Where Rock Stars Go to Die

I’m at an H&M in a retro mall in Fort Wayne, Indiana, clothes shopping with one of my best friends, who also happens to be a worship leader.

This is, admittedly, odd behavior for straight men. But seeing as my friend Ronnie is a worship leader, he’s looking for clothes to wear on stage, and settles on a faux-military jacket that we immediately name “Ronnie Pepper,” because it looks Sergeant Pepper-ish. I’m looking for shirts to wear on the radio/TV show we host together, and that we have a hunch nobody really watches/listens to [1]. The fact that we’re thinking about fashion at all and worship music at the same time is especially awkward. As Christians—and especially Reformed Christians—it’s easy to think that fashion, music, and theology are mutually exclusive (rakishly worn bow ties for clever Southern theologian-types notwithstanding).

In a few weeks my friend Ronnie will be attending a conference called WorshipGod 2011—the name of which would be funny (in a reality-television sort of way) if we didn’t know and trust the guy running the show [2]. He’ll text me the following from the event: “T…worship guy in skinny jeans and fauxhawk, pastor in khakis and golf shirt. It’s all so simple.”

Ronnie used to be a rock star—he was Joy Electric, one of Tooth & Nail’s first and longest-running acts. He hiatused that gig to start leading worship at a church in the Midwest.


There’s an unspoken stigma in the Christian music industry where it’s understood that leading worship is where guys like us “go to die.” Although the root of that statement is fueled by nothing more than an arrogant and unclean heart, there is a strange tension between doing music for the church “industry” versus doing music for the church body. The former has the almost inevitable tendency of leading one down a path of artistic self-indulgence, whereas the latter can send the same artist spiraling downward toward self-affirmation as he continues to treat the church body as his performing audience. It is this type of identity crisis that can horribly cripple the worship leader, whose chief aim should be to point his congregation toward the immeasurable glory of the gospel of Christ! — R. Martin


I’m at Acquire the Fire, a huge, arena-level conference for teens.

I have been told, in all earnestness, by a 19-year-old security guard wearing jeggings and six necklaces, that the only rules for being backstage at Acquire the Fire are “Don’t talk to the VIPs” and “Don’t bother the VIPs.” I have seen and smelled what 8,000 pubescent teenagers look and smell like when crammed into the Jack Breslin Events Center in East Lansing, Michigan. It is the smell of unabated self-consciousness mixed with bad hygiene mixed with Axe Body Spray. I have now watched a two-hour skit, and it was as uncomfortable as you could ever imagine a two-hour skit being.

I have wondered what a certain denim-spandex-wearing worship leader would look like if his image were blown up larger than life, and then seen that image blown up larger than life on a gigantic projection screen. And I have finally gotten the story behind all of these Christian guys wearing what appear to be girls’ shoes.

The VIPs backstage in the “green room,” were, of course, not real VIPs. They were the college-aged kids who make up the Acquire the Fire house student praise band, and the Acquire the Fire house band (called Unhindered), who were acting out whatever Green Room Fantasies they had harbored up to that point in their lives. They were lolling in the green room, which actually looked to be a team room of some kind for the Michigan State Spartans basketball team [3], and speaking in “soundbyte” [4], as though they were actually famous. They’re kids who will be back in lecture halls studying biology next semester, instead of playing in front of 8,000 screamy teenagers.

Aside: I’m the worst-dressed person in the green room, by far, wearing baggy jeans with an “Indiana Football—Go Big Red!” T-shirt, that I specifically chose because it was the least-cool, least-emo thing in my closet. Adjacent to me is the lead singer of Unhindered, who is, I’m assured, a “really down-to-earth guy.” This is what all people who have met a VIP of any kind say about that VIP. He’s talking on a cell phone which, I’ve realized, is what you do in the green room if you aren’t eating or otherwise being surrounded by people. It’s important to give the impression that somebody, somewhere wants/needs to speak with you at all times. This is an important part of the Green Room Fantasy and one of the Social Rules of the Green Room.

The green room experience leads to another interesting dilemma/observation: the strange sensation afforded these kids when they play in front of 8,000 fans in an arena. Some rock bands work tirelessly their entire lives trying to get an arena tour, or even the sensation of playing in front of a crowd that large. And from where I stand—backstage, on the floor of the Breslin, behind the giant projection screens, looking up into the darkness, and the floor ringed by level after level of full seats—the view is truly magnificent. It’s true Rock Star Fantasy stuff. Though I can’t help but wonder what this experience is doing to the student band onstage. Will they ever be satisfied fading back into obscurity, leading worship at their little Christian colleges or churches?

Aside: Here’s the deal with the shoes. Occasionally (read: all the time), a guy wearing skinny jeans [5] would walk by and chat me up. In addition to the jeans, they were all [6] wearing what looked to me like girls’ canvas flats on their feet . . . flats that were in, like, pastel colors. I asked a friend about them, and she explained that they were called “Toms,” and every time somebody bought a pair of Toms, the company would donate a pair to a little impoverished child somewhere. I’m learning that the Impoverished Child factor is very big in Christian music.

The student house band is called School of Worship, and they’re quite good. They sound good and look good [7], and the kids in the crowd seem to be responding. The lead singer (all 96 pounds of him, including vest and glasses) is shaking his hips and gyrating onstage like a real, live rock star. The crowd is responding like a real, live crowd should.

The only thing that separates a “worship band” from a “rock band” is the presence of lyrics on a projection screen behind the worship band. What’s really happening is a concert. A performance. But the presence of lyrics on a screen somehow makes it “worship.” If this sounds weird/confusing to you, that’s because it is weird and confusing to me as well.

