Matt sent in this question:
I recently came across a message board where folks were discussing secular songs that could be done to make “seekers” feel more comfortable at church. Some folks mentioned that they had been to church’s where song such as: “She Will be Loved” by Maroon 5, “Your Body is a Wonderland” by John Mayer (that Sunday’s service was about sexuality), lots of U2, etc. I’m really interested to hear your thoughts about doing songs like these. Should we seek to evangelize during our times of worshiping God through singing corporately?
There are three ways I want to respond to Matt’s question.
First, the idea that we should make “seekers” feel more comfortable in church begs for further clarification. We should make sure that unbelievers can understand what’s going on in our meetings, and that we’re not doing anything to make them feel unwelcome. But it’s not our responsibility to make sure they’re “comfortable.” The church is different from the world. We’ve gathered to build each other up by rehearsing and celebrating the Gospel, calling to mind God’s covenant promises, confess our sins, exercise spiritual gifts, and much more. “To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7). I wouldn’t expect someone who doesn’t know the Savior to be totally comfortable in that setting. Our primary goal is to make sure that unbelievers have the opportunity to encounter in some way the grace and truth of God revealed in Jesus Christ, expressed through his church.
Second, singing/playing popular secular songs on Sunday mornings can have a number of effects, some good, some not so good. What are people hearing as these songs are being played? Are they thinking, “Wow, these Christians really relate to me?” Or are they thinking, “Gee, I never knew Christians listen to the same kind of music I do. We’re really not that different!” Or are they thinking, “Why are these Christians trying to act so much like me? I was hoping they could provide some answers to my problems.” Or maybe, “Why do I come to church to hear second-rate versions of songs I listen to? Why don’t they sing about something has changed their lives, rather than something I already know?” Hard to say. I certainly have no idea why someone would sing John Mayer’s “Your Body is a Wonderland” on a Sunday morning. Here’s a portion:
We got the afternoon, you got this room for two
One thing I’ve left to do, discover me discovering you
And if you want love we’ll make it
Swim in a deep sea of blankets
Take all your big plans and break ’em
This is bound to be awhile
Your body is a wonderland
Your body is a wonder (I’ll use my hands)
Your body is a wonderland
If reading those words seems awkward here, imagine what it would sound like if they’re sung when the church of Jesus Christ gathers. Sexuality is a gift from God to be celebrated within the covenant of marriage. “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled” (Heb. 13:4). This song doesn’t accomplish those goals. There’s no sense that this is a husband singing to his wife, and
even if it was, it wouldn’t be appropriate for a multiple generation congregation. Also, prior associations people can have with the song make it even problematic. Seems like it would be much better to simply reference the words and comment on them.
Third, Matt asks if we should seek to evangelize non-Christians during our times of corporate worship. Absolutely. Is playing songs by U2 or other popular artists the best way to do that? No. Evangelism involves proclaiming the gospel – the good news that Christ died in our place for our sins to reconcile us to God. Evangelism should be the natural overflow of a group of Christians who are passionately, clearly, and compellingly extolling the greatness of God and his mercy in Jesus Christ – not trying to sound like the world. That doesn’t mean we can never use a popular song to make a specific point in a meeting. Or that it isn’t wise at times to reference what the world is singing. But there are dangers in making singing secular songs on a Sunday morning a regular practice. Songs speak not only through their lyrics but through the associations people make with them. We should be very intentional about the use of popular songs, and our motive should be to communicate truth, not simply to be “relevant” or attract more people. If we’re not careful, the means we use to draw others will hinder them from hearing the very message that could set them free.
For more on this topic, download the following free recordings from the Sovereign Grace Music site:
Planning Sundays by Devon Kauflin, Matt Boswell, and Jon Payne
Putting Songs Together by Bob Kauflin
I agree that one of the main problems with the proposal is the goal to make “seekers more comfortable.” But I wonder what changes when that’s not the goal. I can see other reasons to utilize, or reference, a “secular” song. In my personal experience, I used a little-known Jonatha Brooke song “Because I Told You So” to talk about the difficulty of feeling loved and accepting the idea that we’re loved, even by the most significant people in our lives, and how that difficulty is similar to the difficulty of feeling loved by God. I can see how some of the lyrics could be confused if not given the context (people thinking the song is directly about God’s love for people, rather than about a human relationship), but that doesn’t seem ultimately problematic.
I personally have used “secular” songs in a “worship service” but have been very selective in them and how I plan on using them. I see them, not as an opportunity to be cool, or to relate and be relevant to non-Christians (although that can happen), I treat them in the same manner that a pastor preaching would with a story. It is an analogy, or an illustration of a point. And with music can come different emotional responses that may not come out in telling a story. I think when that secular music is used, with that idea in mind, and the lyrics are not against God, the musicians are right in their motives, that at that time that song has transcended its secularism and has become, in that moment and at that time, sacred. Given for the glory of God.
I do think that churches can, and do use secular music in services though, and I am not always convinced it is for a greater point than being cool. Which is sad.
That is what I feel at least.
Bob, what a wonderful, Gospel-focused answer. We are called to proclaim the most glorious message of all time.
This is so helpful. Thank you.
I do think secular music (or more frequently) secular lyrics can be a powerful illustration of the world-view of a culture.
It just seems as though there must be a crystal clear distinction between what we are presenting to illustrate the culture we live in and what we are doing as a part of worship. As self-evident as that might seem to some of us it is anything but self-evident in our culture. The very heart of post-modernism is the marginalizing of objective truth. To someone coming from that context it would seem completely reasonable to think worship using lyrics completely divorced from truth are just as valid as expressions of worship as the Bible. It seems to me our calling in such a context is to help people revel in the distinctiveness of real truth, rather than in any way blur the lines further.
So good, thank you!
Bravo, Bob! That is precisely the answer I would have given Matt. I loved the one point you made concerning what might go through an unbeliever’s head if he heard secular songs in a church service. None of them are good or very Christ exalting. I think the counsel you have given here is wise.
Hi Bob, I liked the way you addressed that question, it was very well balanced. Good answer!
I once did ‘There is a Green Hill Far Away’ to the tune of ‘House of The Rising Sun’. It was an informal event, nevertheless some people were deeply offended. And come to think about it, I don’t think anyone actually told me they liked it – Oops!
More lately, I adapted Neil Diamond’s ‘I’m a Believer’, using it as a “shake the sleep off song”, at the beginning of a Sunday Morning Worship set. I adapted the words to be more of a testimony. It’ll never carry the weight of songs like Amazing Grace, but I have had good reports and even requests for it.
However, all that said, while I embrace the contemporary sound in worship, I do get uncomfortable with the term ‘Seeker Friendly’. To me it speaks of compromise with the world, and as you mentioned, let the seeker see the difference. My veiwpoint is – Make the service ‘God Friendly’, let’s welcome Him into our meetings, let’s praise and exalt Him and extol His virtues. Then when the unsaved come into our meetings, His presence will be enough to minister to the seeker. And as you rightly said, not forgetting to explain why we worship the way we do.
