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  • Writer's pictureAdrian Thompson

TITLE OR ENTITLEMENT?

Updated: Jun 8



My life has been filled with songwriters, musicians and artists. The buzz of being with creatives can be infectious and inspiring. Like watching a movie like Sing Street that makes you want to go and form a band as soon as the credits start to roll.

I live in a part of the world where the number of songwriters and artists per capita, is potentially the highest ratio on the planet, but equally a region of the world where there are mountains of broken dreams! Like the aircraft boneyards in Arizona with over 4,000 planes, powerful flying machines, now silent and still, some had run their course but others never got to complete their service cycle. There is no doubt in my mind, that many people in the church are called to be musicians, artists and worship leaders, but why do we have so many disappointed and disillusioned people? We should be the most inspired, driven and mission filled people. To quote the old Westminster Shorter Catechism of the 1600’s :’

What is man’s chief end?

Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.’ It doesn’t get much simpler and clearer than that! When a new movement in music happens, it’s normally not well resourced and scrappy. It doesn’t have a strategic or established infrastructure but what it does have is an excess of passion and drive. Look to music genres like hip hop or punk, they started in back streets and played wherever they could, from houses to back rooms of bars or dying clubs. But as the momentum grows, that’s when ‘business’ can take over, money starts to flow and a few of the movement leaders start to make ‘good money’, then the next generation of artists in the genre believe they can make ‘good money’ off this and over time, the passion is replaced with trappings of being successful and suddenly the rules of engagement are changed from ‘we do this because it’s in our blood’ to ‘I’ll do it if the terms are right.’ From there, compromises start to happen and suddenly a vibrant scene can become a calculated, highly strategic, highly organized event where perfection has replaced passion. But we would never do that as the Church, right? I believe many people are gifted and called ‘into service’ – yes, that’s an old phrase, but I believe it is a fitting phrase. So why, especially these days, does it become so frustrating and stressful for everyone? Maybe we have made it more complex, and shifted the target a little, without really getting to the core of what we have been called to do. In this past few years, there has been a revisiting of what happened in the early days of the Jesus Movement at the end of the 1960’s/early 1970’s through the Jesus Music and Jesus Revolution movies. What is fascinating is seeing hungry, passionate people, organically gathering and authentically expressing their God encounter journey, without thought of image, response or financial return. They are playing on beaches, around campfires, in small musty churches, in houses, with little or no production. Yes it did overflow to where there were stadiums and large events, but the beginnings were ‘scrappy’, ignited in passion. There are groups of people who still respond that way today, but I see a larger, or maybe it is louder group of artists, writers and worship leaders, who are disillusioned because they feel that maybe they got their calling wrong. That maybe the case for some, but I do not believe it is the case for them all. I believe the target may have got shifted unintentionally without realizing we actually moved it. There has been an ‘industry’ develop around Christian music of all genres, and yes I am a part of it. Is it perfect? No. Does it have a purpose? Yes. Is being a part of the ‘industry’, the target to hit? No! When God puts a call on your life as a musician, what has He called you to?

When the Levite tribe were being called to serve in the temple, we could have got really excited about that! ‘Wait – we get to be the people that ‘steward’ the temple where the presence of God is? Amazing! We get to make sure everything is brought to God in a fitting and right way? Awesome, we get to hang with God!’

But when we look at the Levite tribe, some were riggers, some were production managers, some were roadies, and yes some got to go in to the inner temple but all of the tribe got to prepare a place for everyone to come and worship God. So let me put it another way. All of them were called to prepare a place for people to experience the presence of God, some of them got to be on the platform and others were rolling cables, but it didn’t matter, because they were creating space for worship.

Let me bring it in to this conversation, the core of our calling is prepare a place where people will encounter the presence of God. That is the basic calling.

Just one other detail, the Levites never got to own land or possessions, a little like the disciples, who left everything and were told that if they had 2 coats they should give one away. The Levites served the other tribes but preparing a place to encounter and worship God, with no entitlement to land or possessions.

I want to be clear, I have no issue with artists, writers, worship leaders who have a large platform or those who can fill large theaters, churches or arenas – we need them. I have no issue with those who financially successful from what they do. However, when the motivation for what we do is dictated by money, platform and image, and we are waiting until those things align, I believe we have moved the target that God set for us!

Even in mainstream music, when someone has real passion for what they see as their ‘music career’ (we might label it ‘calling’), I have seen musicians work a manual job or a part time job to earn the money to be able to do what they want to do. I have seen artists who are having their first major chart success, still working a ‘day job’ because the money has not started to flow, to the extent where they can depend on music income alone. This is not a deterrent in their mission. Yet sometimes in the Church world, we have an entitlement, that we should be compensated well to do what God has called us to.

I want to reiterate, that I am not against artists making money, but when the platform, production, money is our driver and dictator, then we need to go back to what God actually called us to do. If we are a highly passionate and mission filled people, it is going to be messy, it is going to be scrappy, we could always ‘do it better’, but what impact could we have if we served faithfully, humbly, motivated by what God can do when we create a space where people can encounter His presence?

We are not the focus of what should be happening, our job is to write songs when no one is looking, to be ready ‘in and out of season’ to be that artist or worship leader who makes space for God to move.  Our focus is to be faithful to what He called us to, to work at it and if God sees fit to increase our influence and our reach, that’s a joy and an honor, not an entitlement. We can claim the title of artist, writer, musician, worship leader, singer, but our ‘entitlement’ is not to a record deal, a publishing deal, a national tour, a platform, great production, strong merch sales or high streaming numbers, those may come, but our ‘entitlement’ is to create space to encounter the presence of God.  Let’s just do what God called us to do, with all our passion!

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