It’s later in the same day when David Crowder Band plays their set. Crowder is that strange rock and roll animal—the unattractive front man. He’s taller than I expect and every bit as funny looking as he is in the pictures [8]. But I find his appearance oddly comforting after spending the better part of a day backstage with a lot of guys who look like they were born with a canister of hair putty in their hands. Crowder uses his image—or his lack of rock-star hottie ethos—to connect with the audience in an ironic “you and I are the same” sort of way. Needless to say, this plays well to 8,000 mostly awkward-feeling teenagers. I had always thought that we watch rock stars so that we can project our dreams on to them, but Crowder has the opposite effect—he is, in plainspeak, the dork who made it big. And it occurs to me that it’s no less fun/entertaining to see that.

This is a stroke of pure rock star brilliance. It takes Crowder about 30 seconds to have these kids, and to a greater extent their youth pastors, eating out of his hands. Again the line between worship and performance is blurred—check that, this is straight-up performance. And it’s fun. Crowder pulls out his 80s-style key-tar (a keyboard, except that you wear it like a guitar . . . made famous in lots of hideous 80s videos), on which he plays the riff from Super Mario Brothers, which causes his teenage audience to go absolutely bananas. He later whips out a Guitar Hero game controller, which someone in his band has rigged to play real chords. He plays the controller, as his guitar, for the duration of a song. More teenagers go bananas. Lots of youth pastors raise their hands, though it’s unclear if they’re raising their hands in worship, or raising their hands in the way that a lot of fans raise their hands at concerts. It probably doesn’t matter.

Though I didn’t get a chance to speak with him, it occurs to me that David Crowder may be the only performer here (besides Lecrae) who understands all of the irony in what’s happening at Acquire the Fire. And he may be the only performer to have a realistic grasp on the whole fame thing, though I have no way of knowing that. It’s just a hunch.


The sticky, tricky question is this: What happens when the worship leader is the one being worshiped? It’s a valid question when you consider the influential position that many celebrity worship stars are in when their job consists of providing hit songs to churches around the world for mass consumption. When you add in the fact that many church buildings are designed to rival concert hall settings, complete with a dizzying array of sound, screens, lights, fog, and conceptual stage props, it’s easy to understand why a modern worship leader may start relishing his time in the spotlight.

Not surprisingly, the Bible warns us against things like arrogance (Rom. 12:3) and selfish ambition (James 3:16), both of which can result from the many embellishments available to promote worship services in the 21st century. Instead, we are admonished to encourage and build one another up (1 Thess. 5:11) through the message of Christ “dwelling richly among us” (Col. 3:16). Worship is always going to be as good or bad as the person or object it’s worshiping, but the direction of true worship should always start and end with the gospel. While churches continue to battle incessantly over the direction of the sound, style, instruments, clothing, hymns, and volume, the REAL conversation that needs to happen is whether the message of God’s Word is being communicated to the people of God to sing praises to God in spirit and in truth. When we get that right, the details will follow more naturally, because nobody’s going to be that concerned with whether Johnny’s wearing skinny jeans, has a faux hawk, or plays a Telecaster. We’ll always be directionally challenged when we’re not looking directly at Christ. — R. Martin


I’m visiting a church in small-town Ohio.

The lights are off, and there are candles burning somewhere, I think. There’s a giant screen up front with the Relevant magazine willowy font that is requisite for churches trying to appear “hip” and “edgy.” In front of the screen is a worship band in which every member has his/her shoes off, and is standing on an area rug, John Mayer-style. This is the kind of thing that would normally be snicker-worthy, except that the band is great and the lyrics are meaningful.

I know full well that meaningful to one guy may not be meaningful to another, but by meaningful I mean lyrics that remind me of my sinfulness/brokenness yet show me a Redeemer. They aren’t the sort of worship songs that make me feel like I’m skipping through a field of poppies with the kind of 80s-bearded Jesus who looks like he played third base for the Phillies in 1984. Nor are they the kind of songs that make me feel like I’m solving Africa’s groundwater problems with bandana-wearing Activist Jesus.

“Your blood has washed away my sins, Jesus thank you.”

They’re the kinds of songs that remind me why it’s important for me—a 30-something white guy from the Midwest—to stand in a church and sing. Something I would never normally do.

“The father’s wrath, completely satisfied. Jesus thank you.”

They’re important because the singing is an act of worship—an act of remembering what Christ did for me, what it means, and why it’s important.

It’s important that somebody lead me in this, because I wouldn’t do it on my own. It occurs to me that when the lyrics are significant and the intentions feel pure (worship), that I care very little about what the person doing the leading looks like. It could be a 92-pound guy in painted-on jeans (like it is today), or a Ken lookalike in khakis and a golf shirt like it was in 1989.  Or neither.  I appreciate what you do, worship leaders, even though you’re sometimes easy fodder for jokes, and you’re also usually the first guy at church to get complained-to about something (see: not being able to make everyone happy, all the time).

It also occurs to me that I enjoy this, without irony. That this isn’t just the thing I must endure before the 45-minute sermon. I’m having an experience (whoa), and what’s more, I like that experience. I’m being reminded that you can like something and have it also benefit your soul. This has to be at least a partial definition of joy. There’s joy in the fact that my sin is paid for, and that I’m invited to the table.

“Once your enemy, now seated at your table, Jesus thank you.”

[1] The Reformatory. Once you click on the tab for The Reformatory, be sure to pause the live player in the upper right hand corner of the screen or else you’ll have to listen to Ronnie and me while also listening to a constant stream of Christian bands with names like October Bleeds November or the Septemberists.

[2] It’s also awkward to use words like “show” in conjunction with worship or Christian conference discussions.

[3] Judging by the life-sized picture of Mateen Cleaves on the wall. This will only mean anything to you if you’re from the Lansing area and/or are a Michigan State alum. Mateen Cleaves is semi-godlike here.

[4] “It’s such a privilege to be able to meet with the fans at our merch table after our set.” As a writer it is heartbreaking to me that even at this tender age, these kids are learning to talk without saying anything.

[5] It’s probably time for a real explanation of what these are: Imagine tight, tapered dark-washed jeans for girls, except that guys are wearing them. That’s skinny jeans.