Amen,amen,amen!!!! Thanks, Bob, for this thoughtful, insightful, biblical response.
Agreed. What we win them with, is what we win them to. Let the power of the Gospel and the wooing of the Spirit be the draw – we are noting making converts – its not enough to fill our pews with people who like the music we play – we are called to make disciples. Before I end – I also believe that the sovereign Spirit of God can call for the use of unorthodox methods specifically. Its about obedience and discernment… even when its breaking a few rules. So they are exceptions… but they are rare – by definition.
It really depends on the song and whether or not it is a song for worship or for use in teaching. “The Cat’s in the Cradle” would be appropriate in combination with a message on parenting. The background of the song is also important to me. I wouldn’t enjoy singing “My Sweet Lord” because I know that George Harrison was refering to Krishna and not to Jesus. There was a movement in church Christmas musicals a few years ago to include secular Christmas songs. I thought it worked in some of the musicals but didn’t in others. When it comes to worship services I agree that it should be God friendly and for believers. I think the greatest invention for carnal Christians was the seeker sensitive, conviction free service. Jesus, bleeding and naked on a cross is not exactly seeker sensitive, but it saved my wretched soul.
I’m also very conscious that, like particular smells, songs can stir up vivid memories and past experiences. Our flesh is constantly at war within us to distract and pull our attention off of Christ. I know that I connect songs with specific times, experiences and people in my past. All it takes is to hear a particular melody and I’m instantly transported back to that point in my life. While this could be a good thing, there are many situations that I don’t want to recall, especially as the church is gathered worship the Lord. If the mind is the watchman of the soul, then lets fill it with things that draw our attention to the Savior. “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”
Excellent post. :)
I agree that our goal as a church in a church service is not to make the seeker comfortable, but to bring glory to God…
I have seen Lifehouse’s ‘Everything’ sung as a special song.. to great effect going w/ the message.
Also, during praise & worship, we have sung U2’s ‘Gloria’ and ’40’ on occasion…
But the goal is always to maximize our glorification of God, not making people comfortable.
Thanks for the great post.
When God has given us such gifted writers and worship leaders such as Bob and others at Sovereign Grace, as well as the many other solid, committed Christ-centered worship leaders and composers, why would we possibly need to stoop to using music of those who did not write their music out of love for the Savior. Thank you Bob.
I highly recommend reading Bob DeWay’s book, “Redefining Christianity”.
Since no one knows who you are, it would be helpful to give us a few reasons as to why you think reading “Redefining Christianity” would be a good idea.
Bob, I absolutely agree with your answer and appreciate the consistency with which you address these types of questions.
In reference to the other commenters. I don’t want to sound like a jerk here, but I see no reason whatsoever to sing a secular song in a CORPORATE WORSHIP service. I am really discourage by how many posted comments about the secular music they used in church. I am not opposed to secular music as a whole. I listen to it frequently, but what can a lost man who cannot understand the things of God add to a service that’s intent should be to edify believers and exalt Christ. How does waking someone up with “I’m a believer” exalt Christ? I would say it would be impossible to find someone who associates that song with worship. Maybe nostalgia and emotion, but shouldn’t we be directing emotion by pointing people to the Cross instead of just feeding nostalgia?
Also, I don’t want to hear a second rate version of a song by Maroon Five or U2.
Are you playing those “Beatles” songs to your “rap” music again?!
Seriously though – thanks for that great insight, Dr. Bob. While I agree with just about everything you posted and certainly I believe you spoke to the heart of the matter re: Matt’s question, I believe there’s an underlying question before we can even answer his original one: what qualifies as sacred vs. secular, or is there even a distinction?
For the sake of brevity, I’ll suggest we presuppose that there is validity to the terms sacred and secular. If there’s pushback on that, you can always talk about it in another post. That being said, I think it’s helpful to define these terms in any discussion using them as my connotation of sacred may be very different than another person’s.
One example which I can look back on now as fairly amusing is the song, “Above All.” There was a time, at least in this humble, less big-brainy music guy’s life, where I and many of my now-repentant compatriots gleefully cheered our congregations on in bouncing this particular tune off the rafters. I can still remember when an almost palpable shadow fell over the Reformed (note the big R) community as the little seminarian pointed and cried, “The emperor has no theological underpinnings in the last sentence of the chorus!!!” Until then, I had held to the belief that old choruses never die, they just fade away… no longer. What a strange, slow-motion-train-wreck thing to behold.
All joking aside, I no longer use the song in worship because it doesn’t meet the standard I consider to be “sacred.” Even though 90%+ of the song is good, the remaining sentence, which is really the cornerstone of the lyrics, points us in what could too easily be construed as a wrong direction.
On the flip side, some of us (I won’t mention any bloggers’ names… cough) are a bit guilty of beating the “U2 ain’t worship” drum. And I don’t disagree. However, I would just as quickly follow up with the belief that much of what we hear on Christian radio doesn’t fall in the “sacred” category for me either. I love living in Atlanta for many reasons, one being they’ve got some excellent gospel stations to listen to. Unfortunately, some of those songs are rife with wrong theology. In addition, some of the CCM I manage to expose myself to is so poorly, vaguely worded, that it frankly wouldn’t surprise me if Jars Of Clay or Aerosmith wrote it.
In fact, I’d venture to say there are some Aerosmith songs that would work better (if you could pull them out of the context they’re mired in) as worship songs than some of the contemporary “Christian” singer/songwriters handiwork being doled out on the airwaves. Who can say what Steven Tyler was “really” trying to communicate when he wrote “Amazing” or “Living On The Edge?” Know who wrote these lyrics?
Now I’m suspended between my darkest fears and dearest hope
Yes I’ve been walking, now I’m hanging from a dead man’s rope
With Hell below me, and Heaven in the sky above
I’ve been walking, I’ve been walking away from Jesus’ love
The shadows fall around my bed
When the hand of an angel,
The hand of an angel is reaching down above my head
All this wandering has led me to this place
Inside the well of my memory, sweet rain of forgiveness
Now I’m walking in his grace
I’m walking in his footsteps
Walking in his footsteps,
Walking in his footsteps
Give up? That’d be Sting. Or how about my personal favorite: one of the more morbid heavy-metal folksingers to come our way, Warren Zevon, claimed before he died to have been a Christian most of his life. Now I’m not about to play Excitable Boy for the offertory. But I hope this much-lengthier-than-intended comment serves the point I was trying to make, which is this: as we seek to separate the musical sheep from the goats, let’s try to know with greater clarity what sheep look and smell like (well, maybe skip the smell… trust me, you don’t want to know).
