else. Same for the work of Christ on the cross. Worship is something that money cannot buy as someone has paid the price that I can never afford.
So how does ticketed worship concerts align with Biblical worship? I can see two major areas that provided sufficient conviction for me to not thread into this.
1. Heart Attitude
Ticketing worship is sale of worship. I understand that some Christian events, a nominal ticket fee is charged for commitment to attend to ease logistics and operations planning and is affordable to most, if not all. Here I am referring to ticket prices similar to a normal commercial concert ticket price, which then implies the decision of price is for profit as a commercial concert would. For ticket holders who paid commercial rates, it is no difference to a sale transaction as compared to a commercial concert. With the commercialisation of attending worship concerts, a mindset of consumerism is encouraged. Since I pay for it, I should get pleasure out of it. This heart attitude completely contradicts Biblical worship of coming to give to God rather than to receive. Of course there are individuals who attend worship concerts who genuinely wants to worship God and their heart attitude are to give to God. I am referring to a system that encourages and promotes a mindset of consumerism worship (if there is such a phrase as it is a complete oxymoron). Perhaps right now we do not see the effects, but 5-10 years down the road, Biblical worship will be further from the next generation than ever.
This part is directed to events organizers and spiritual leaders who are doing or want to do worship concerts. I completely understand and empathise the enormous financial investment in putting an event together similar to commercial shows where there is tremendous stress throughout the promotion until box office announces “sold out”. Even then, cost management is a huge priority. Biblically we teach people to tithe and give offering. Nowadays I hear worship concert organisers say that we need to educate people to pay for the worship concerts for you do not muzzle the ox that works for you. I truly believe that the sound and lights guys, and all the staff who are professionally putting in their time, effort and skills need to be paid. Yet worship is based on sacrifice and not a charge. Here we have a dilemma. This is where the Kingdom of God works differently from the system of the world! When the Lord graces His manifested presence to touch and minister to His people in a worship gathering, He will move the hearts of people to give sufficiently, and even more than expected, than what is needed to put the event together. This is the part where faith comes in and only through faith do we please God. The heart of David is such that he will not offer God anything that cost him nothing. As event organizers and spiritual leaders, may I challenge you that in your heart’s desire to bring the body of Christ together in worship, be the first to put that worship offering in front of the altar of God by trusting in His provision to pay for the sacrifice of worship that he has put in your heart, knowing that Jesus did it already? With this posture, the decision to do an event will be based on seeking God for His will and not based on popularity or financial viability.
A ticketed worship blurs the focus. My first question is who is the focus here, God or the worship band? The worship band may not have the intention of being worshipped and have their eyes on God, but the system has put the worship band right in the forefront to attract people to come for the event. The motivation to gather is not Jesus Christ, but the band. I believe the motivation says a lot about who is the focus of worship in a situation as such.
I heard testimonies of salvations from the concerts, and people have been more opened to Christianity. This openness is to the Christianity that was presented on stage in the glitz and blitz, but when they find out about the hard teachings of Jesus, will they still be open? Same for the salvations. It is no difference from a misrepresentation of the Gospel’s call to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. I, on the other hand, believe that God can turn their hearts around to genuine conversions as He is God who can turn everything and anything around. I rejoice in these salvations and God encounters during these events. Once again, hear my heart, I am pointing to a system that in itself distracts people’s attention from God and by no means downplaying what God can do.
I am going to reiterate that I do not discount the testimonies from worship concerts and I praise God for touching the lives of people. I am referring to a system that is counter Biblical worship and subconsciously instilling values and mindset that are not aligned to God’s. We may not see the effects now but we will see it in the next generation which might take a generation or more to be realigned.
Writing this on my blog is also a constant reminder to myself that I will keep worship sacred in my life and pray that this will be a checker lest I slip or deviate.
Well written and am persuaded by your sound convictions!
? better be persuaded by the Word of God then me! Bless you!
1. i fully understand and agree with your point is regarding worship
2. also agree that there will be a blurring of lines once commercialisation takes place
3. perhaps a better question would be “is there a need for worship concerts?”
