My wife and I went to see Hillsong United last night at the Hollywood Bowl. The Australian band – fronted by the talented Joel Houston, whose dad, Brian, founded Hillsong Church exactly 30 years ago – has produced some of the most well-known praise and worship songs of the past decade and a half.
Its playlist includes “Shout to the Lord,” “Mighty to Save,” “Hosanna,” “My Redeemer Lives,” “The Stand,” “Worthy is the Lamb,” “From the Inside Out,” “Lead Me to the Cross” and other standards in Sunday church services not just in the land down under, but also here in the United States.
I very much enjoyed seeing Hillsong United’s live performance. And so did the other 18,000 or so Christ followers who stood for much of the more than two-hour concert. Yet, I left the Hollywood Bowl last night with a troubled spirit.
That’s because, while Joel Houston and his bandmates might be strictly about glorifying God through their music, the band’s business management appear to be worshiping at the altar of Mammon.
Indeed, the tickets for Hillsong United’s concert were almost as expensive as tickets to a Hollywood Bowl event later this month featuring Aerosmith frontmen Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. And Hillsong was selling overpriced tour merchandise, including tee shirts going for $40.
I expect such buckraking of secular enterprises, especially in the entertainment businesses. And if I attended a U2 concert or a Dodgers game or a Cirque du Soliel performance, I would think nothing of paying a couple hundred bucks.
But just as those who follow after Christ are to set themselves apart from those who follow after the prince of this fallen world, the business practices of Christian enterprises – like Hillsong Music – should be set apart from those of secular businesses.
I have no problem whatsoever with Hillsong United earning a decent profit on its world tour. But the maximization of profits should not be the driving force of a Christian enterprise. Especially, not a worship band that performs a song, “Hosanna,” that proclaims that everything they do is for the Lord’s “kingdom cause.”
I would like to see Hillsong United handle its business more like, say, Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in California, who famously authored “The Purpose Driven Life,” one of the best-selling Christian books of all-time.
Pastor Warren earned millions of dollars from his book sales. And he doesn’t merely return a tenth of his earnings to the Lord. Or a quarter. Or even half. But 90 percent.
That’s not to say that the Lord expects everyone that earns money in His name – from Christian authors to Christian bands – to “reverse tithe,” like Rick Warren. But He does encourage them to “be not conformed to this world.”
Indeed, if the practices of a Christian business are indistinguishable from those of a secular business – like charging marking up its merchandise as much as 400 percent – it cannot claim to be about the Lord’s kingdom cause.