[6] My wife asked me what it was like backstage and this is how I described it to her: It was like hanging out with 20 Chris Watsons. Backstory: Chris Watson was the coolest guy at Taylor University back in 1995. He fronted a campus band (which I’ve forgotten the name of), but was cool in that affluent, detached, quasi-artistic “shops at a thrift store even though he doesn’t have to” sort of way. He would have been comfortable lolling around in a green room like this one. Caveat:  I’m sure he’s a nice guy in real life.

[7] Though again, as by some cosmic mandate, the bass player is a big guy. He’s also the guy who gets stuck dragging all the equipment offstage at the end.

[8] Imagine Cosmo Kramer from Seinfeld, if Cosmo Kramer had red hair, a beard, glasses, and wore flannel shirts.

  • Robert

    This article is terrible, which in turn, sorta highlights why most contemporary church music is terrible. This author is 10 years late in his first sentence (um, shopping with a friend is common, no need to qualify it with homophobia jokes). The constant rip on “skinny jeans” is stupid, since this is a trend that was started ALMOST TEN years ago, and so the author’s “funny” jokes about wearing women’s clothes probably don’t fit in with most American jean making companies. Look up Levi’s biggest selling jean. And as far as not being aware of the “women’s” slippers that turned out to be Tom’s, well, he is an ignorant ass. Not because he didn’t know about the cause (I for one think it is a marketing gimmick and don’t own), he is an ass for not noticing that THEY ARE EVERYWHERE. So, anyway, there were a lot more things that I wanted to rip on, but why would it matter? This author will write another article/book, and the rest of you will eat it. Yo Ted and Ronnie, maybe, just maybe, you’ve reached that weird place where you feel the need to placate those that don’t understand youth, and so maybe this is for them. Or maybe you are irrelevant.

    • http://servicebuilder.net/ Jason Silver

      I thought it was a terrific article. For those who really deal with these problems and the tension they find themselves in when they stand up in front of people and lead worship, it’s a poignant observation worthy of consideration.

    • Lisa

      I don’t see this as homophobic at all I see a man in his 30s that much like my husband that doesn’t think fashion when he buys clothes and tends to take someone with him if he has to make a certain type of impression.

    • http://www.bringthebooks.org Adam Parker

      If I were Ted, I would just be flattered to have such a luminous pop culture aficionado as anonymous Robert actually comment on something I wrote.

      And at 2 in the morning at that. Now THAT’S devotion!

    • Z. Bartels

      Re: Robert…

      Not sure if stupid or just trolling. But either way, go put on your skinny jeans and your girl’s slipper and skip away. This isn’t the place for your misplaced, pent-up, temper tantrum. Good day.

    • KRC

      Robert, chill out a little bit bro. I have read your response several times and am trying to figure out which one describes you: Are you abusing your “christian liberty” in a lifestyle you call hip…..or are you just unconverted? Either way, I lovingly and humbly recommend that it might be time for some self examination.

    • Robert

      I apologize for using profanity earlier. It was uncalled for and there was no excuse for it. I am sorry to the blog authors and to those that were offended.

      • KRC

        Atta kid Robert.

  • http://www.transformingwords.org/wordpress Don Sartain

    WHAT!?!?! I LOVED JOY ELECTRIC!!! Now, back to reading the rest of the article…

  • Andy

    Not sure I understand the purpose of this one. Strange article, and it didn’t really seem to have a true point. I also thought the comments about Unhindered seemed really condescending. I heard them a few years ago and they really seem to love the Lord.

    I’d love to see a trimmed down version of this (maybe with less jokes about the musicians) because there are some valuable thoughts here. I just don’t think the article made any compelling arguments.

  • http://www.transformingwords.org/wordpress Don Sartain

    My main concern with this isn’t the condescending of guys shopping together (which to me, is still weird), wearing skinny jeans, or any of that. This article just seems to have a judgmental tone.

    I think I can see the heart behind it, one of concern for the object of one’s worship in settings where there are big-name bands and such. Worshiping Creator vs creation. I get that, and I’m thankful for that. What concerns me, though, is that I’ve been the teenager who has gone nuts when a worship leader whose music I really like played at my church or youth camp. Was I worshiping him instead of God? While it may have been possible, I don’t think so. So, it’s hard for me to say that David Crowder just throws on a “performance” instead of leading in “real worship”.

    I don’t envy worship leaders. They have to do their best to honestly seek and worship God, find styles that don’t betray that endeavor and yet still useful in leading others in worship. I know, the heart that wants to worship God will worship in whatever style is being played. Sadly, there are many whose hearts aren’t like that, so we have to decide how to lead “those people” as well. Let’s face it though, David Crowder is just plain weird, lol. Even his music style is weird. I love it, but it’s completely different than anything else that is “mainstream” worship. So, it doesn’t surprise me at all that he brought out a Guitar Hero guitar. It fits what I see of his personality in his music, and it helps form another connecting point with his youthful audience in the story above.

    So, are these examples of worship leaders REALLY leading in worship. I don’t know. I can’t see into their heart to determine their motivations and affections. I’ll admit there are some things I disagree with, but that isn’t the basis for evaluating worship.

    Which brings me to something I’d love to see a TGC post on: The Criteria for Evaluating Worship.

  • Blame Yourself

    This article is so full of self love on the authors end it’s disturbing. The clothing jokes are terrible. I’m a female, so based on my past experience with people like this author , my opinion won’t matter much, but come on! How about a little accountability! Just because you can only worship to old music (jesus thank you is not current nor is it really contemporary) doesn’t mean other people can’t or aren’t. You need to take a look at your own heart and find out why you only have a worship experience on your terms and when the music is towards your taste. I prefer all out contemporary worship. Bright lights, loud everything and a modern dressed worship leader. When I go to my parents church, the worship is done by one guy behind the pulpit in a suit leading 3 hymns. I still sing, I still worship even though it’s not my style. I also feel like I could take that worship leader and pick him apart and make excuses for not worshipping. I don’t though because it’s not about me.Dude-it’s not about you either.
    I want to also mention all the clothes/homophobic digs, but I know I would be wasting my time. People like this will never change nor do they care who they will offend. Plus, again, I’m female and there’s no way this guy thinks I have any business even writing here.
    Now I remember why I stopped reading these articles. Self-righteous “christians” are no longer my thing.