4. what are the better alternatives/ avenues of sharing new inspired songs to bless His people?
5. you mention that “I truly believe that the sound and lights guys, and all the staff who are professionally putting in their time, effort and skills need to be paid.”
do you mean that every strata of the personnel involved should be waiting on the Lord to bless or are you saying that only this specific group must be paid and the worship band lives by faith? just needed clarification
6. my last question is, should “christian song arrangers and producers, studio owners (basically the people needed the scene to put out the song)” do the arrangement and production for these bands or churches for free and rely on the Lord to bless them for the gift that God has given to them to serve the Body? If not, then how do you suggest that this can be worked out?
thank you Pauline for penning your thoughts. it is a much needed voice that is needed in this era to put into perspective what God has intended.
Thank you for taking time to read and reply. Really appreciate this discussion! Here are my replies below:
3. Personally, I don’t think there is a need for the “worship concerts” that we are seeing now. The object of our worship is God and the key is to offer Him our worship as a body of believers which is already fulfilled in the congregation of our own churches. I must say that it is good to have huge worship gatherings where Singapore believers from different churches to come together as one once in a while, like the Global Day of Prayer. So maybe there can be one that is a nationwide worship celebration which the Festival of Praise used to be able to gather many.
4. The social media is one of the most economical way of sharing new inspired songs. It is free to use for most of the social media channels to share not only with friends, but even to the world.
5. My answer to point 3 is that “worship concerts” are not necessary for the growth of church or believers. If worship concerts are run commercially, then they should pay all whom they hire their commercial rates.
6. I am not sure how many full-time Christian song arrangers, producers, studio owners there are in Singapore. Most of them whom I know are believers doing commercial projects professionally for jobs that are not related to Christian music. I do believe the professionals should be paid as this is their bread and butter, unless it is their personal conviction to do a certain project as their offering to God. I think the more pertinent question is, do all, if not most Christian songs need to be professionally recorded? If they are to be professionally recorded, for what purpose? If God has directed a professional recording to be done, I always believe He will supply the finances. There are ministries and song writers whom I know have been working on this model and God blesses them tremendously in their outreach through the songs. Perhaps it is the ministry of the songwriter that needs to reach out first rather than thinking of having their songs recorded as a platform for reaching out. Just a side note, in the commercial world, only a very small percentage of songs written are actually professionally produced or even get an audience. Most of them are recorded as demos. Of course with the accessibility of audio recording technology, quality of demo has gone up and some songwriters have also set up home recording facilities.
Hope I have answered your questions!
this discussion can go on and on…… and i am not about to do that
what is most important is to be clear of how we want to serve Him in our giftings and talents be it in church or in the secular. if our intentions and objectives are clear, i am sure God will honour it and people around us will be blessed, be it believers or pre believers……
what we really need in this season is to bring our focus back to the original meaning and purpose of worship which is what you are doing currently and i applaud you!
Yes it can be quite an extensive discussion but am glad that you and many others are processing and thinking through as I am also seeking God’s way. I believe it is not just about intentions and objectives that God looks at, it is our obedience to His ways that is the key. ?
1) I don’t think I came across any line to has you taking a clear stand on the supposed situation at hand, which in my opinion wasn’t really spelt out either.
2) After you state your point. What do you hope to achieve from this article? I’m afraid I’m not getting the purpose of the essay / rant / manifesto / whatever this is…
Hi Rebecca, the purpose of this article is simply sharing my point of view with regards to worship concerts trend. My stand as explained in the post that it is a system that is counter biblical.
1) What is ‘it’?
2) A system, is simply a sum of its parts. i.e. processes, people, activities functioning together, often in harmony. However, discourse can also be quintessential to a functioning ‘system’. So what is this system you are referring to? Can this system or parts of the system happen to be the discoursive portions that appear to be counter biblical when singled out, but still contribute to an overall working ‘system’ in the greater scheme of things?
3) Counter biblical. The way I understand this term is that if something is counter-, it goes against. Not just rebuts, or obstructs, but actively travels in the reverse direction. So what exactly is the reverse of biblical? How does one “run the biblical race” (pun intended) in the “reverse direction”.
