U2 just released the lead single off their upcoming album Songs of Experience (due December 1, 2017), and if the album is anything like the single, it’s going to be simply terrible.
Just as bad as the album before it, Songs of Innocence, released in 2014.
And just as bad as the album before that one, No Line on the Horizon, released in 2009.
Not since 2004, when the album released How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, 13 long years prior, has the band produced anything that reaches out and grabs you by the throat.
Don’t believe me? Name one song they’ve released in the last decade that you know by heart? That appeared as a track in a movie? That gained critical acclaim? That shaped the next ten years of a genre?
I think I know why.
The Demise of U2
Soon after songs like “Vertigo” forced their way into iPods and car stereos everywhere in 2004, Bono became one of the most famous people on the planet.
And one of the most ridiculed.
He began walking out of the halls of Congress and into the punch lines of late night comedians.
You tell me that didn’t affect him?
He’s human. Of course, it affected him.
Five years later they released No Line on the Horizon – their most sleep-inducing album to date.
Why did that happen? How did one of the greatest rock bands of all time produce a complete flop?
I believe it’s the same reason Senior Pastors stop being effective. U2 began asking the single most damning question any leader can ask, “Will people like this?”
In 2004, they released songs that grabbed you by the shoulders and demanded that you wake up and pay attention.
In 2009, they released songs that made people yawn.
“The best art divides the audience,” said the legendary record producer Rick Rubin.
Having shepherded such diverse, genre-defining artists as Jay-Z with his “99 Problems” to Adele’s 21, he understands what drives great music.
As Rubin stated in Ryan Holiday’s Perennial Seller,
“People want things that are really passionate. Often the best version is not for everybody. The best art divides the audience. If you put out a record and half the people who hear it absolutely love it and half the people who hear it absolutely hate it you’ve done well. Because it is pushing the boundary.”
The Lesson for Senior Pastors
Pastors, did you hear that? “If you put out a record and half the people who hear it absolutely love it and half the people who hear it absolutely hate it you’ve done well.”
Insert “sermon” or “vision” or “philosophy of ministry” or “leadership style” for the word “record” and see how that sounds.
“If you preach a sermon and half the people who hear it absolutely love it and half the people who hear it absolutely hate it you’ve done well.”
U2 used to be great BECAUSE Bono had a messiah complex. BECAUSE they started as a punk band and WANTED to tick you off. BECAUSE he stood up to American Christians who called themselves followers of Jesus but had abandoned those with Aids in Africa.
I want the old Bono back.
And your church wants the old you back.
Get away to the mountains with a Rick Rubin or two who can help you get your fire back and don’t come back till you do.
Most Senior Pastors I begin coaching tell me stories about how they used to be risk takers. They used to preach with boldness. They used to not care what bottom-feeding church hopping consumer Christians thought of their sermons.
And they had IMPACT because of it.
Yes, they divided their hearers. Some of their people weren’t too happy. They got criticized, received notes in the offering bowls, and got flame mails no Christian should ever have to read.
The opposite of creating division by pushing the boundaries with a timely message from a holy God is not congregational unity, but disobedience.
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).
The best sermons divide the audience.
The best mission statements cause some people to leave, and others to rally together.
The best leaders, worship, outreach, and a long list of other ministry activities – all have the same effect.
Have the guts to reach deep down inside and make a radical commitment to be your most authentic self.
Forget the critics.
Forget the crowd.
Forget wondering whether people will like what you’re doing.
Grab the world by the throat and watch what happens.