    • http://www.seektheholy.com/ Chris Roberts

      “Now I remember why I stopped reading these articles. Self-righteous “christians” are no longer my thing.”

      Do people catch even a little of the irony when saying something like this?

      • John M

        Just because someone calls another person self-righteous, doesn’t necessarily qualify that individual as self-righteous as well.

        • mattA

          What if you are someone who calls someone who calls someone who calls…oh never mind.

    • Brent Johnson

      Where did he say all the things you accuse him of? I think he was looking into the heart of the worship and musing. You really think these 20 somethings can withstand that kind of adulation?

    • KRC

      Women can’t post at TGC? WHOA!! I have never heard or read that!

      • http://awildernesslife.blogspot.com Laura

        Now you know, KRC! Just make sure nobody tells Kathleen Neilson or Nancy Guthrie, who are regular contributors here, OK?

        Laura — Oops, I mean LARRY since NO GIRLS ALLOWED AMIRITE?


    • Brendan

      This article has no place next to the amazing content that we usually receive on the Gospel Coalition, embarrassing.

  • http://www.ericpazdziora.com Eric

    It’s perhaps significant to note that Teen Mania, the organization that runs Acquire the Fire, has recently received serious accusations of spiritual and emotional abuse of the teens in their program, even being described as a “cruelly abusive cult” by Christian mental health professionals who have heard from past interns. See http://www.recoveringalumni.com for some stories there that will curl your hair.

    Either way, this constant emphasis on “Christian” celebrity elitism and equating passion for God with an adrenaline high does very few favors for the church. It’s easy to see how this can lead to spiritual burnout, depression, and discouragement in lots of cases, even the musicians themselves. I appreciate the healthy perspective on making sure worship is Christ-centered rather than musician-centered (and I’m a musician!).

  • Matthew Johnson

    My wife, a Taylor grad, says the band’s name was Exit 59 :-)

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  • Corey

    A post where a comparison is drawn between Jesus & Mike Schmidt. That, in itself, makes the post worth reading.

    • mattA

      Amen! That was a great line.

  • JR

    I linked to this on my phone so failed to look at the by line. About half way through it I thought, “This must be Ted Kluck.”

    Sure enough. You know you’ve arrived when you have an observable style.

  • Mitchell Hammonds

    As a musician who has played in these types of settings I find the article, comments and questions to be misplaced/misguided, mostly fueled by some “experience.” The author’s points are valid to some degree but the same comments could be said of the “rock-star status” attained by many well-known pastors and teachers. “Are the people there to hear the Word of God or to hear the famed individual speak?”
    In most of the conversations I’ve been a part of I find that people are looking for a “worship experience” brought about by whatever genre of music they like while being void of any understanding of who what when where and why behind their worship. They have equated worship with emotion brought on by their particular taste in music to prop up an emotional fix.
    To be honest I’d play in a bar before I’d play in another Church setting (contemporary or traditional). To argue toward a particular genre misses the entire point of what worship is… which has nothing to do with music… or fashion.

  • layne

    Cheers to you. Great article.

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  • Andy Chance

    I want to read more Ted Kluck!

  • http://frightfullypleased.blogspot.com Stephen

    Contra the critics (who need to lighten up) — this is a terrific piece of writing, and a nice change of pace for the TGC blog. Though I’m not sure the good folks in Fort Wayne (the town of my birth) would appreciate their mall being called “retro”.

    • http://abigail613.wordpress.com Abby

      Hey, Fort Wayne’s mall doesn’t often get called anything too great–retro might be an improvement! ;) And yes, a terrific piece of writing!

  • JackW

    The contrast between the two events couldn’t be greater.

    Kudos to Bob Kauflin and WorshipGod11.

  • Brent Johnson

    Seeing it was Ted I knew the comments would be almost as good as the article. Way to go Ted. This needs to have a light shown on it and now the light will swing your way but I think you knew that. As a Father of teens who love these fests I wonder where Jesus is at them? And to some degree my kids understand their mostly clean entertainment with pants on too tight.

    • Alex

      You are correct Brent. These comments are great. Especially for people that don’t get Ted.

  • Amy

    I enjoyed this article. There are a lot of people commenting who take very seriously their TOMS, shopping and being negative. How dare someone say something about skinny jeans that wasn’t nice! How dare someone say a band was goofy looking! THey just don’t understand youth today!

    To me, worse than the performance driven worship are the hearts that crave it. Young people who are really really undisciplined in how to be humble and how to not get their way. WHen you criticize them, they don’t argue objectively-they say you are an ass. Wow. Sorry babies.

  • Steve

    As a commentary on the state of “evanjellybeanism,” the whole phenomenon of “worship” is just sad. Does not seem that far removed from Ezekiel 8-11. The twig is to the nose. Ichabod on the “worship leader”!

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  • ZJ

    really, really terrible, TGC. remember the Driscoll facebook debacle before posting stuff like this.

    • mattA

      While I agree that the article brought Driscoll’s comment to my mind immediately, I felt that it gave Driscoll credibility. If you are wearing what look like girl’s clothes, then people are going to think you are effeminate. If you don’t want a reaction from people, then don’t take the time to buy and wear clothes that will provoke a reaction.

  • Bob

    Wow are we distracted. Wait, was that the point of the article?

  • Jonathan

    I think what he’s trying to do is, as SOMEWHAT of an outsider, look at the good a bad cultural phenomenon attached to the “worship band”.