I dont think using a secular song for the actual “worship” time is not something I would do in my own church. I would include it sometime during the service though. Having a popular song during your service in my opinion could be very beneficial to people and will help them connect with their church. Maybe the people will come back just becasue of that song.. but I know it is bound to step on someones toes. So I do think it can work, but it has to be done in the right congregation and in the right setting.
An excellent word on such a sensitive issue. The church where I formerly led worship in Charlotte, NC was and is a church that chose to incorporate secular tunes in the worship (most of you would know the name if I said it). But after awhile I began asking those same types of questions. Questions like, “What are the connotations that accompany this song in the minds of my listeners?” It wasn’t until a man in my church, a baby Christian, asked me my opinion on it that I began to soul-search myself. In a completely vulnerable moment, he confessed to me how his hearing a Red Hot Chili Peppers song one Sunday completely cut off any chance of his ability to worship that day. As images from the band’s popular music video played over and over again in his mind, the opportunity for genuine worship to take place was stifled in his heart. Sure, maybe there were a few seekers who connected with it. But for my friend who was struggling in his faith to walk with Christ in a more intimate way, the struggle was neither helped nor lightened that day. As soon as he said that, I realized the importance of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:6, “But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me—it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea!”
In that moment, I realized that the Atlantic Ocean and a boulder around my neck would have been better for me.
I think that by adding secular songs to a worship service is a cheap and easy way of becoming all things to all people. Yes, worship service should be seeker friendly but that doesn’t mean playing familiar secular songs. I appreciate your comments and views on this topic. It’s important to remember that in our worship music we should be focused on praising God and not individuals.
We once spun out a version of “Can’t you see” what was that, a Marshal Tucker Band song, but it was What my Jesus is doin’ for me. It was after Saturday night service, and people were just up front and worshiping after the close of service. At that point, no one minded, but on a Sunday morning, as the first song, I’m not sure.
I’ve also sang Amazing Grace to the tune of House of the Rising Sun a couple times at karaoke, nothing like bringing Jesus into a bar on a friday night.
I would agree with Mr. Kauflin that the Gospel must be the center of our worship service. This does not mean that we cannot focus on other aspects of God, but the Gospel is the basis of what Christianity is about. I don’t feel that we are supposed to make non-Christians “comfortable,” but rather welcome. They should not feel like they do not belong. The Gospel message was for everyone, not those who already believe. If the Gospel is the center of our worhsip service, then we essentially have the evangelistic aspects of the service covered.
i do think that secular songs sometimes have an impact on the society in which the gospel is ministering to, so we must address them, but i dont necessarily think that (in the worship format) secular songs should be used; unless they are obviously highly influenced by Christianity. So secular songs have their place, but i dont think they should be used in any way as worship songs. but maybe in the background of a video shown in service or something of that type, but nothing so upfront that they take away from the real meaning of the meeting.
I appreciate Eric’s comparison of many modern Christian artists’ lyrics with those of secular musicians. Does anyone else think some of these Christians are speaking to their girlfriend rather than to God? And beyond the “who” of our worship, we must carefully examine the “why”. Are we meeting to for a time of personal worship so I can feel better, so I can tell God what I feel? Or is our corporate worship meant to edify the body and to lift one another up. Bob nicely addresses this issue in his recent post “Addressing One Another in Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs,” and I must agree with the focus our Christian worship needs to convey: the gospel message presented to praise God and offer spirit-filled worship. Secular songs seem to invoke emotion-filled “worship” and nothing more.
I think a drastic was used in the example of a secular song being sang on Sunday. If it were a song like that, then I would say that was not appropriate but if we are still careful with the secular songs we use, I think it can be really powerful. My church uses secular songs often. The latest one I can think of is “Standing Outside the Fire” by Garth Brooks. It was one of the most powerful services I have ever been to! The point of the message was the key part of the song “Life is not tried it is merely survived if you’re standing outside the fire.” Just that line, I am sure you can see the significance and power. I have not forgot that service because of that song and when I hear it on the radio, it takes me back to that message. I think we need to be wise with what songs we choose, but to just say secular is bad, I think is inaccurate.
I really like the way that you answered this question in 3 parts I agree with the second part when you are talking about all the different questions. We as Christians are called to be aliens and strangers in the world and those that don’t believe in God should be different then us, I think that some secular music can be tolerated however, but John Mayer’s song would not be one of them. We should try and make them feel welcome and I agree with you in that aspect, but music can definitely have a positive affect on people.
This seems like a very debatable and intersting topic, and I was actually shocked to find that some of those songs were being played during worship on Sundays. Do you think God would really be glorfied with those lyrics from John Mayer? I think not, and I also agree that it’s not up to us to make people comfortable(as harsh as that may sound). We want unbelievers to know that the one true God of the Universe loves them, not that His loves is watered down to make guests and others feel more at peace? I don’t think that is the answer at all, people are constantly wondering what they’re purpose is in this life and if what they’re doing here on Earth is worth anything, always having questions. That is what the church should be all about, drawing others together and showing the love of Christ how it should be showed, not through secular music. My view could be argued but I’m pretty conservative about it all anyway.
Thought i’d post a quote i found within a nifty ministry site’s material by A.W. Tozer:
“It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it.”
We need to be careful about the reasons we do music in church. I for one don’t want to bring the world into the church – I thought we were to go in to the world! If I’m trying to do music to be relevant, then who am I doing this for – me or Him? We are to be in the world but not of the world. Our music for worship is to be for God and God alone.
Your three ways of addressing Matt’s question is biblically well done. On a Sunday morning, we should be more concerned about making sure unbelievers have the chance to see the see the truth and mercy God reveals through Jesus and us rather than making sure we entertain them with music we think they admire. I guess if a secular song can help an individual see how truly good God is and stirs a hunger in their soul to do something about it, then great. Perhaps using a secular song on a Sunday morning is effective. But the questions that are posed regarding what an unbeliever thinks when hearing a familiar secular song makes the utilizing of that song for the service not so effective. “Gee, I never knew Christians listen to the same kind of music I do. We’re really not that different!” Or, “Why are these Christians trying to act so much like me? I was hoping they could provide some answers to my problems.” Rather than playing a secular song, it would probably be more effective to reference the words and comment on them.
I guess that my biggest concerns would be this: there is no such thing as a “seeker” (Rom 3:11) so we can’t cater to them, and secondly, worship is designed to be to GOD’s taste not anyone elses whether it is on Sunday morning or Tuesday afternoon, and He is not silent about how to worship Him. The Church is in grave error when she believes that she determines what is acceptable in worship and turns her back on the affirmation “Sola Scriptura” – Scripture Alone dictates life, faith, and practice in the Church. The first two commandments define worship: worship the right God, and worship Him in the right way… secular songs don’t belong in worship services.
