I hate to reduce it to this, but for a long time I’ve felt that contemporary and modern praise and worship music just mirrors Coldplay. I don’t think it’s on purpose, but it’s good work if you can get it: Win over critics, maintain integrity, sell records at Target and get hour-long specials on NBC.
So goes Passion: Take it All. Passion is a yearly conference and worship music event put on by Passion Conferences, and it’s an almost perfect gathering place for believers to spend time rejuvenating their spirit and awakening their soul. It’s phenomenally produced, and it’s so overwhelming — both viscerally and emotionally — it melts the hardest hearts.
But if you record it and play it back? Man, it sure does look like a made-for-TV feature event.
The good thing is that the crew behind Passion Conferences (Louie Giglio, Chris Tomlin and the Passion City Church) are the ones setting the trends for modern day worship music, and as they’ve always stayed true to their mission, their integrity is solid. They’ve been doing it for almost two decades, and the sound has morphed and adapted to any worship and pop music trend, as it should. That’s part of their success. The songwriters dedicating their efforts to the cause (e.g. Chris Tomlin) are wunderkinds of melody and know the perfect combinations of word phrasing and business-sense.
But those songwriters and the annual conference separate themselves from the modern-day “Sunday morning” church service because that mission is to lead awakening in the hearts of young adults. As they write specifically with that mentality, they don’t waver, and the model is successful. The youth’s fervor bubbles up in the family, and, well, Chris Tomlin is currently the most sung artist in the world.
The Passion crew, on a typical tour, surprisingly doesn’t carry a huge entourage with them when they perform. I saw Chris Tomlin, Louie Giglio, et. al. at Creation Northeast last year, and when Chris Tomlin kicked his set off, there were only six people on stage. Granted, Passion is a much larger event with hubris and momentum from past years and the music echoes that need. But seeing it was a confirmation of the heart; they were dedicated to being prudent with their choices, not overwhelmingly or excessively spending for the sake of spending, knowing exactly what they needed to do while they were there, and brought what was necessary.
And then, in the next breath, they plan a $4 million tour, visiting 20-plus cities in 15 nations.
At the end of the day, that sounds a lot like my relationship with Coldplay. They feel down to earth despite being megafamous, like they’d perform a pub in England under a pseudonym for fun. That would be easy to do if you have the resources, but it’s important to remember Coldplay was always like that. And so is Passion. The problem is that it can breed a sound that starts to own you. When the expectation is to be the constant for the next generation, how do you retain artistic integrity? When does business stop and passion start?
There will always be a spot for pop music in praise and worship. In fact, religious hymns were probably the first etchings of pop. But with that crutch, the artists must work extra hard to be good for the sake of being good, not relying on a parachute to bail them out. As long as Passion keeps selling, I suppose the maxim “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But if the numbers didn’t matter and the artists could perform with that same crowd but without cell phones or cameras allowed? I bet that experience would look a little different. That’s how I feel when I listen to the live recordings on this record. It’s great for singing in your car. It’s great for a pick-me-up when you need an infectious melody to dwell on something positive. But underneath it all, as a musical endeavor, Passion gets a hall pass. Anyone who chooses to put songs on their own records, how will you change it and make it your own? What will be your contribution to the innovation of the Christian art community?