I am pretty sure that Chris Tomlin is not gay.

As far as I know, neither is he an iconoclast of the ethos of abstract expressionism. Nor, does he live with his mother and his mother’s cat.

These are only a few of the reasons why Chris Tomlin is not like Andy Warhol.

Still, these two artists have one thing in common from my perspective. They both provide models for worship leadership.

Of course, there are some problems with this comparison, seeing that Tomlin is actually considered a “worship leader” while Warhol is not. Warhol is considered a multi-media artist and pop-icon of the last century. He is not popularly associated with Christian ideas. Quite the opposite is true. He is typically lumped in with the freaks, drug addicts, and people in various stages of homelessness that lived in and around his studio. (Wait… Jesus was lumped in with the freaks, drug addicts, and people in various stages of homelessness, too. Hmmmm.)

If you’ve thought of Warhol this way, you may be surprised to learn that every Sunday – cross around his neck, missal and rosary in his pocket – Andy faithfully attended St. Mary Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite with his mother. But Warhol’s spirituality will have to be the topic of separate blog post.

My use of these two icons as models for worship leadership really has more to do with their art-making practices than their spirituality. Let me explain.

Chris Tomlin is the perfect embodiment of the late-modern worship leader. First of all, he is a musician. Though we all give lip-service to the idea that worship is “so much more than music,” in practice 95% of evangelical churches (I just made that number up) associate worship with singing more than any other ritual form.

Besides being a musician, Tomlin is also a song-writer who performs with a band. He writes modern hymns useful for congregational worship singing. His primary performance venue is large gatherings, which often resemble theatrical productions. (I am not being negative here).

In these large worship events there is participation by everyone present. However, I think it is fair to say that the weight of participation is carried by those on the stage, the ones considered the “leaders” of the gathering. The congregation participates through singing, clapping, shouting, etc. However, their participation (at least on an individual level) is clearly of secondary import to the apparent success of the gathering.

This is modern worship. (Now I am being a little negative).

My rhetoric would be completely absent of negativity were it not for the fact that the Church is changing before our very eyes. As the culture in the West has been slowly shifting from one mindset (call it modern) to a new mindset in reaction to the old one, the Church has begun to react, as well. This reaction has led to some major changes in the practices for worship among a growing number of churches.

One major change is the decentralizing of worship. In other words, gatherings in many new faith communities are not held in one particular building on one particular day. This seems horrible, until you realize that they groups actually gather more often due largely to the fact that members live in geographical proximity to one another. This is in high contrast to the suburban mega-church where members drive many miles to “attend” their church.

Another major change is the deprogramming of worship. It is not just the modern mindset that is being deprogrammed. The hyper-structure of modern worship is being transformed in many cases into something more spontaneous (do not read: Pentecostal) which allows for much deeper and broader participation. The smaller size of these communities also makes real participation by all present utterly essential.

All of this adds up to bad news for Chris Tomlin (well, not actually bad news for him, but bad news for many of the modern worship leaders he represents). Think about it. If your church has no main building for worship, does not meet on a set day, doesn’t plan or follow a program, and is fairly small in number, what happens to you and your big worship leading gig?

The worship leader in this new church scenario must necessarily not be the guitar-slinging, band-leading, singer-songwriter. The emerging parameters for churches in the 21st century make this particular role nearly obsolete. Who can we look to as a new model for worship leadership?

I propose Andy Warhol.

Warhol was not a musician, though he was often surrounded by musicians. He was an artist that worked in a variety of mediums, including film, sculpture, installation, photography, silk screening, to name a few. Incidentally, leadership that incorporates multiple artistic forms is better suited for today’s culture than music alone.

The reality of multi-media’s current reign was driven home to me recently as an acquaintance was searching for one of my worship songs on the web. To my great interest, I found that instead of searching iTunes or some other store from which they might download the audio track, this person searched YouTube. They were actually quite dumbfounded that my song was not to be found in some kind of multi-media format. This is the new cultural expectation when it comes to popular art: that it will be a multiplex of communication forms. Warhol’s style in combining numerous genres makes his style of art-making a better model for worship leadership in the 21st century. But, how does Warhol also model art leadership that fits with decentralized and deprogrammed worship?

The simple answer is, he was a communal artist. This is an understatement. He was not the prototypical solo artist who spent days alone in his studio mulling over his work. Instead, Warhol spent his days with a ridiculously diverse crowd of people. His studio called the Silver Factory was literally home to many in his community. This proximity meant art-making could take place anytime and with anyone.

Warhol was famous for making an “artist” out of everyone who set foot in his studio (Google “Warhol screen tests”). He chose to invite all those around him – most of them non-professionals – to participate in his art. Actually, they did more than participate, since often Warhol’s pieces resulted from nothing he actually did himself apart from giving permission and some direction.

His artistic collaboration was also often spontaneous. For instance, films were script-less, and the “actors” became anyone who happened to show up at the Silver Factory on a particular day.

All of these aspects of Andy Warhol’s art-making can be translated to the artist who is a leader of worship in one of the many developing forms of postmodern church. Imagine a leader who’s “job” is to be present wherever and whenever the people gather and to instigate, direct, and ultimately co-produce communal, multi-media expressions of that community’s faith.

Could a person with a role like this be the worship leader of the future?

Advertisements