Justin- great post, and it also raises other Q’s, like “how can we know what forms of worship are acceptable to God in the Church?”, or, “if there is a worship style that is not acceptable to God what would it look like?”. Or is there any great importance attached to what outward forms our inward expressions are taking?
What I mean is this: The main issue of this thread (discussing the use of the secular in the context of the sacred) probably has at its root the underlying question of “what is the worship service anyway?” And before we can arrive at any meaningful conclusion to the former, we must properly understand the answer(s) to the latter.
So, if it can be determined what is actually happening in a New Covenant worship service, then reaching a reasonable and God-honoring conclusion to this and many other questions will be more focused towards that purpose, and the conclusions will be much more satisfying.
Just for some context, let me just say that I spent years (10)leading worship in a fairly charismatic Church and years (9)in a SGBC Church, and am now a pastor in a reformed congregation. I was also involved with CCM, albeit in the hard rock/metal/funk ghetto!
This is a very interesting topic. While I agree for the most part that secular music should not be used in a worship gathering, I think some rare exceptions can be made. Some bands like Lifehouse I would not entirely consider secular. They bagan leading worship at the Malibu Vineyard and their music is still considered somewhat Christian. I agree that the church should not be seeker-sensitive in one sense bcause It should be more sensitive to biblical commands concerning worship and to the Holy Spirit. However, there is a sense I think where there’s this whole bit about mercy and justice and I think part of that is trying to keep ourselves from having a condescending demeanor when it comes to dealing with people who are lost. That’s what Jesus did. He taught people what was right and wrong and He also had sinners for friends. I guess what I’m trying to say is that maybe in those rare instances where we find a song that we feel comfortable using in a corporate gathering. I will give and example. there is a worship artist that I listen to who has written a couple of somewhat popular worship songs. Back in the early 90s, after he had been singing for a while, he went out on his wife. He has since repented and is singing and writing songs again. Knowing this and choosing a song written by him, I think is one way of saying that we are able to look past someone’s faults and see what God sees. Anyway, I’m sure there are alot more examples than that, but I just wanted to say that.
You know, this is very interesting. And I whole-heartedly believe that secular music should NOT be used during services. I think you’ve covered all of the reasons why, and I agree with you. I do think however, that secular music can be good to use in a small group/Sunday school setting. I’ve used it with a class of high-schoolers for the purpose of playing it alongside Christian music and paralleling worldly values with those we are called as Christians to hold.
I do think however, that secular music can be good to use in a small group/Sunday school setting. I’ve used it with a class of high-schoolers for the purpose of playing it alongside Christian music and paralleling worldly values with those we are called as Christians to hold.
Comment by Tiffany — March 5, 2008 @ 10:23 pm
Tiffany, I teach youth Grade 6-9 and I use that same idea about once a month. Can you tell me names of songs you have used?
I think that the original poster Bob is a silly man. It is as though someone asked if it is appropriate to show clips of films during a church service and Bob cited a porno film, ofcourse you shouldn’t glorify sex outside of marriage, but look at Hamburg Song by Keane:
I don’t wanna be adored
Don’t wanna be first in line
Or make myself heard
I’d like to bring a little light
To shine a light on your life
To make you feel loved
No, don’t wanna be the only one you know
I wanna be the place you call home
I lay myself down
To make it so, but you don’t want to know
I give much more
Than I’d ever ask for
Will you see me in the end
Or is it just a waste of time
Trying to be your friend
Just shine, shine, shine
Shine a little light
Shine a light on my life
And warm me up again
Fool, I wonder if you know yourself at all
You know that it could be so simple
I lay myself down
To make it so, but you don’t want to know
You take much more
Than I’d ever ask for
Say a word or two to brighten my day
Do you think that you could see your way
To lay yourself down
And make it so, but you don’t want to know
You take much more
Than I’d ever ask for
….Tell me that wouldn’t be appropriate for a church service.
Many of our favorite hymns are written to popular bar tunes. The Wesley brothers often did this to make songs easier to learn, and to break down barriers between the churched and the unchurched. The same can be done today with secular songs with appropriate lyrics, and with secular songs with rewritten lyrics.
If used in the proper manner for sermon content, a secular song could be good in a sermon. But as Bob stated, the audience could take it totally out of context and it could greatly offend “regulars”, scare off potential “new members” and attract people for the “wrong reasons”. There is a whole slew of good and bad possibilities that come along with using secular music and whichever way the Worship leader chooses to go, prayer should always be sought first before a decision and then it should be incorporated into the sermon with Christian songs-and thoroughly explained if and when used.
The goal here is for edification of the whole body. There are “secular” songs out there that portray Christian themes stronger and better than most “Christian” songs I know. Regardless if the song is “secular” or “Christian”, if it is not used in the right way you are in trouble anyway. Edification is the goal.
I was able to relate to this post, for a Christian youth conference I attended in high school, I heard some secular songs playing that caught me off guard. I asked the same question Bob did in his second point: “What are people hearing as these songs are being played?” The songs were partly instrumental, cutting out verses or various portions of the songs. I figured the unchurched youth hearing these songs would think, “Typical Christians, wanting our music but editing out half the song.” I was caught off guard and personally convicted in knowing the words that were edited and that these songs were being played, edited or not, in the church.
Relating to Bob’s final paragraph, I knew not only the lyrics to these songs but also what people associated with them. I was embarrassed that these songs in all their words and underlying innuendos were playing.
The most convicting and constructive statement made by Bob is that every aspect of our services, not just the music, should be used to communicate truth. I believe all of us in the church, especially those involved in planning and carrying out, should keep this in mind.
Well Bob, you did it again, the idea of playing secular music in church is interesting. It seems as though context is the answer to whether the song is appropriate. Of course, certain songs, all with explicitives would be out of the question, unless of course, you are in some new age church that doesn’t have a problem with cussing (Cussing and still being a Christian – an issue which I stand on the fence personally).
Anyways, I strongly believe that if a worship team in a mature congregation properly addresses the reason for playing a secular song, the congregation should be able to listen to it and find the value that the team intended. Of course, most churches are made up of a variety of people with differing maturities, so listening to a secular song would mostly be distracting.
I believe that “secular” can be interpreted in many ways, especially in reference to music. In some ways, I feel like God could view even a worship/Christian song as secular if it were sung with the wrong motives. In the same way, I believe that singing a “secular” song with good, pure lyrics can please and glorify Him. As far as boundaries and crossing the line, I think that songs like “Your Body is a Wonderland” is pretty clearly an “off-limits” song for the church. It’s slightly amusing and ridiculous to me to think about a congregation singing that song together in church, as if that exalts God in any way….? Weird.
However, there are some songs like “Everything” by Lifehouse that completely relate to a Christian’s relationship with Christ. I believe singing that or something similar with the right heart and the right attitude blesses God and can bring a congregation of believers and non-believers alike together in a setting of worship.