So back to your original ‘it’ and stand you’ve given, you might wanna explain how does ‘it’ actively oppose scripture?
Sincere apologies that I didn’t define “it” in all the writing. The “it” refers to the “system”, which in the context that I was writing, everything that takes to bring together commercial worship concerts. This “it” that I refer to functions within the larger system of the worship industry. Here’s an article that talks about the worship industry which I didn’t touch on here. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/ponderanew/2015/10/19/8-reasons-the-worship-industry-is-killing-worship/
Large scale worship gatherings that brings believers from different churches are important. This is already happening even before worship concerts become a trend in Singapore. This should be done with the coming together of the churches, with oversight of the pastors. The worship gatherings should be looked upon as they would plan a usual Sunday service with consideration of the larger body of Christ. This can involve bringing in other worship teams from overseas or solely local. In this way, the centre of focus remains as God and the body of Christ coming together. Financially, with the churches coming together, they should be able to spread out among them and with offering.
As for how the worship industry is counter Biblical, I have brought up 2 core points about Worship Concerts in the post that are contrary to the Biblical worship of both heart attitude and focus with scriptures.
Perhaps you can tell me a little more about how you see worship concerts or worship itself.
On a separate note to reply your third point, it is possible to run the biblical race without reaching the destination of being with Christ for eternity.
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ Mat 7:21-23
From the response of these people, they were running the race in the direction which they believed is correct, i.e. the biblical race yet they didn’t get to the destination. The main thing is lawlessness, which is disobedience to the Word, i.e. counter Biblical.
This journey is not simply about the outward demonstration, but an inward obedience or acknowledging Jesus as Lord. Our works should be the outworking of an inward obedience and knowing God. Thus it is firstly about a heart that is focused on God.
Okay. So let’s back track a bit shall we?
Economics. Would there be a supply of “exhorbidantly priced worship concerts” if there wasn’t demand to begin with?
Governance. Taking into account religious tolerance in multiracial Singapore, and how policies have been implemented of late to allow for religious groups to practice as hybrid businesses, how would one organize a large scale religious event that is open to the public and all-inclusive (ie. non discriminatory to any groups of people) without the help of a registered business entity. Think about potential lawsuits, public liability, intellectual-property infringement, etc. Which brings us to the next point.
Business. To the person or organization that put money down to rent the venue, fly the bands, rent the gear, publicize and market, where is the ROI for them?
Accounting. How would an unregistered conglomerate of registered charities deal with “profits”, excess unspent donations, petty expenditure, especially in light of recent legal accusations?
My whole post basically is to challenge the business behind the system of worship. There is no business as there is no transaction in worship. Worship is based on the notion of sacrifice. We cannot buy God’s favour through worship or anything we do. Worship is giving God what He is worthy to receive. Read through the Old Testament to the New Testament, there are countless examples whereby worship is costly. In the Old Testament, the offering of first fruit is painful, which modern day equivalent is 100% of the first pay cheque of a new harvest/job. In the New Testament, the alabaster jar that was broken by the woman is worth a year’s wages. Worship is not worship without sacrifice. Even though the ultimate sacrifice is Jesus, we are called to be living sacrifices before God as our acceptable act of worship or service to the Lord (Rom 12:1). The call to be living sacrifices mean sacrifice is still required, but not death.
I have never mentioned unregistered conglomerate. Singapore law has never stopped any religious group from worship or large scale gatherings as long as it abides to the nation’s law and rules, not only accounting & finances. The Global Day of Prayer is held in the new Singapore Stadium this year and all accounts are done in proper order without selling tickets. Singapore’s laws and rules are set in place to safe guard the people without prejudice. I haven’t heard news that there is any change of law due to the recent incident, except that the tighten the checks. If everything is done according to the law, the tightened checks should not hinder any future events or activities, with perhaps more care to make sure everything is done properly. =)
To your second point, I don’t think a blogpost will be able to achieve anything except to state my point of view and perhaps inform.