Self-Centered Worship

I have found a helpful bit of advice on modern Self Centered Worship, from Australian worship leader, Darin Browne, at

This podcast explores self centered worship, and whether or not “I” songs have become the focus of modern worship music. They make the excellent points:

  • If we are going to worship, it must be centered on God. When modern songs fail to mention even one of His many names, it is hard to say if it is focused on the LORD, or a human fancy.
  • The “Formulas” vs. the Holy Spirit.
  • Choosing the right kind of songs for worship and choosing songs with purpose and looking at the meaning. Not using “throw away” songs. Time for music in worship is limited already. Every song should either point to God, or your response to God.
  • The call to worship.
  • Seeking God on every song you do. This is something that has been important to me, and I have personally seen this have a big impact in my worship.

Top five take aways:

  1. Choose lyrics and songs carefully. Choose the right key. Check out the lyrics and melodies to be sure you are not singing “junk” music that is not accurate, or is difficult to sing. Just because they are doctrinally or scripturally correct, doesn’t mean they are great corporate worship songs! Don’t introduce more than one new song in a week. Learning new songs isn’t usually the focus of worship in song.

  2. Ask why do you do the song you are doing. You need to have a valid reason for each song.
  3. Avoid formulas. Three fast, two slow…two fast, three slow, or whatever it be, God will not fall off His throne if you do it different.
  4. Middle songs should be about proclaiming God- i.e., He is Lord, Man of Sorrows, When I Survey
  5. Finish on song that directly glorifies God. i.e. How Great Thou Art, Agnus Dei, How Great Is Our God.

While these folks are discussing this subject in terms of a modern worship music setting, the same can be said for much of so called traditional music in worship. If this is your form of worship, take a hard look at the music you choose as well. This phenomenon is not exclusive to CCM.


A Puzzling Paradox

A friend sent me the following quote by A.W. Tozer, that has been floating around the internet lately: 

“Worship is no longer worship when it reflects the culture around us more than the Christ within us.”

-A.W. Tozer

I’m puzzled by something.

There is a paradox, a contradiction of sorts in so-called Worship Music, and I don’t know what to do with it. I’m the kind of person that sees things as black or white; right or wrong; good, or bad, so when I come across certain music, I tend to run it through this filter. The problem is I can’t define all of it this way. It just doesn’t seem to work because some music has different purposes. I can think of music meant to tell a story, make a point (political or otherwise), entertain, woo a lover, heal the soul, make you joyful or sad, put you to sleep, keep you awake, lead you into battle, etc…

The paradox is that we have this thing called worship music, and yet my spirit is not, no matter how hard I try, in a state of worship when I listen to most of it. I have to say most, because it would be untrue to say all. And herein is the problem: What makes some of it put me in a spirit of worship, but not all of it?

I haven’t figured it all out yet, but I think I’ve hit on something.

Jesus told the Pharisees that they were following the letter of the law, and not the spirit of the law. What does this have to do with music? I believe some music is written in true worship to the Lord of lords, the God who redeemed the writer’s soul from the chains of bondage, and that it comes through in their music, and that the other music is possibly written, (even if unwittingly) to please man, to glorify self, to produce an emotional high, to bring smooth words to a certain demographic, to complete a record, or to fulfill a publisher’s demands, as this article supposedly by CCM artist Matt Papa, confirms.

It could also be that the writer isn’t really actually a true believer, and that they don’t have the spirit of God filling their entire being, which might also explain some of the music, lyrics, techniques, performances, and the lives and appearance of some of the composers and performers. This was unfortunately true in one of the most successful modern Christian worship bands, Newsboys. George Perdikis, founder of Newsboys has renounced Christianity and become an Atheist.

And George isn’t the only one. An atheist female backup singer for an unnamed Christian contemporary band had this to say on Athiest’s forum,

“When I was hired, everyone got wasted and the casting director told me the reason I made it to final callbacks was because I had the “good girl look” and was “Christian sexy”…Also, the typical CCM-listener is an evangelical middle-aged woman with kids that radio has named “Becky”, and this article describes how they target her better than I can:

“Christian radio plays songs for Becky. The labels know that in order to sell music, they have to get songs on radio. Radio = Becky. So the labels coerce their artists and bands to all write and record songs for Becky….songs that will make her feel good. Songs that tell her she is good. Songs that are “safe for the whole family”. Songs that remind her of her snow-flake-ness and tell her to turn that frown upside-down. Songs that focus on love and hope. Songs that aren’t confrontational. Songs that aren’t theological because man, that stuff is up in the clouds. Songs that don’t talk about blood and crosses and depressing stuff like that. Songs that focus on Becky and her busy life. And if the artists or bands want to write songs for another demographic or another purpose, that’s fine, they can just make music somewhere else. There is money to be made. And sure, all radio stations and all record labels do this, they sell whatever the listener wants to hear, and they hire musicians and singers for their looks, but CCM markets their whole operation as FOR JESUS. Meaning HOLIER than NOT FOR JESUS.” (Emphasis in original)

If you think that’s bad, it gets worse.