Needless to say, God is bigger than any box we may try to fit Him in and is capable of using anything to reveal His glory so just one caution… Remember the the last seven words of a dying church. “We’ve never done it that way before!”
With that said, in an outreach setting secular songs are sometimes the best way to illustrate the human condition. As special music, clearly separated from the act of worship in a church setting, secular music can set the scene. It can work as long as the motivation is God centered and the song illustrates the focus of the Word.
During worship, inside a church on a Sunday morning, Id have to agree that secular songs can trigger past memories and distract people away from the intimacy of what great worship can be. Tread lightly. In this setting, anything that tugs people away from the worship dynamic is never good. Secular music is just one example of this. Lack of skill, tuning problems, poor sound, cheer leading, lack of adequate rehearsal time can be equally injurious to a worship setting. I sometimes wish there would be as much outrage about these things as the use of secular music in church. But thats for another day.
Have any of you ever listened to U2? It’s Christian music through and through. Geez, I think it’s hard to separate the spiritual and the secular. It’s easier to define what’s “religious,” but who wants that?
I was recently asked to start leading worship at my church, and it’s a little daunting because the worship music has been so bad and totally stale that about half the church doesn’t show up until after worship is over.
Now, I’m a pastor’s kid, home-schooled every grade, a ‘lifer’ Christian- I’m 24 years old and have never strayed, with a pretty long, impressive christian resume, blah blah blah. But I’m really getting scared because I look around and see a scarce amount of people my age in church. Could it have anything to do with our religious approach to our services? The way we’ve made being a Christian a chore, all about works and appearances and a weekly check-in-the-box? And honestly my religion is one of the most radical out there, so I can’t imagine the 20-something attendance in a stricter church!
So I say, hey, dang it, if it takes us leading worship with some songs from the ‘secular’ radio because christian music is completely lacking in depth and creativity nowadays, then go for it, as long as the song is clean lyrically. If you remember, the original Christians were fearless, ground-breaking and exciting! Hello!!!?! What the heck happened people?!?!
Some of you sound like the pharisees of old, who were constantly concerned with appearances! What is this about, your personal agenda to obtain holiness? Let me tell you, the young people who are bothering you with wanting some little changes in your ministry outreach plan are the future members- or NON-members- of your church. Don’t put them down, be a little more open to new ideas please!!! They’re disappearing!!! I’m hurting for members of my own family who are around my age also and are leaving the church…my brother, my sisters, my cousins!
It is and has always been about the Message, let’s keep it that way and get it out there no matter how we have to do it.
So glad you stopped by. I really appreciate your desire to reach your generation. But I wanted to respond to a few of your points.
If it really is about the Message, and I agree with you that it is, then how we communicate that message makes a difference. HOW we reach people and what we reach them WITH are crucial questions. What you win people “with” is generally what you win them “to.” If your family and friends aren’t coming to the church any more, secular music isn’t the “bait” that we want to use to draw them back in. Our lives are meant to display the gospel OUTSIDE our meetings (1 Pet. 2:11-12; 3:15-16) so that people will be drawn to find out what we do INSIDE our meetings.
Evangelism isn’t simply feeding back to the world what the latest non-Christian musicians are writing and producing. We have better songs to sing, and better reasons to sing (Ps. 98:1). We also have a higher standard than “clean lyrics.” We want to help people focus on the greatness of God’s glory in Christ as we sing. I think you’re overstating the case when you say that “christian music is completely lacking in depth and creativity.” While that may apply to much of what’s out there, there are certainly plenty of great songs to draw from.
In other words, it’s a little more nuanced than you’re making it sound, which is why I wrote the post in the first place. Let’s continue to reach out to the lost aggressively without compromising what God has called us to do when we gather to worship his glorious name.
Hope that’s helpful.
Wow, one question so many answers. Here’s the conclusion that I as a worship pastor have come to through prayer, scripture and listening. Worship is a lifestyle not a type of music. Worship isn’t a beat or a tempo. It’s about facing the cross and loving the One that loved us first. I really don’t believe that God created music as an evil thing. In fact I’m pretty sure He didn’t. Music has become what man has made of it some good some bad. This is how I approach it.
During our worship(music) we sing praise and worship songs. Songs that lift up God not man. However we also use seclur music as a part of the message not the worship. For example our pastor presented a message on wasting time, what are you doing with the time God has given you. For the itro into the message we did “Sitting on a Dock in the Bay” by Otis Redding.
This was significant in two ways. One it gave an audible and visual (props were used) prospective to what was going to be talked about. The second was the fact that Mr. Redding Died shortly after writing the song. ie. he had wasted his time. Would the song have been appropriate for worship NO but it was completely appropriate for the message God wanted His church to hear. People are dying and going to Hell everyday while we worry about what is sacred and secular, in a way we are wasting time. Style which is what we are all talking about is only revelant when your trying to reach a certain group of people, it has nothing to do with worship. I prefer Contemporary/modern worship but I can visit my granfathers tradidional church and worship just as completely as I do at my own. think about it…
Bob, Thanks for this post. I remember reading it last year when you first wrote it. One question was posed to me recently which brought me back here to see if you could help. What do you think about using secular songs but changing around some words to change the focus? I read the one comment by Steve where he said the Wesley brothers used familar tunes with new words. This particular case deals with a worship leader “tweaking” the words to a secular song so that they can use it in church. Any thoughts?
Thanks for reading a post twice! Great question and it’s hard to answer without knowing the context. In most cases I’d say that tweaking a few words doesn’t do anything do distinguish the church from the world, and the associations people make with the song will still be there. Besides, it’s illegal.
Reading these 50 some comments has been interesting and enlightening.
I find some of the comments to this question simply amazing!
Unfortunately – not in a good way!
So much has been said…
… – to anyone who gets to the bottom of this page, and reads this comment – well done. You have endured a multitude of remarks. I hope you have found it as enlightening as I have!
My favorite comment has been from ‘Tiffany’. I am encouraged to know that someone like this is reading Bob’s blog! I hope it benefits her.
Well done Bob for encouraging her and noting that her passion for reaching her generation is admirable. But Tiffany, please take note when Bob suggests to you that the way you have proposed to do this is NOT the way to go about it. I pray that your passion becomes honed and directed toward a more fruitful path.
I am 24 also. May I say, I am not perfect (ask my wife). I am a sinner… but I am a sinner saved! I am redeemed by the precious blood of Christ.
What keeps me close to God? What brings me back when I am tempted, and stray? – it is the grace of God – the work of His Holy Spirit, and the power of the gospel in my life.
i.e – it is not the music, and it is certainly not secular music.
WE NEED THE WORD OF GOD!! – THE GOSPEL!!! this is what will transform the lives of the next generation… and this is what will keep them strong in their walk with God.
