Hillsongization and the Insidious Nature of Commercial Worship Music

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The commercialization of our music for worship has led to a global takeover by a few key players in the so-called “worship industry.” Hillsong is one of the worst offenders. Make no mistake about it: Hillsong is not a church. It is not a network of churches. It is a family business. It is a commercial empire, and through its music, the noxious stench of its shoddy theology and shameless entrepreneurial opportunism wafts throughout Christian thought and as far as the church is found.

With the help of supporting listeners and church cover bands, Hillsong has made worship all about the music, and in doing so, they have built a cash cow that funds its empire. With your money, Hillsong paid its pastor, Brian Houston, a $300,000 salary in 2010. With your money, Hillsong pays a staff of over 400 people. With your money, they have built theater-churches all over the world.

We’re talking tens of millions of dollars here, folks. So every time you buy their music, every time your church sings their songs, every time you buy a ticket to their “worship” concerts, every time you watch the Hillsong movie, you are fattening up that cash cow. You are contributing to Pastor and CEO Brian Houston’s $300,000 salary (in 2010 – Who knows what the expanded empire now pays him?). You are supporting Hillsong’s in-house staff of over 400. You are building theater-churches all over the world. You are building up and empire founded on commercialism, nepotism, and the prosperity gospel.

You are literally sending Hillsong into all the world, so that they may preach a false gospel to every creature.

And you may be, ironically, hastening the death of congregational singing worldwide.

If you live in the US, unless you’ve been under a liturgical rock for some time, you probably know that Hillsong has infiltrated corporate worship of every so-called “style.” Their proliferation has hastened the end of hymn singing; it has also brought about a strange uniformity in church music. We once sang a rich diversity of hymnody, an inheritance from many cultures and locations. We sang each other’s song, not only our own. Now, instead of singing the songs of this collective hymnal, we sing along with a cover band that mimics the pablum hear on recordings.

And to a great extent, our congregations have stopped singing, because it’s no longer about them. It’s about the cover band.

Michael Raiter calls this phenomenon “Hillsongization.”

It’s not just here. Let me share with you an email I received recently in response to my post about Hillsong’s “Oceans.”

Dear Jonathan,

I read a link to your blog post on a Hillsong’s “Oceans” which was shared by a pastor friend just now and I knew I had to write to you.

I am Aiswarya, a Christian from Chennai India. Roughly 3% of the population in India are Christians belonging to several denominations. We are a minority for sure, but 3% of the 1.3 billion Indians is a lot of people. I come from the Southern part of India and Christianity came to my home state around 200 years ago thanks to Rev. Fredrick Heyer who was also a physician. His mission established the Lutheran Church in India. Chennai where I live currently has one of the highest density of Christians in India ( besides the NE India).

I am giving you the background to let you know that my upbringing was very Christian. I went to a Christian school. I grew up listening to a lot of Christian music.

I speak Telugu  (my mother tongue) and Tamil (my other mother tongue, lol). Incidentally they are among the oldest surviving languages in the world and inscriptions can be traced to 300 BC. They are beautiful languages with rich history, tradition, and literature.

I grew up listening to and singing a lot of beautiful, deeply meaningful Christian songs in Tamil and Telugu composed over the past 200 years. They are called Keertanai of Hymns. Also a lot of truly beautiful and incredible Christian music came out in the 70s and 80s. We also sang a lot of Old English Hymns which are a legacy of the early missionaries in India from England, Germany and the US.

Until….Hillsong happened.

And music in modern Churches in mainly the cities and small towns of India started aping the west and took to performing these “worship” numbers. It leaves me cold every-time. The music and lyrics are uninspired. Entire church services have turned to music performances.And the music is of such low quality.  And that is why when I read your blog about “Oceans” I knew I had to write to you.

Thankfully I go to a traditional church where they sing those oh so beautiful Telugu Hymns.

Here is a link to one such old song fused with western in the World Music genre. It retains its pristine authentic Carnatic roots. I have added subtitles to the Telugu lyrics which do no justice to the original poetry composed by Purushottam Choudary. He was a Bengali Saint who lived in Orrisa but wrote in chaste Telugu. The song was written sometime in 1850s.

I had to record the song just to keep it alive in our midst.

http://www.thrahimam.com/yahova-na-mora/

And to think we have ruined our Christian music scene with utter rubbish and clueless music of the sort that Chris Tomlin writes.

So sorry for the history lesson. I had to set the context for you. I only wish more people knew about our rich Indian Christian music tradition. A lot of good new music continues to come from India.

Thank you for your blog. Thanks for speaking. It means a lot to me and to those who love good music and who believe that we must give our best to God!.

Warm Regards,
Aiswarya

Hillsong is a monster, one we’ve created in our own laboratory-sanctuaries. The song of God’s congregation is a beautiful juxtaposition of melody with the Christian story. When commercialized, it becomes mundane, passive, generic, and thoroughly ugly.It’s time for this monster to die. Stop supporting Hillsong, and copycat organizations like Bethel Music, Jesus Culture, and Elevation Worship.

And for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of the whole world, start singing each other’s song again.

Photo:
Flickr, creative commons 2.0

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