    He shows what appears strange to him and what, despite being strange, can really be a good thing. He also shows where there is a potential for it to go wrong and to be all about the “show” or the performer rather than real worship.

    That, I think, is his main point.

    Just poking fun at “skinny jeans” or guys shopping together for things to buy as worship leaders does not make his comments akin to an old man sitting on his lawn chair grumbling about “KIDS THESE DAYS” and uttering homophobic slurs.

  • Caleb

    I am a grown man. I wear jeggings, have my ears pierced a bunch of times, and I thought this article was hilarious. Biblical Hipsters need to get a sense of humor.

    • http://awildernesslife.blogspot.com Laura

      I think Christian hipsters are congenitally without of a real sense of humor. They exist only to furrow their brows and fuss whenever they feel criticized.

      I go to an A29 church (with candles on the platform!), wear skinny jeans, think the Toms company is great, and like David Crowder, and I thought this article was both hilarious and effective. It’s a great example of how to make a theological point by implication rather than exposition.

      • http://andrewtlocke.wordpress.com andrew

        “…I thought this article was both hilarious and effective. It’s a great example of how to make a theological point by implication rather than exposition.”


        Seriously kiddos, don’t get your jeggings all in a bunch!

        And to all who are on the opposite side (older, conservative types), don’t worry, these teens and twenty-somethings and, yes, thirty-somethings, will grow up a bit, settle down, get married, raise kids and do all that stuff. Only, they may keep their Toms.

        One thing I can say FOR this younger group is that they are far more engaged in mercy, compassion and justice than any from the previous generations ever were. Let’s give them some kudos and encourage them in Lord for a change, eh?

  • http://apolojet.wordpress.com Joseph E. Torres

    My concern with the article is that it’s much more inflammatory than needed. As with Kluck’s work on the Emergent Church (which I largely agreed with), he seems to be writing from a phenomenological perspective, but one that’s primarily geared toward those that already see things his way. The tone of the piece seems to assume the truth of his statements without argument. This type of writing will rally those who agree with him and repel those who do not. I think that there are helpful bits of insight in the article, but it does feel condescending. While I myself am very cautious of much of contemporary worship and its flirtation with a celebrity Christian culture, Kluck and Martin’s article gives people that much more fodder to label young Calvinists as angry and bitter. Better work should be done on this subject.

    • http://johnweis.com/ John Weis

      (Disclaimer: I’m 23 years old. Yep. I own a pair of skinny jeans, which I never wear, because they’re uncomfortable. I don’t own Tom’s but I know what they are. I’ve been leading worship at a church that is less than 35 people for a few years now.)

      This wasn’t written in a winsome way. I don’t know to whom you were writing this article, but it certainly seems like you just high-fived yourself in public.

    • Graham Buck

      Nice to see my boy drop the P-bomb. Keep up the good work Joe. ;)

    • http://www.robbpowell@blogspot.com Robb Powell


  • Tom

    I was on a worship team at the largest christian university in the world and led worship at one of the largest christian camps for several years. I’ve lived this, felt the personal fall out that comes with facing the reality that these events and platforms provided students create false realities and misplaced identities in young teens, and can actually hinder a true life of obedience and submission to Christ (true worship).

    I loved this article. Yes, sarcastic, but in a hilarious way if you can laugh at yourself (and i own toms and skinny jeans) And even more so, true and revealing.

  • Oto

    For those who missed the point of the article because of all the mild satire, which by definition uses humor, irony, exaggeration, and ridicule to make a point, and which is not necessarily a wrong or ungodly way of making your case since it implies “reading between the lines,” please re-read the italicized sections. Those sections show the main concern of the writer and the heart of what he’s getting at, which is indeed a very legitimate conversation. God bless you all!

    • courtenay

      There’s a difference between humor and ridicule that points a finger and says “you are doing it wrong…I am doing it right,” and humor that includes oneself in the ridicule and says “we are doing it wrong.”

      Ted Kluck is doing the former and it’s not funny. It’s self-congratulating and mean. He sounds like the stereotypical old man on the corner, yelling at kids to get off his lawn.

      And what is the difference between dressing a particular way to look cool, and dressing a particular way to NOT look cool?

      • Oto

        Courtenay, satire does not need to employ the use of the first-person plural pronoun (i.e. “we”) to make its point. And the fact that it doesn’t does not necessarily imply that the writer is standing on a pedastal and condescendingly looking down at those who fall victim of his witty humor.

        In fact, if you re-read the first two paragraphs I don’t think you can come to the conclusion that Kluck is standing on the proverbial pedestal. It was very thoughtful of him to start out this article by relating a story that clearly implies that he is not excluded from the very things that he is about to comment on.

        What he is commenting on is not whether it is better or worse to dress to look cool or not; rather he’s emphasizing the danger of when the dress and the cool or not cool becomes the center of attention rather than God and His Glory.

  • Pete Kelley

    I like Kluck’s style – kind of a reformed Chuck Klosterman. (Fort Wayne Worship City?)

    In general I’m tracking and share his concern about blurry lines between worship performance and worship leading.

    However, in the end isn’t he comparing the way one worship band looks to the lyrics the other worship band sings? Were there really no Christ-exalting, gospel-proclaiming, God-glorifying lyrics at ATF?

    Sure Crowder broke out the key-tar but wasn’t he also singing:

    “You are everything that is bright and clean and You’re covering me with Your majesty. And the truest sign of grace was this: from wounded hands redemption fell down, liberating man…”

    Why don’t those lyrics, which are definitely meaningful by Kluck’s definition, trump the worship leader’s quirky appearance?

    • ZJ

      Pete, this does get at the heart of it, though. The author’s underlying point – which is a theological point, though presented through satire – is that he (and his particular camp) have a corner on biblically correct lyrics. On what is and isn’t real “worship.” The problem with this article is not the use of satire but the point the satire is making, which is nothing if not self-important and hyper-critical towards other theological camps. It’s both covert and overt in the point he is making.