TO GOD BE THE GLORY GREAT THINGS HE HAS DONE.
anyway – to end with….
my next favorite comment is Bob’s. I love the ‘dryness’ by finishing a resonse saying:
“… besides, … it’s illegal”.
You probably didn’t even mean it in that way, bob. – you are far to caring – but I love that kind of humour. Perhaps it is the brit in me! (No one else get it? – never mind).
Hellooooo! Is there anybody out there that cares what God has said. Our opinions will not change what His word says. Do you love what God loves and hate what God hates? Unless the song was written for the Lord to give Him praise, not for entertaining people, then it should not be played in His house. Why would you want it to anyway? I use to listen to secular music, when I was living for myself. Hearing that kind of music did not bring me to him, but after I did give my heart to him, my life changed, so has the music I listen to. Secular music belongs in the world, not in the place where we worship our Lord. Is that His house or ours?
It is actually illegal to change the words of a song and use it in a public format without receiving permission to do so from the owner of the song. We used to sing “Above All” and change the last line of the chorus to try and correct the theological issue, but then I read that it was truly illegal to do so. So now we just don’t sing it.
I appreciate you messaging back. I do understand that it is illegal. I was not suggesting that it was not (I think sometimes communication in ‘text format’ can be misleading).
It is more the point that Bob skillfully did not just come out with, IT’S ILLEGAL – SO DON’T DO IT!!… but rather he sought to get to the heart of why it is not useful to simply change the words to secular songs.
… but then he DOES tag on the end the “obvious” statement.
(I probably should not have gone into it – If I am honest, I think it reveals my sinfulness in getting a little frustrated. Forgive me)
Out of interest – I knew of a church that changed the words to a song – and changed them for the worse! They changed the words of the song, ‘blessed be your name’. Instead of reading “You give and take away”… they sang… “You give in every way”.
What a shame! Not only is it illegal as you point out – but refusing what is biblical. They could not understand that God could ever, ‘take away’!?!
Anyways – thank you for messaging back <
When I think of worshipping in spirit and in truth, I think of an audience of One. What would God like to hear? What would He find pleasing? I think there is a distinction between corperate worship and evangilism. If I am trying to make some social statement, who is it to? Since it is not to Him, I don’t think that is worship.
Also when contemplating the use of any music a relevant question may be, does it appeal to the flesh or to the spirit?
There should not be a difference between coporate worship and evangelism. A service should be open and welcoming to any and ALL that might come through the doors. The context in which we sing a song – whether or not we’re focused on God and singing from our HEARTS – is all that matters to God.
The GREAT commission – Therefore go and make disciples of ALL nations. Not some. Not a few. ALL.
If that means plugging in a secular song here and there (as long as God is still at the center of it all) what in the world is all the fuss about???
Seriously folks. WWJD?
Not to be disrespectful, but I don’t think that Jesus would plug in secular songs. Honestly. #1, songs like “Your body is a Wonderland” have lyrics that imply a man and a woman being sexually intimate, while not married. And yes, I do understand that the sermon was about sexuality, BUT I do not believe that the Lord himself would sing the song. Why would he encourage such a thing? If HE wouldn’t sing it, then why should I in the church setting?
#2…There are so many better ways to express Christ’s love, and so many DIFFERENT ways to get the point across, rather than to “accept” secular music, and actually USE it in a WORSHIP service. That is time for worship. Not time for people to sing John Mayer. It would be the same if someone got in front of the church and started rapping 50 cent, or singing “Shake Your Tailfeather”. Maybe the pastor would be trying to preach on sexuality..I’m pretty sure that it would not be acceptable. Maybe Rap songs would bring in the folks that really like hip-hop/rap…The line has to be drawn somewhere…Why even start down that road?
WWJD? He would probably want you to worship just as He worships…
Bob, would you consider “Everything” by Lifehouse a “secular song that should not be used in a Church setting? It appears to have not been written as a love song between a man and woman, bit rather sung to God from a believer.
Here are the lyrics:
Find Me Here
Speak To Me
I want to feel you
I need to hear you
You are the light
That’s leading me
To the place
where I find peace, again.
You are the strength, that keeps me walking.
You are the hope, that keeps me trusting.
You are the light, to my soul.
You are my purpose, you’re everything.
And how can I stand here with you and not be moved by you?
Would you tell me how could it be any better than this?
You calm the storms, and you give me rest.
You hold me in your hands, you won’t let me fall.
You still my heart, and you take my breath away.
Would you take me in? Take me deeper now?
And How can I stand here with you and not be moved by you?
Would you tell me how could it be any better than this?
And how can I stand here with you and not be moved by you?
Would you tell me how could it be any better than this?
Cause you’re all I want, you’re all I need
You’re everything, everything
You’re all I want, you’re all I need
You’re everything, everything.
Thanks Bob! I cannot agree with you more on this topic. There is a secular song that has been used at my church and many other churches and now Chris Tomlin has his own rendition of it and I don’t understand what is so “christian” or “godly” about it! It’s U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name.” If someone can tell me why I’d wanna be in heaven “burning down love” and what the heck is a “dust cloud” doing in heaven, maybe I’ll consider it again. I really think whoever wrote it was high on some drug or hallucinogen and was as far from heaven as the one who wrote the Lonely Boys’ “Heaven” which has also been used at my church for a series we recently had on Heaven. Couldn’t we have used “Revelation Song” to create a much better picture?
I go with “kimk” on this and little more further. The heavens is his throne and the earth his footstool. So…it’s kinda difficult to define where his house here as a mean to know where we can play secular or ecclesiastic music. Biblically, everywhere is sacred! Anywhere! So we better be aware of what we listen to, and with what we feed our souls, bodies or minds. There something about music that it is special. The bible talks a lot about music, God, music and God, God, music and his people that I just think that it MUST/OUGHT to be used only to his praise and that expressly, openly as much as we can. I see a very few situations in which the contrary could be good, like for example “happy birthday to you”, national anthem. But no more than that! All is Christ’s, All is His. And if those few are to be directly his, so be it, may we not sing them then.
I just think a lot of theses stuff are ridiculous, just ridiculous. Get to the Gospel. We should all get to the Gospel. In the Gospel God magnify all his attributes, he displays his greatness there like nowhere else.
You’ll probably never read this, but I just want to put this on the record.
As for the “dust cloud”, the lyrics read:
“I see the dust cloud disappear
Without a trace”
So, there is no dust cloud in heaven, in fact, according to the song, it clearly doesn’t belong there.
As for “burning down love”, again, the lyrics read:
“We’re building and burning down love”
The line here is somewhat ambiguous, but not necessarily negative. To burn something is another way of saying to use it up. The parallel image that comes to mind is the woman breaking open the jar of perfume and wasting it on Jesus’ feet.
