This showed up in my Twitter feed over the weekend:
“Worship Night in America”. To quote my friend Chrissy: “NOPE. Big, big NOPE.”
I dug into Tomlin’s website for more details. Billed as “An Evening of Unity and Prayer for Our Country”, it features Tomlin along with musicians Matt Redman, Phil Wickham, and Matt Maher, along with speakers Max Lucado and Louie Giglio.
Event sites have been set up at theaters across the country – there are two listed in Iowa including one here in my hometown of Cedar Rapids – with tickets on pre-sale for $12. Per the FAQ, these sites won’t actually host the event unless some minimum number of tickets are sold in advance. For an additional $3.99 ($15.99 total) you can get a CD or digital copy of Chris Tomlin’s new album along with the ticket.
Also from the FAQ: even though it’s a “one-night-only” event, this is not some sort of live simulcast. “Worship Night in America was created by Grammy-award winning artist Chris Tomlin”, and “the event was recorded at Madison Square Garden and edited for theaters and non-theatrical venues.”
Where do I even start?
I gotta admit, when I hear “Worship Night in America”, the first thing I think of is “Football Night in America” – the tag line NBC uses for Sunday Night Football – and then quickly to “Hockey Night in Canada”. Hey folks, let’s hype a trendy event! Who’s got an idea for a name?
First it started with video venues for churches – some local live staff, sure, but we’ll pipe the popular preacher in from some other campus. Then came “online church” – just stream the service on your computer, submit your prayer requests via a web form, and tithe with your credit card, all from the comfort of your jammies and your couch! Now we have “worship night”, where we line up to sit in a theater and watch a pre-produced event from Madison Square Garden featuring only the hippest musicians and high-octane speakers.
Virtual ain’t church, folks. Don’t get me wrong – I see a huge value in (and have personally benefited greatly from) friendships cultivated primarily online. But the body of Christ is called to assemble in person, and there’s a vast amount of encouragement, accountability, and support that can only really come with in-person assemblies. We’re fooling ourselves if we try to argue otherwise.
Any other year, I’d be 95% certain that this sort of event, scheduled one week before the elections, was going to be leveraged to push attendees hard toward voting for a certain sort of Republican candidate. This year I’m not quite so certain. The FAQ says that the event “is not tied to any candidate or political affiliation”, which is good. I guess I’m cynical enough to assume that a flag-waving prayer-and-worship evangelical event the week before the election is another “If my people who are called by my name will GET OUT THE VOTE then I will heal their land” sort of event. I hope they prove me wrong.
It’s no accident that the new Chris Tomlin record is slated to come out the same week as this event, and that attendees can get a copy for only $4 when bought in conjunction with the event ticket. In the same way authors can hit the bestseller list by engineering the sale of lots of copies of their book, musicians can hit a similar list with first week sales. So, 95 event sites listed at the moment. Say they each sell 200 tickets, and 50% of the ticket buyers also get a CD. That’s nearly 10,000 copies of Tomlin’s new album sold that week. That’s not insubstantial.
Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with marketing and wanting to sell lots of records… but attendees should be aware that this “evening of unity and prayer” also looks to be a pre-produced marketing event to sell a lot of records.
So here’s a thought
If you want an evening of unity and prayer leading up to election day – and Lord knows we could use both – invite some people from various churches in your community to get together. Make sure you invite some who have a different skin color or accent than you do. Have somebody bring along a guitar. Sing some songs you all know. (Or learn some of each others’ songs!) Pray for each other and for your community. Listen to each others’ stories. Make new friends.
That will be a productive step toward building Christian unity in your community, far more than plunking down into a theater seat and singing along with the screen.