      And, I don’t care how you slice it, there is just as much macho (read: complementarian) homophobia here as in Driscoll’s famous Facebook post about effeminate worship leaders. It deserves just as much response for its bullying tone.

      • http://awildernesslife.blogspot.com Laura

        Complementarian = macho? Complementarian = homophobic? Dude. That’s news to me, and to a lot of my married guy friends. Here I was thinking it was just saying that men and women have different, but equally important, tasks given to them by God. Huh.

        And nope, nobody’s claiming a corner on anything, just commenting that the Christian rock-star ethos and rock-concert vibe tend to drown out any potential benefit. Have you been to an event like this? Finney’d be proud, but then all HIS “converts” disappeared too.

        • http://dwellchurch.org ZJ

          Laura, complementarian need not = homophobic, but if an author feels the need to constantly point out ‘girly men’, and that author is obviously repping the complementarian movement (TGC, et al), alongside the ultimate fighting pastor himself, then it just stands to reason.

          Rock concert worship, not a fan. I generally agree that the atmosphere is unhelpful, even. But there’s more to this article than that. There’s a broadstroke, and a theological one at that. It’s the consistent broadstroke of the YRR contingent.

          I’m part of a missional anabaptist church with an incredible worship band that plays bars and not youth rallies. The lead guy wears Toms. I preach in skinny pants, I think, because I live in a city and have a modicum of fashion sense. We preach and sing the gospel, but we think the gospel is good news for the poor (Lu. 4).

          The other day some dude yelled a homophobic obscenity at me out of his window, probably because of said pants, and maybe my Vans classics. I’m happily married to my wife with a little girl and another on the way. This fellow was following the way of the world, the way of the empire. The kingdom should be different.

          So, this article is as unhelpful for the kingdom as a rock concert worship set could ever be.

          • Jeremy

            You may think preaching in skinny jeans reflects your “modicum of fashion sense”, but I think this article can be valuable for exactly the purpose of pointing out how others may see you. I, for instance, would have a great deal of trouble taking seriously a preacher dressed like that, because his clothes reflect (even if unintentionally) a value system that emphasizes portraying a “hip” image.

            I think that semi-desperate pursuit of a sense of “cool” that has invaded all too many churches is downright embarrassing to many of us. We worship the great God of the universe, the One who created everything that has ever existed! Do we really need to dress like the indy rocker du jour to get people excited about that?

    • http://awildernesslife.blogspot.com Laura

      Pete, I went to ATF eons ago, and in my experience, the rock-concert atmosphere cancels out the best of lyrics — there’s not a *lot* of theological reflection happening in an auditorium full of screaming teenagers, I think. But with regard to Crowder, I thought Kluck was basically saying that Crowder got the irony of the situation and worked it the best he could. In other words, at ATF, atmosphere overwhelms content, but at the church he visited, despite it’s being populated by Toms-wearing hipsters, the atmosphere was designed not to interfere with the content. You know?

    • JR

      “Reformed Chuck Klosterman” – apt description

  • Jungle

    Personally, I don’t know what brings more sadness. reading the article or reading its comments.

  • Dan

    Regarding the following paragraph in the article:

    “While churches continue to battle incessantly over the direction of the sound, style, instruments, clothing, hymns, and volume, the REAL conversation that needs to happen is whether the message of God’s Word is being communicated to the people of God to sing praises to God in spirit and in truth. When we get that right, the details will follow more naturally, because nobody’s going to be that concerned with whether Johnny’s wearing skinny jeans, has a faux hawk, or plays a Telecaster.”

    I get the impression that the author thinks the form and content of true worship are largely independent. In other words, if the content of worship is gospel-oriented, then its form is largely unimportant. That strikes me as an expression of dualism in which the “spiritual” trumps the merely “physical”. That’s certainly not a Reformed view of worship.

    • http://awildernesslife.blogspot.com Laura

      “Form follows function” is not the same as “form stands in dualistic opposition to function,” Dan.

      • Dan

        Fair point. To clarify, I don’t think it’s full-orbed dualism, but people should still care about “skinny jeans, faux hawks, and Telecasters” even if gospel content is present.

  • melissa

    Dualism, really? That’s a reach and a half, my friend. Very little is mandated in scripture as to HOW we are to worship, but a ton is said about WHO we are to worship. I think that’s the main point being made here.

    • Dan

      You may be right that I am missing the main point of the article. That said, Cain, Nadab, Abihu, and Uzzah might disagree about how strictly the HOW of worship is mandated.

      • http://awildernesslife.blogspot.com Laura

        “Cain, Nadab, Abihu, and Uzzah might disagree about how strictly the HOW of worship is mandated.”


        See comment below to Benjamin about the Regulative Principle. Just don’t use that sucker as a bludgeon and we’ll be ok. ;)

  • http://www.benjaminpglaser.wordpress.com Benjamin P. Glaser

    It is interesting how many “Reformed” folks seem to have never heard of the Regulative Principle of Worship. I find the whole notion and need to be “hip” in a “Worship band/leader” to be inimical to the Reformed faith. Y’all may hold to a Calvinist Soteriology but I question whether you have really delved into the fullness and depth of the Sovereignty of God over all of our life and worship.

    Ditto also to Dan who notes the Dualism of the author. I think a read of both Marshall McLuhan and Francis Schaeffer (especially “God Who is There”) would help the author see the inherent problem with trying to divorce the method from the message.

    • http://awildernesslife.blogspot.com Laura

      If you need to be hip to do ministry, you’re probably not ministering the actual gospel. But if you start telling people they need to be un-hip to do ministry, you’re adding to the the gospel, know what I mean?