Here’s the writer’s explanation of the song.
“In Belfast, by what street someone lives on you can tell not only their religion but tell how much money they’re making – literally by which side of the road they live on, because the further up the hill the more expensive the houses become. You can almost tell what the people are earning by the name of the street they live on and what side of that street they live on. That said something to me, and so I started writing about a place where the streets have no name”
Here are the writer’s thoughts on Christ:
“Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off that hook. Christ says: No. I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: “I’m the Messiah.” I’m saying: “I am God incarnate.” And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You’re a bit eccentric. We’ve had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don’t mention the “M” word! Because, you know, we’re gonna have to crucify you. And he goes: No, no. I know you’re expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he’s gonna keep saying this. So what you’re left with is: either Christ was who He said He was: the Messiah or a complete nutcase.”
It’s shocking to discover that this is even being discussed in churches today. There seems to be a new breed of Christians who think so different than the kind of Christianity I grew up in. That being said, our concept of the Church has shifted dramatically. In our attempts to evangelize or grow our churches, we have forgotten who the Church is for. It is for the christian NOT the unbeliever. Therefore we should base all our decisions on that premise.
Even if a secular song carries some kind of moral message, that doesn’t mean we should use it in our churches. Christianity is not about moralism, being a good person or about us at all. It’s about Christ and His glory and honor. But today with so much preaching centering around human potential and practical moralism, we don’t know what Our message should be anymore. And so our music follows our theology. We so need to see the glory of God in our churches today. We desperately need to seek out God centered, God exalting songs, rich in theological content that will raise our weary eyes off of ourselves and onto HIM.
Overall I have found this post to be frustrating…I like the description I heard Rich Mullins’ once give of music: music is sacred or profane, nothing more, nothing less.
Music that reflects the world as God has made it, the consequences of the Fall, the hope of redemption in Christ, the joys and sorrows of life, etc are sacred. That which dishonors God (like the ending of Above All) are profane. This approach forces us to think about the content of what we are putting before our people rather than putting everything into a neat little sacred / secular box.
Oh, and just a thought for those ripping the use of “Your Body is a Wonderland”…especially Shawna who is convinced “the Lord wouldn’t sing it”…uh, have you folks read Song of Songs? Since that little piece of erotic poetry is in God’s Word, I’m guessing Jesus just might sing it…
Wonderful post and great insight! I feel singing popular songs in worship services is commodifying the whole agenda of the Gospel (since a story told by a speaker is so much more different from an entire popular song sung in church). Jesus commanded His disciples to go to the uttermost part of the world and preach the Gospel. He never mentioned to borrow folk tales to bring people to Him. No. Instead, Jesus made his own stories as illustrations. I think it is best not to use popular songs in worship services. Our job is to preach the Good News and the rest is God’s job. If people come to church after we have preached that is when we help them in their growth.
Bob, good article! You know, we all are aware that God is always looking at the heart. The Rabbis of old were always looking to appear holy instead of just being holy. Almost any song could be misunderstood or taken wrongly unless it remained stricktly biblical.
There are many worship songs that focus on self instead of Jesus. We must never flirt with His Bride as to draw attention to ourselves. As a worship pastor, I sometimes bring secular songs in through music that can be sung as a love song back to Jesus i.e To know, know, know Him, is to love, love love Him- Just to see Him smile, makes my life worthwhile…” The heart is simply saying, “I love you Lord and I want to be with you”. However, many might not understand the motive or love relationship of between the Bridegroom and His Bride and therfore could be distracted by old or bad memories of when they were in the world and lost in their sins.
Yes, we must be careful as leaders to stay close to sound doctrine in our worship music instead of just good feeling songs. I believe that it is music to the Lord’s ears when He hears His people sing His Word back to Him. My answer is yes we can sing secular songs but prayerfully and carefully. Our best efforts to bring secular music that glorifies Jesus should be considered and approved by the pastor or elders for the protection of the saints. Good job my brother!
I completely agree Bob, thanks. In leading music, I think bringing in secular songs, for whatever reason or motive, widens the job description of a church music leader beyond what it should be. We are not the preaching pastors in those moments, so bringing in secular songs to make a point or illustration would seem to compete with the preaching of the Word. Personally, I don’t want to attend corporate worship with my fellow believers, and not sing songs that speak of the mighty truths of the Gospel. As a leader, I want to choose songs that follow the pattern of worship through song, that we find laid out for us in Scripture.
Friends, one of the most powerful songs I ever used for a song of commitment at my church was a slowed down version of “Help” by the Beatles. I don’t remember ever seeing so many tears in the eyes of my congregation. It absolutely went straight to the hearts of all who were there. I believe this song has more power than John Lennon ever thought it would. It’s truly awesome to see how God can make something out of nothing. Thanks.
This discussion is a reminder of how interesting a place the Church is. So many different opinions on how to worship, and yet God still moves amongst us.
As a worship leader, how many times have you walked off the stage and thought, “Wow, that was awful”, only to have someone in the congregation tell you it changed their life? I really have to question the fact that a Christ-follower’s song might have more “validity” than someone who doesn’t follow. What makes it more “sacred” than another’s?
I should state the obvious here – that celebrating evil or sinful acts through a song isn’t something we should use in our worship services, but we’re not talking about those extremes. I think that is understood. We all (most of us) get that the John Mayer song “Your Body is a Wonderland” shouldn’t have been used in worship. But if a good song, that might connect with your congregation, is played on secular radio, who are we to label the artists expressions as inappropriate? Did God not create that very soul, just as He did yours? Bob makes a great point about communicating truth. That’s the goal. But we can still achieve that by using songs from the radio. I don’t think Bob is saying not to. He’s saying, “Be careful”. 100% agreed.
There are so many good songs where you can hear the artist crying out to God, seeking for something to fill their lives, maybe even praising God. Use them. People know them, and can relate. Use whatever means necessary to reach those in your mission field. You wouldn’t go to a remote tribe in Zimbabwe, and sing Steve Green songs. No one knows who Steve Green is there!! I hate to break it to you, but no one outside the church in America knows who he is either. :)
In short, I would say that the answer is no.
Presumabley of people are ‘seeking’ they are not seeking what they already have.
The songs we use should be penned from a redeemed, greatful, thankful, worshipping heart.
The one about the tunes is interesting though. They have been redeemed historically.
John Newton didn’t write tunes, just words. The common tune to Amazing Grace was added in the States and was a traditional ‘shape-note’ tune.
Many older hymns are often sung to old folk tunes (‘I heard the voice of Jesus say’ – sung to the star of ‘The County Down’) or classical tunes (‘We rest on thee’ – sun to a section of Finlandia by Sibalius).