This article, quoting Tim Lambesis, a former member of the band, As I Lay Dying, which has traveled with many bands, says that your favorite Christian band probably isn’t Christian:

“We toured with more ‘Christian bands’ who actually aren’t Christians than bands that are. In 12 years of touring with As I Lay Dying, I would say maybe one in 10 Christian bands we toured with were actually Christian bands.”

The article goes on to say,

“I remember one Christian festival where an interviewer wanted one of the guys to share his testimony, and he just froze up and let one of the guys who was still a Christian at the time answer the question. We laughed about it afterward, but we were only laughing because it was so awkward.”

“When kids would want to pray with us after shows, I’d be like, “Um, go ahead and pray!” I would just let them pray. I’d say ‘Amen.’ If praying while I have my hand on their shoulder makes them feel better, I didn’t want to take that away from them. When they would specifically ask me to pray for something, I’d say, ‘I don’t really like to pray out loud, but I’ll take that with me to the bus.’”

These sad testimonies don’t prove that this is why my spirit resonates with some contemporary songs and not others, but it does point to some evidence that indicates it’s a strong possibility. Even so, as I read these testimonies and looked into the lives of some of these people, I am convicted- especially when George Perdikis, the founder of Newsboys, said in his interview with Patheos,

“The Christian music scene is populated by many people who act as though they have a direct hotline to a God who supplies them with the answers to the Universe. There seems to be more ego and narcissism amongst Christian musicians than their secular counterparts.

Recently, the Newsboys were featured in the movie God’s Not Dead. The movie demonstrated the pervasive attitude of Christians. They demonized everyone while giving a pass to their own particular brand of Christianity, making themselves look like fluffy white angels with perfect, synchronized lives.

The truth is — from someone who knows what went on then and what goes on now — the Newsboys aren’t as holy as they profess. Instead of wearing a mask of “righteousness,” they should acknowledge that they are struggling as much as everyone else.

Now that’s a movie I’d like to see.”


Now I didn’t see the movie, so I can’t speak to whether or not that part is an accurate portrayal or a jaded perspective, but whether on purpose or not, he makes a point saying that the Christian musicians have the same temptations as the world and maybe ought to be more honest in both their music and their lives. I’m not suggesting living in the cesspool of sin because we were born into it, rather, being honest with ourselves and with others about our weaknesses, and living like we were redeemed out of it!  After all, God resists the proud but gives grace to the truly humble. He doesn’t despise the broken in heart, or the contrite (broken; crushed) spirit. I really believe that it is in this humility, this place of brokenness, that the Spirit of God comes and dwells in men and women and allows them to be an instrument of praise, writing, singing and making a joyful noise unto the LORD.

What is Sacred anymore?

Yesterday, I said something that got me thinking:

“There is less and less sacred in the house of the LORD these days and that certainly concerns me.”

When someone mentions sacred music these days, I don’t know about you, but I typically think of 17th century music sung in ornate cathedrals, in such a way that one can’t understand the words anyway…Or I think of hymns in a particular style with no drums. However, the word Sacred, means “set apart for worship of a deity.” Webster’s defines it as,

“1. a : dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity

 b : devoted exclusively to one service or use (as of a person      or purpose)

If the music meets those criteria, than it could be considered sacred. Trouble is, most of it doesn’t today, and didn’t in the 17th century either-most of the music composed than was composed for hire by, or under the dictation of, the kings.

Most composers nowadays wouldn’t describe their music as “sacred” per se either, because they are making music for a living, not strictly for the glory and honor of GOD.  Christian music, which includes so-called sacred music, is a multi-billion dollar business, and most of the record labels are owned by the big music conglomerates like Sony records. For instance, Provident Group is a Sony Sub-label whose labels include, “Essential Records, Reunion Records, Essential Worship and Beach Street Records, is home to an artist roster which includes Casting Crowns (Thrive), Third Day (Lead Us Back: Songs of Worship), Steven Curtis Chapman (The Glorious Unfolding), Tenth Avenue North (Cathedrals), RED (of Beauty and Rage), and Brandon Heath (No Turning Back) among others. PMG also consists of Provident Films ( “War Room,” “Mom’s Night Out,” “Fireproof”), Provident Distribution, Essential Music Publishing and Essential Artist Services. “