      I dig the Regulative Principle — just talked about it in class today, as a matter of fact, with my high schoolers. I don’t think we’re free to, say, substitute a skit for an exposition of scripture. If you’re just talking about the RP being a guideline for having our worship gatherings (like all of our lives as believers) informed and shaped by the Scriptures, I’m all for it. But when you start using it as a test of holiness, as thought it’s the right methodology and not, you know, the blood of a perfect savior that makes our worship ultimately acceptable to God, then that’s when I check out, bro.

      • http://awildernesslife.blogspot.com Laura

        Just want to add: by “hip” I don’t mean that desperate striving to be accepted. That’s dumb, and contrary to the gospel. But what a lot of suit-wearing, piano-and-organ types (whom I love!) seem to mean by “hip” is “anybody whose clothes are more fashionable than mine, whose preferred music style is more modern than mine, whose hair is trendier than mine, etc.” All I’m saying is that business casual is not inherently holier than skinny jeans and Toms, 19th-century classical music is not inherently holier than classic rock, and having electric guitar in your worship gatherings doesn’t mean you haven’t fully embraced reformed theology.

  • http://www.gospeldrivenchurch.com Jared Wilson

    I feel like most complainers stopped reading the piece before the last few paragraphs.

    And if this were a post cynically reflective about, oh I don’t know, rock star Calvinist conference speakers maybe, more than a few of the complainers would be applauding it.

    • Brent Johnson

      Great point. If you read Kluck at all you realized he includes himself in his writings. It’s a sad irony that many don’t like what he said respond so much in kind.

  • Matt

    Still laughing as I picture Ted skipping through a poppy field with pitcher Marty Bystrom

  • http://reason.com Nathan

    I just have to say this is a great piece and people should check out “The Reformatory” and/or read some (ALL) of Ted Kluck’s book. Very articulate perspective on the faux worship and the real deal.

  • Paul

    Excerpt from Tullian Tchivijians’ blog “it’s ok to not be Ok”
    “the Gospel frees us from trying to impress people, appease people, measure up to people, prove ourselves to people or trying to control what others think about us.”

  • Paul

    Reading psalms and hymns singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord. Sounds old and outdated doesn’t it?

  • http://richardpmoore.blogspot.com/ Richard Moore

    Singing is only the beginning of Worship. Whether it is pop christian music, worship, or standing in your traditional worship service, singing…is the beginning only the beginning…but it is a beginning, and I am glad when it happens in any context, toms shoes and skinny jeans and all. But lets not let singing worship tunes be the end game of worship. It is so much deeper and richer than that. Worship is an all of life “worth giving” to God, a posture of homage. Do you have it in your life even when you sing?

  • Andrew Chesebro

    Glad Lecrae got a shout out. Good work, Ted.

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  • http://www.notinmycity.org Chad

    Great article. For those of you who couldn’t see that the author was using tensions and humor to illustrate the tension and humor of what he was writing about, well… I don’t know what to tell you.

  • JL

    Ted: Awesome article. The Phillies part killed me because that’s unfortunately the same image i have too.

    Critics: Haters gonna hate, yo.

  • Marilyn

    Well, I didn’t read all the comments but most seemed to be centered around the fashion…If we are called to hate the world and love God than it would seem to me that we aren’t going to look, sound or act like it the world and its culture…Worship is not just singing and praying…You worship God when you seek Him and trust Him completely, love Him supremely, obey Him wholeheartedly, thank Him continually…anytime we bring pleasure to God we are worshiping Him!!! Who are we worshiping? If an apple tree is producing something other than apples it is not an apple tree…We are to be light and salt in this world and distinctly different from it…in word, actions, attitude and thinking…How are we representing God as the children of God? My greatest hope and prayer is that I do not tarnish the testimony of God and that I can be a useful vessel for His glory and honor ONLY!!!

  • Marc5Solas

    As soon as the “band” steps on the “stage” to “perform” at a “show”.. we’ve already lost.

    Worship as a verb, pointing to the subject (Christ) is winsome and beautiful.
    Worship as the object of itself is pride and rank idolatry.

    I think this article alluded to that icky feeling we all get when we see self/band/program worship taking place.

  • http://www.richgunderlock.com Rich Gunderlock

    I couldn’t get the tune of “Lake of Fire” by Nirvana out of my head the entire time I was reading this article.

    • Justin

      Best comment by far – but Lake of Fire is by the Meat Puppets.

  • carl

    I read most of the comments. Many were so hurt and some were hurtful. Maybe the post was somewhat hurtful but I just saw it as an experience by an older man in a teen enviroment.

    But anyways I thought a good comment was that some pastors are almost rock stars also. That is interesting in a blog like TGC whcih almost encourages this kind of worship. I do not dislike Piper, MacArthur, Carson, etc. but to many they are rock stars. Some are more involved in TGC than their own churches. some listen to Piper, Carson, etc. more than their own pastors. This is just as wrong as those who idolize worship leaders.

  • Aaron

    I’m lost…
    I’m in my mid-thirties, was saved almost 5 years ago, just started seminary, and come from a lifestyle which was as worldly, self-conscious and as ‘hip’ as they get. I once prided myself on how cool I thought I was. Now, by God’s grace, I see that ‘all [was] vanity…’ When God saved me, He mercifully turned me away from almost all of what I once embraced, and quite frankly, gave me infinitely greater and more beautiful things to lay hold of.
    Why am I lost? I don’t understand why there is a) seemingly a set of “Christian sub-cultures”, (I just don’t see this beyond the church’s middle-class north-America corner), b) a marked interest in fashion/style/language/irony/apparent androgyny/whatever… that is virtually identical to the Christ-hating culture which surrounds the church (albeit, consistently about a couple of years behind the times [although I’d say that gap is narrowing]), and c) such glaring and overbearing tendencies for this particularly immature subset to ‘act’ as though these are appropriate expressions of Christian liberty, however, without the Biblical literacy to actually express their justifications.

    What a strange and isolated period! Well, perhaps not isolated… but strange indeed. Apparently guided more by feeling and experience than by thought. There is something so terminal about it all. Something so temporary, narcissistic and… I don’t know… embarrassing.

