A Christian Band With Secular Business Practices

HILLSONG UNITED PERFORMED LAST NIGHT AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL.

HILLSONG UNITED PERFORMED LAST NIGHT AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL.

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.

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Comments

  1. I went last night in Texas and shirts there were from 10.00 to 35.00 just like any other concert. We went to see Switchfoot and their short prices were the same. Both concerts were awesome and the majority of Holdings shirts were almost sold out by the time I got to the table to purchase ours.

  2. I think a distinction needs to be made between ministry and vocation.

    Were this concert strictly ministry, I don’t think they should charge anything at all (or, at the most, only charge enough to cover expenses). It’s not that I think they should not be supported, however, such support should come from the freewill offerings of those who attend.

    If, on the other hand, one happens to glorify God in one’s vocation, I think one should be free to charge whatever one desires. After all, if I were a plumber and glorified God in what I do, should I charge any less for my services?

    Perhaps the real question is something along the lines of “how much profit is fair”? I really don’t think there’s any such thing as a “fair profit”. About the only thing one might conjecture about an amount of profit with which one disagrees is that the person earning such a profit is greedy. However, it’s not at all clear that financial increase is a manifestation of greed. “Greed” is an attitude of the heart, not a financial status. One can be wealthy and modest, and another can be destitute while having a greedy heart. I am not, of course, suggesting that there are no greedy persons out there. I’m only noting that one cannot fault another for seeking financially success.

    With respect to Rick Warren, the reason he is able to give away so much of the earnings from his book is because he was already financially well-to-do. Were he a young person, starting off with a family and struggling financially (like many are today), it’s not at all clear he would have parted with his profits so easily. I’m not rendering any judgement against him, but merely noting that parting with money when one has quite a bit of it isn’t necessarily indicative of an exceeding generosity or piety.

    Returning to the music in question, if it really is a vocation, then it needs to be noted that the music industry (even, unfortunately, within the Christian community) is subject to the cult of youth. An aging Christian musician might get a gig here and there, but it’s hardly something that will support him in his golden years. It’s unfortunate, but a musician needs to make all he can in his prime, because it may be all he has to live on when his popularity eventually wanes. And again, I’m only speaking of music as a vocation, not as a ministry. Those who do music for ministry probably shouldn’t look to it for their main income (unless they are on-staff as a worship leader or some such thing).

    Finally, this is a difficult subject because it can sometimes be hard to distinguish where ministry ends and vocation begins, or vice versa. In the end, God will judge the motives men’s hearts, whether they be for good or whether they be for evil. In the meantime, let’s just enjoy the music.

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