Culture

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Culture | Chevrolet sparks outrage for sponsoring a "ministry," but making music, even in CCM, is really a vocation

Issue: "Jim Talent: Majority maker," Nov. 23, 2002

The big contemporary Christian music concert of the season features not only music from superstars like Michael W. Smith and Third Day, but sermons from super-pastor Max Lucado. It breaks new ground, though, in having a corporate sponsor. The 16-city tour is titled "Chevrolet Presents: Come Together and Worship."

Corporations from Budweiser to Ford have sponsored concerts for years, displaying their logos on tickets and stage banners, having their products on view at the show, and associating their images with popular stars. If corporate sponsorship is now the norm in the music industry and works to hold down ticket prices for other popular styles of music, what is wrong with contemporary Christian music being cut in on the action?

And yet, some Christians and some secularists are feeling queasy at the prospect of "worship and praise" becoming another pretext for commercial advertising. One view sees a mingling of God and Mammon similar to that of the moneychangers whom Christ cast out of the Temple. The opposite party is outraged that a corporation is advancing an overtly Christian agenda, as if there should be some constitutional separation between church and business.

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On the other hand, if Chevrolet will sponsor Max Lucado, this might open up a whole new horizon for cash-strapped churches. Churches could sell naming rights to help fund new sanctuaries. Worshippers could choose between the Coca-Cola Baptist Church, Budweiser Lutheran, St. Haagen-Daz Episcopal, or FTD Florist Presbyterian. Choir robes could sport a Nike swoosh. Stained-glass windows would make a great display for corporate logos, especially the four-color quadrants of Microsoft Windows. Pastors could do product endorsements, modeling their clerical vestments after the uniforms of NASCAR drivers. (Readers may continue this game for their own amusement.)

Of course, the Bible clearly states how churches are to be supported financially: by the tithes and offerings of their members. But the contemporary Christian music industry is not supported by tithes and offerings. It is supported by selling records and concert tickets.

People involved in the CCM industry often agonize over what it is they are doing: Is making Christian music entertainment or a "ministry"? Here is a third alternative: Being a musician-whether of CCM or in a symphony orchestra-is a vocation.

According to the doctrine of vocation, God gives people talents, abilities, and opportunities-whether to run a business or to play a guitar-and He calls Christians into various stations and occupations, all of which become arenas for Christian service.

A Christian musician is no different from a Christian businessman, a Christian politician, a Christian factory worker, or a Christian parent. They can love and serve their neighbors and bear witness to the gospel wherever God has placed them. A Christian does not have to be in a church-work vocation or be involved in an explicitly Christian line of work to serve God. Changing a diaper, said Luther (the great theologian on vocation), is a holier work than a lot of what goes on inside churches.

A Christian musician who understands the nature of his vocation will express his faith in his art, whether he is singing a secular tune about love or an explicit religious lyric about Christ. But he is working in the cultural marketplace. This too, in all of its alleged "secularity," is part of God's domain. His calling is to be a musician, not a "minister," as such.

He should be active in his church, where he is spiritually fed and equipped for his life in the world, but he does not presume to force his style of music on his congregation, nor does he claim spiritual authority for himself. But his calling brings him into engagement with the world outside the church, where he must obey God's moral commands and be salt and leaven, while still working within the terms of his profession.

If Chevrolet wants to sponsor a CCM concert, as it does for other styles of music, that is its prerogative. A concert is not the same as a worship service, as many in the CCM industry-including the planners of this particular concert-sometimes seem to forget. And worship services in churches are not supposed to be entertainment venues, as church leaders sometimes seem to forget.

The doctrine of vocation frees both musicians and churches to be what God intends them to be. It also offers a blueprint for how Christians can be a positive influence on the culture. After all, Chevrolet executives and their workers and their advertising agencies can also be exercising their own Christian vocations.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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