Capitol Christian Music Group which is a subsidiary of Capitol Records, owned by Vivendi, which claims to be the largest music corporation in the world, owns just about every other “Christian” record label not controlled by Sony. The Christian music arm, Capitol Christian Music Group claims that “Capitol CMG Publishing has long been the market leader and represents more than 100,000 songs, hundreds of copyright catalogs including sixsteps and ThankYou Music, over 300 writers, including Chris Tomlin, Kirk Franklin, Matt Redman, Ben Glover, Marvin Sapp, Matt Maher, Chris Stevens, Aaron Lindsey, Leeland and David Garcia and also administers catalogs for other artist/writers such as TobyMac, Casting Crowns and Third Day.” They also hold “exclusive distribution agreements with more than 30 music labels, film studios and book publishers, including Gaither Music Group, Inpop, Maranatha! Music, Spring Hill Music Group, Universal Music Group, Anchor Bay Entertainment/Starz, Gaiam Vivendi Entertainment, Jellyfish Labs, Wanderlust Productions, Worthy Publishing and Authentic Publishers, among many others. Since 1994, Capitol Christian Distribution has been named Billboard Magazine’s Top Christian Music Distributor 15 times in the last 18 years.”

These labels exists to make money. If they don’t, they’ll go away. That these artists write songs, and Sony and Capitol Records (which are about as far as you can get from anything that resembles sacred) produce them, is a testament that it is a business rather than a dedicated act of worship. This opens up another subject about the business of christian music which I hope to address at another time, but my point here is:

Most modern christian music, just because it is christian, is not necessarily sacred, because it is no longer solely for the worship of GOD.

Moses meets God Painting by Brian Call,
Painting graciously supplied by Brian Call.

When God called Moses out of a burning bush in the wilderness, His very presence made the immediate area holy ground, “And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5)

That must’ve been both awesome and yet scary at the same time, Moses sees a bush, burning, but not being consumed, hears the voice of GOD, and what does he do?  Moses recognized the voice of Jehovah saying, don’t come any closer, take off your shoes because you are on holy ground and Moses hid his face, “for he was afraid to look upon God.” He had a fear of the LORD while in the presence of the God of all the universe! Later, Moses had to be hid in a cleft of the rock and only see the backside of the LORD because no one can see God’s face and live. When the LORD showed Himself to Elijah, there was a wind so strong that it broke rocks, and there was a powerful earthquake, then a fire, then after that, the Still, Small Voice of the LORD, and Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle. King David, whose life revolved around worshiping the LORD said twice (Psalm 29:2 and Psalm 96:9)

“Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.”

“O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth.”

Since we have been redeemed and don’t belong to us anymore (1 Cor 6:19-20), there ought to be a difference from the rest of the world, in nearly everything we do, and He that redeemed us with His blood told us to be holy like He is.  After all, we are His!  We don’t typically use the term “Redeemed” anymore, but it means we have been bought with the precious blood of Christ, the Lamb without spot or blemish. If we have been bought, than who, or what owned us before? We seem to take the presence of God in our worship for granted today and church services have become productions of pre-rehearsed, palatable, people pleasing pompousness, and no one knows what is holy or sacred anymore. We ought to come into the presence of the Holy God on our knees, trembling, for He is our GOD (Psalm 95:6)! Let HIM tell us when we can get up! If we really experienced the presence of God in all His Holiness, we would hide our face and say with Isaiah, “Woe is me for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips!”


What is sacred in our lives?

Are we continuing under our former slave driver’s rule, continuing to live and talk, and be like the rest of the world?

What have we really been redeemed from?

Do we really believe we have been redeemed from the corruption of sin and from the death sentence that was on us by our former master?

If you were purchased, lock, stock and barrel from the the most diabolical dictator and slave master that ever existed, would you really want to have anything to do with him or the things he likes?  I’m pretty sure that if I was held captive by a diabolically evil dictator and made to do his bidding, and someone came and freed me, I wouldn’t want to remember anything of my former life! And yet, we have been redeemed. The victory is ours! The LORD is on our side, He gave His precious life-there was no other who could- for my worthless one. Why do I not always give Him my very best?

Is a little sacrifice of praise when faced with insurmountable trial too much to give?

Being as the scripture tells us in Titus 2 that, the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works, Is it too much to ask that we say no, to ungodliness, and worldly lusts, and to walk soberly, righteously and godly in this present world?

Am I peculiar and zealous of good works?

Do I really live soberly, righteously and godly in this world? I know I don’t always deny ungodliness and worldly lusts…

Am I being too hard, too narrow-minded?

Just some, as my friend Dave would say, “Ponderage”. I’m challenged by these thoughts in more than just the area of music. What about you?