Music and art are strange creatures. Music is, by definition art, and one definition of art could be "the expression of human creative skill and imagination" as expressed in but not limited to poetry, literature, painting, dance and music. There are many different contexts in which art and music can be expressed, a gallery, concert hall, any public or private forum can be a place for human expression.
So where does our "human expression" fit in the context of the gathered church during "corporate worship"?. For centuries the church was seen as the purveyor of art, music, creativity. Churches were adorned with brilliant tapestries of human emotion and expression. Worship gatherings were places where musical masterpieces saw their debut. The church was on the cutting edge of "human expression" or "art", musical and visual.
One criticism of our current church culture is that we are putting out "art" that is sub-par and that does not measure up. Where the church used to be on the forefront of "art", "human expression", we are now lagging pitifully behind, typically 5-10 years within the church. We have created a sub-culture where we play follow the leader. Pick your favorite worship artist and play their most recent album at your church for corporate worship and three months later, pick your other favorite worship leader's/church album and play that album. Repeat every three months, over and over and over again.
No matter how musically or culturally relevant your favorite "worship artist" or "church band" is, we are still playing follow the leader and we will never actually create something new. Just another tried and true carbon copy of the last worship service in a different key.
Now another point. Is it the church's job to be on the forefront of culture, creating the most cutting edge and provocative art possible? Is it our job to be so relevant that Rolling Stone would place our favorite Christian or worship artists on the cover of their magazine? I would argue that while, it's a blessing to have Christian artists on the forefront of music and art in our culture, the job of the local church is to faithfully serve the "local church".
Worship leaders are not rock stars. Your job, my job is to point people to Jesus and not to ourselves and not to point people to our favorite worship leaders and Christian artists by substituting a faithful worship liturgy with the "Favorite" tab in our iTunes library. So often we tend to chose songs that make us sound better and elevate us as vocalists or instrumentalists under the guise of picking the right song so that we can "confidently lead" our churches during corporate worship. We chose songs that move us emotionally, thinking that since it moved us, since the song is loosely based off of a passage of scripture and it pops up as worship in the CCM database, it must be appropriate for "my church" and not considering the spiritual ramifications of choosing songs that just "move us" instead of serving our churches well, we serve ourselves as artists and feed our artistic desire for "self expression".
We need to choose worship songs that serve our church. Songs that are faithful to scripture, that challenge our congregations to think and that are relevant to our community and culture. Our job is not to repelicate Matt Maher's rock and worship road show or the most recent Hillsong concert. They are fantastic ministries that serve people and help them to see Jesus in the context of a rock concert. Just because they play their songs in their church doesn't necessarily mean that you should play them at yours. Worship leaders that play a particular church's or worship artist's music week in and week out for corporate worship and who draw from their iTunes or Spotify playlists can tend to chose songs as a fan and not as a pastor. They can tend to chose music without faithfully examining the lyrical and theological content of the songs and are not serving their churches nearly as well as they could be. Just because your church is lifting their hands and seems to be visibly responding, does not necessarily mean that your are serving them well in corporate worship gatherings with the right songs.
Your job and my job as we serve in our local churches as worship leaders and musicians is to help people see the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ in our gatherings, not to satisfy some unfulfilled dream of being rockstars. If that's what you want, go play shows, sell your music and get a record deal(nothing at all wrong with any of that!) but don't bring those ambitions to your local church. Let's help people see Jesus tomorrow, not ourselves.