    Help me! What is so attractive about these kinds of “Christian celebrity show”? The ‘church’, from the little bit I’ve gathered reading articles like these, talking to people, having younger sisters, looking at videos and pictures of such events, is nothing even close to what I see the apostle Paul describing, or what I read in fragments throughout the whole NT. It simply reminds me of what I was saved FROM in the decades prior to my conversion.

    I apologize if this comes across antagonistically or rude – perhaps I am ranting in rhetoric… But having read the article and ALL of the comments, I finished feeling rather dumbfounded. Lost. Still, the question… “Why is it so?”

    I want to see self-denial, holiness, piety, lives shaped by love and by good theology — but this ‘scene’, this ‘hip-ness’, this subculture – seems altogether absurd, like it is embracing mere image and shadow. It seems… bored.

    • http://andrewtlocke.wordpress.com andrew

      Aaron, powerfully expressed.

      Your point about these issues being uniquely American (by-and-large) is spot on. So many in the Christian ghetto are trying so desperately to “catch up” to the culture, it makes me wonder whether they may have forgotten what, or rather who, their life is about.

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  • http://www.robbpowell@blogspot.com Robb Powell

    Reading the ATF section… while I might share your concerns ( and your appreciation of D.C. and Lecrae), it is your tone that grieves me. In a word SMUG. Little sense of pastoral or even prophetic concern. Just distilled self-congratulatory, superficial, dismissive condescension. (With more time I ought to make an acronym of it … S.M.U.G.).

    In my work, this is the kind of ironic “investigative” reporting I encounter in campus rags across the continent. I have learned to see it as an adolescent, developmental stage in journalism. As I was reading your piece, I had to resist the thought that you were indulging a ( Michael Moore ( or Woodward and Bernstein)) FANTASY ;). You know… with thousands of adoring readers/fans….

    You are a gifted writer. You can do better than this, Ted. Especially given a platform like TGC.

  • Tim

    With the great minds at TGC I think we should expect much better articles than what appears to be the grumpy ramblings of a blogger. While the author may have made a few legitimate points the manner in which he chose to deliver them was absolutely childish and completely destroyed his credibility.

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  • Russell

    I heard Rich Mullins say one time after someone said that God had been present a concert, “It was so loud in here I don’t know how you could tell.”

  • beanboy

    perhaps the construction and conclusion of this piece are a bit clumsy. people seem to be fixating on the fashion and worship style aspects, but these seem ancillary to the larger points he is raising.

    our era and culture is unique in human history in the extent to which we have become a “star culture”, especially in terms of how our culture engages with music (american idol being the most obvious example). for most of us, artistry and celebrity are inextricably (and unfortunately) linked. and i think it’s worth asking why this is and how the church should address this dynamic. is it to be adopted, fought, ignored? should christian music be driven by market forces? should worship music be driven by market forces? his observations on fashion and music styles indicate (however clumsily) that they appear to be, and that this might not be a good thing.

    • http://andrewtlocke.wordpress.com andrew


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  • Bill

    After reading this article, I feel a bit like I do after reading John Owen; I have no idea what the author was trying to say.

  • gtg

    Dear Ted,

    You are a homophobic, misogynistic, complementarian, reformed Hitler who doesn’t understand young people and don’t know the first thing about worship.

    That said, we can’t really argue with what you said. [Secretly we worry you’re right]
    So with that said, insert personal insult here> ______________________________.

    Immature Youth Who Don’t Understand Syntax or Satire.

  • http://www.worshipandculture.wordpress.com Aaron

    When I read this article, I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. I spent a few days processing what it said, along with reading the comments. Then I took a couple of days writing a response blog to it. You can read it here if your interested.

    For those who aren’t interested in my reading my blog; “Where Rock Stars Go To Die” is a poorly written article filled with misinformation. Hard to understand how TGC promoted this on their website.

    • http://www.robbpowell@blogspot.com Robb Powell

      Well said…. ‘Nuff said.

    • beanboy

      thanks for the thoughtful response, but i have to say that anyone who thinks this is about “style”–be it of music or clothing, have missed the point of the article.

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  • Kristi

    loved it!

  • mr. positive

    True that many men and woman have fallen prey to the worship rock star mentality. But might i also remind that thousands and millions of teens are meeting Jesus for the first time because a friend invited them to a Hillsong, Jesus Culture or Acquire the Fire event.

    These bands and events are reaching out in ways not possible before now and the holy spirit is entering into arenas and touching lives. I see the heart of the article and its endeavor to bring light to the darkness. But lets also not paint the picture with just one color. Talk about the positive things that are being done as well.

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  • Wade

    You have to be careful writing articles like this because you need to get to know the people you are writing about. I know the Unhindered guys and have done many events with them. If you would have talked with them, you would have found out that they are all Godly guys. At one point they dropped everything they were doing to pray for my daughter, who several had never met, because she was having medical issues. They are guys who are on the rec field at youth camps and are spending time with the students and staff. I have spoken at events with thousands of people and know the green room. The problem is that with the set up and time frames, we are told to be in the green room to be ready to sing or speak. In the the isolation you do things like pray, call your wife and kids, eat, etc. Pat is married and his wife is pregnant. How do you know that he was not talking to her because she was having cramps, problems at home, or whatever. My point is that when you make blanket statements about bands, you run into the problem of being wrong about them, or just coming across as being bitter that they were asked to be there and you were not. Listen, I get your point. There is a weird sub culture out there in worship that I don’t get. But my thoughts about them don’t come from what I see, but what I hear from them, both on and off stage.

    I am one of the guys who could care less what you wear and what brand of shoes you have on. I want to know your heart. And I know all of their hearts. You lumped them into a category and were just wrong. If they were having a bad day I get where you are coming from. But we all have bad days. Travel with them more than once and get to know them, and then I am interested to see what your article would be titled.

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