Every Friday in Sacred Space, Brad Williams explores the place of popular culture in the local church.
Mars Hill Church in Seattle is launching a record album. You can watch the announcement here. I confess that I nearly did not survive the first two minutes of the video, especially when Pastor Mark said that in the Seattle area a single guy had a better chance of getting pregnant than he did of being active in a local church. However, I did persevere because, like it or not, the idea of the church supporting her artists is something I want to consider.
The concept of this venture by Mars Hill is that the church, having discipled its members, should encourage, even promote, the artistic endeavors of its members for the glory of God. In order to do that, Mars Hill is starting this music label, and so long as the bands have a solid theology, a love for the church, and a desire to glorify God through their music, then they have the freedom to make whatever kind of music they like.
I want to be optimistic about this endeavor. I have been to the site and listened to the music put out so far, and I confess that I like it a lot. It was much better than I expected.
However, I see many potential difficulties in this model of the “church as patron.” First, I wonder if this is part of the Great Commission of the church or a potential distraction from it. Yes, it would be great if the church could help Christian musicians have the funds to write great music for worship, but how will this work out? Will the church have to enter a business deal with the musicians to pay according to sales? Will the bands get a salary? If not, then will the church get into the music industry and operate exactly as a secular studio would operate? Is that the type of thing the church needs to get into?
It seems to me that the biggest potential pitfall in this is how the church will enter into business while still maintaining its Great Commission orientation. That will not be easy. This extends not only to music, but any time the church gets into business. Good churches have been torn apart after their ‘private’ school becomes popular as people vie for control of it once it is successful. How will the church handle it if Mars Hill Music starts making millions?
For example, consider how many universities/private schools were founded by churches or denominations in order to ‘advance the gospel and bring glory to God.’ Harvard began that way. Baylor was once controlled by the Southern Baptist Convention. Yale, Princeton, even Oxford and Cambridge, all began as works of the church. Now they are all independent entities, for better or for worse. If a church wants to maintain direct control of such endeavors, it seems that success may cause greater difficulty than failure.
While these things are a concern, they aren’t necessarily a reason not to go ahead with the project. It is easy to figure out what to do if the venture is a failure. The problem comes in when the business becomes a victim of success. Inevitably, it seems that such programs spin off, out from church control, and become the very thing that they founded the label to avoid.
Mars Hill isn’t the only church doing this type of thing. I truly wish these churches success. I pray that this won’t become a distraction from the mission of the church but will remain a helpful supplement.