“Lord, to whom shall we go?” Peter asked. (John 6:68)
This question is perhaps more relevant today than it was when Peter first asked it. Let me explain why.
A change in Christian culture began emerging in the 1960s as a response to the unrest and upheaval of those days. Some Christians wanted more relevant music and forms of worship. At the moment, no one recognized it as a significant movement, and it did not happen overnight.
The praise song “We are One in the Spirit” (1966) could mark the beginning. Also known as “They’ll Know We are Christians by our Love,” this hymn/praise chorus was composed by a Chicago southside Catholic priest, Fr. Peter Schoilites. It was from the Chicago southside that the “Seeker” movement would emerge, which led to the formation of Willow Creek Church.
In youth choir we sang that song and others, including songs by Ralph Carmichael, who adapted a soft pop-style to Christian music. Most memorable: “He’s Everything to Me.” We did the folk musicals, Good Newsand Tell it Like It Is. I got to play my drums in church because of the early songs of Andre Crouch (“My Tribute”), who was produced by Carmichael.
In the mid to late 1970s and into the 1980s there was a series of game changers that led to the development of the Christian Music industry. The 2nd Chapter of Acts, a brother and two sister trio, was discovered by converted secular producer Barry McGuire. Added to his résuméwere Keith Green and the rock band Petra.
Producer Chris Christian discovered and produced the first albums of an Atlanta area teen named Amy Grant. He was followed by Brown Banister, who would continue to produce Amy Grant, along with Wayne Watson, Twila Paris, and Sandi Patti. Banister then helped Amy Grant’s pianist, Michael W. Smith, launch a solo career. Soon other acts joined the industry, like Steven Curtis Chapman, Steve Green, and DC Talk, to name a few.
By the 1990s the Gospel Music Association (GMA) was organized, and, like every other aspect of the entertainment industry, GMA began awarding itself for its excellence. Also, like secular entertainment, scandals marked the industry.
By now, Christian music had come of age, including its own galaxy of stars and hordes of followers. The music was good, as good as any thing being produced in the secular world. Christian artists were packing out the largest venues in the country. In many respects Christian music entered a new golden age of music writing, with song after song entering the repertoire of young believers.
By the early 2000s the industry took a turn back to worship. Christian music began to tame itself with the emergence of the Praise and Worship style, led by the praise bands of several mega-churches throughout the country. Leaders of this movement included Casting Crowns, MercyMe, 3rdDay, and Hillsong. Also, individuals like Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, and Jeremy Camp.
Which brings me back to my opening line. “Lord, to whom shall we go?” Peter asked Jesus (John 6:68)
Increasingly, believers go to worship leaders and other Christian celebrities for teaching and guidance. Hillsong worship leader Marty Sampson has publicly denounced his faith. Sampson has spent the last 20 plus years producing worship music for the Hillsong music groups. His music is sung by tens of thousands every week.
This renunciation comes on the heels of well-known Christian author Joshua Harris, founder of the purity movement, who also announced he was leaving the faith. Followers of both of these men are devastated. There in is the problem.
We have developed a cult of contemporary Christian stars, men and women of insight and talent who mastered the PR techniques and the road blocks to wealth and fame, not theology, doctrine or spiritual formation. In the process they developed oversized influence.
Like the wider culture, the church looks to celebrity stars for leadership. We should not be surprised by people who cash in on their faith to achieve super star status, and then turn on it. It’s predictable. They use faith as a means to an end.
“Lord, to whom shall we go?” Peter asked. He then answers his own questions. There is only one place to go. “You have the words of eternal life,” Peter said, referring to Jesus, not the cult of Christian super stars.