Here’s a candid moment for you. I continue to wrestle with a tension (that will never go away), which I have experienced from day one of establishing an online presence in preparation for the release of The Glad Sound.
My goal for this album and any future ones (Lord-willing) is much less about promoting my own music and much more about being part of a movement with an agenda. The hymns movement is a grass roots campaign to influence modern worship to regain much of what it has lost—historical rootedness in the biblical depths of ancient hymns. And I believe God is behind this. As I read the Scriptures, I know God desires to be worshiped in reverence and awe. To Him is due the loftiest of thoughts, praises, and admiration. I believe the hymns movement is a necessary piece of the puzzle of modern worship. This is where my heart bleeds, and it is THE reason I’ve produced this record. If I did not think God cared about this movement and the positive impact it would have on His worship, I wouldn’t have wasted my time doing this.
It has been made abundantly clear to me, given the culture I live in, that to achieve these goals, I must “market myself” in a sea of loud voices. This means I must promote myself and continually place my personality, thoughts, and ideas before people. I need to talk about this “great thing” that I’m doing. I need to take pictures. I need to encourage others (individuals, corporations with audiences and media outlets) that who I am and what I’m doing should be appreciated, talked about, and shared with others. I need to convince people that I’m unique and worth people’s time. Need…need…need. “Need” should be in quotes.
At the same time, I’m a follower of Jesus. And He teaches, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). The apostle John reports a similar but even more poignant statement: “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25). Elsewhere, Jesus said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). One of the most glorious passages of Scripture (which my 4-year old has nearly memorized!), says:
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself…” (Philippians 2:1-11).
How does modern self-promotion and marketing meld with Christian self-denial? There’s a tension here. And it’s the classic “in the world, not of the world” tension. Some would say this is a contradiction: one cannot promote oneself and yet heed Christ’s command to deny oneself. I think it’s less black and white. Promoting oneself is not wrong by necessity. Paul promotes himself (2 Corinthians 12:11…I’m aware that he simultaneously says “I am nothing”). But his self-promotion in that and other instances is for a greater purpose, be it to illustrate a theological point or to set himself up as an example of godly behavior so that others might have a tangible reference point. Ultimately, as with many other issues, this comes down to the heart. What is the motive behind the self-promotion?
I think these things, for honest Christ-followers, start out pretty innocent but that the heart, gone unchecked, reaches an idolatry tipping point, when all the self-promotion goes to one’s head (really, goes to one’s heart). I find myself having to frequently heed the Spirit’s whispers, “Be careful here, Zac.” So, yes, instances like last night where I’m walking around downtown Denver with my friend, posing for shots for my “artist portfolio,” do (and should) make me feel a bit uncomfortable. And I think the discomfort is a divine grace, a heart-check.
For all you Christian artists, business people, authors, and anyone else who, out of cultural necessity, promote yourselves so that God’s kingdom objectives might be achieved, my encouragement is to tread forward, but tread forward as one would traverse a pathway littered with broken glass. Move forward in prayer. Move forward with a team of people from whom you invite regular input, questions, and checks and balances.
I don’t think the tension will ever go away. God help us if it does.