The Salvation Army went even further. They hired out music halls and wrote hymns to popular music hall tunes (‘Praise His name he saves me now’ sung to ‘Champagne Charlie’)
I even remember singing ‘There is a green hill far away’ to the tune of ‘The house of the rising sun’ when I was younger.
In response to Will, post 49, I would say we can redeem the tunes, but I don’t think tweaking the words is sufficient. It needs to be a complete rewrite, otherwise it is like some wierd collaboration that’s neither one thing or the other.
I don’t care who in the past took secular music and put Christian words to it. By the way, how creative is that?? Here we are supposedly filled with the Spirit of God, and we can’t write our own music?? Something beyond GCD??
Anyways I personally won’t play it and I don’t need to be on the Worship Team that badly. They can find another guitar player.
I’m not even a fan of the songs that sound like they can be about God or maybe their significant other. Like “Draw me close to you” for example.
Let’s proclaim the glories of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light!!
Wow. I am and have been a worship leader now at 3 different churches in the last 10 years. There are some things you can do with certain congregations and some you cannot. I attended a satellite church in N. Wilkesboro, NC (same church as the one mentioned in Charlotte, NC in a very early post above) and they incorporated The Beatles, Neil Young and some other composers into the mix. I loved it. My 7-year old son loved it. The 62-year old woman in front of me loved it…because it meant something to all of us.
A lot of assumptions are flying around here (you know for a fact that “Your Body is a Wonderland” is about unmarried people? Really? You know the guy who wrote it and he told you so? The matrimonial state of the people in that song is never mentioned).
I will share a story from my own experience. The song that ministers the most to me 100% of the time when I hear it is “The World” by Brad Paisley. The first time I heard it I broke down and just cried myself silly, because I knew that was a message from Abba to me. I needed to hear that from Him desperately…and He spoke to me through a “secular” song.
There is no such thing as secular music. There is no such thing as Christian music. Michael Gungor, co-author of the “megahit” Friend of God puts it like this:
“I really don’t believe in the existence of Christian music. I don’t think music can be Christian or a label can be Christian. It’s a business and it’s music . . . it’s a market.”
That, my friends, is the truth in a nutshell. I don’t even listen to CCM stuff because to me it’s just polished up, painted up Pop created for the Christian masses. I stopped listening to CCM right around the time Amy Grant and Peter Cetera were singing, ‘Next Time I Fall in Love’. It is a demographic classification. It’s not WORSHIP.
WORSHIP can happen anywhere, at anytime, under any circumstance. Thank God for that! When you experienced salvation you were something that was broken and ruined and God took you and cleaned you up and it’s a process that takes a lifetime. God can most certainly take a song written and performed by a broken and ruined person and make that into what He knew it was supposed to be all along.
All the instruments and tools used in the Old Testament tabernacle had to be consecrated and set aside for Yahweh’s purposes. These were common things made holy for worship. Let’s be for real…you and I are nothing but earthen vessels that have the privilege of containing a heavenly treasure.
If God can sanctify some reeds, some curtains, a stick, some spices and incense, clothes, candle holders to be used for worshiping Him..if he can take a drunk, a child born out of wedlock, a rageaholic, a liar, a runaway, a hooker (think Rahab) and a murder and use them to promote His glory and goodness why WOULDN’T He use a common, ordinary everyday song to touch someone. And who are we to assume He isn’t touched by the song Himself?
That’s an assumption I will not make. If the song is placed on my heart as something we should do…I would do it. I’d probably knock some stiffnecked religious bigots off their rockers…oh, but wait…that’s too Christlike, maybe?
This makes about as much sense as counting how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
WIN THE LOST AT ANY COST…does anyone remember THAT old song???
I agree with the broad position here. I entirely agree that there are some secular songs which simply cross the line. I know this by experience in that some songs ‘stuck in peoples heads’. Not great for people trying to worship God.
However I am not sure I agree entirely about making non Christians comfortable. It cuts both ways. God, his word and the expression of worship and spiritual gifts will make people at times uncomfortable and for that we should be unashamed however I do think like any guest that comes into our house, in other regards, welcome, explanation, connection, edification we should be creating a comfortable environment.
My father used to say ‘Jesus came to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.’ I wonder whether that should be the outcome of our gatherings.
At the York Minster in the UK there is a children’s Christmas service each year where very traditional carols are sung.
Part of the choir leads the 400+ children who are all dressed up as angels, Josef’s, Mary’s, kings, shepheards, sheep, donkeys, camels, stars, even with the odd show-white and power-ranger…
But just before the service this year, the organist was having a great time playing all kinds of Christmas songs, Rudolph etc.
I though that was a very appropriate and ‘inviting to less frequent church goers’ idea.
I can’t think of any other situations I’d feel comfotable about this idea though. As a musician, I feel that all I play or sing in a service is part of a prayer from the whole congregation. I’d not feel I was doing the right thing if asked to play a clearly secular piece before, after and certinly ‘in’ a service.
I have enjoyed all the comments here. They have helped me considerably in my battle with deciding whether or not to include a secular song in worship. I guess for me it comes down to the following questions: 1) Does it glorify God 2) Is the focus placed on God or the song? 3) Will the song help people with thier personal journey with God, in other words does the song further their relationship with God?
If I cannot answer yes to all three of these questions, I cannot use the song. That has been my issue so far. I cam really close with “Got to get you into my life” by Earth Wind and Fire. I found that the song hook was excellent but after a few moments, you got more interested in the song itself than how it connects you to God.
“Fragile” by Sting was another song that came close for me but just did not measure up to the praise worthiness of God level that I feel we need to have.
Anyway, just thought I would drop my 2 cents in late in the game.
I agree with the concept that we need to be aware of our motivation in all of our decisions while we are directing God’s people in praise although I tend to sample songs often during a praise service. I’ll add a chorus or a line from one song that compliments the main idea of the song that we are singing but I am selective in how much I am using. Example: using pieces of the chorus from Time after Time by Cindy Lauper to create a bridge for Your love, O Lord by 3rd Day.
I originally began implementing the idea when I began to realize that many of the most cherished hymns from the 19th century borrowed the melodies of popular music of the time. Trying to incorporate an entire song into the worship set would be very difficult because often the song in it’s entirety is focused on subjects that are not compatible. I’m not one for changing lyrics to popular songs but I have had success sampling songs that are both secular and sacred and using them to enhance melody.
Another thing that we try regularly is incorporating sections of the older hymns and choruses into newer modern praise songs. There is an enormous amount of poetic beauty and rich truth residing in old hymnals just waiting to be rediscovered. But, in all things we need to be aware of our motives, how our actions are received and we should be as deliberate as possible in all that we do. Does what we say and what we sing draw the congregation’s hearts and minds to dwell on the good things of their Lord and Savior?
In my encounters with secular music in worship settings, I have enjoyed it when it was used as a small element of fun (i.e. paining the Doobie Bros “Listen to the Music” with “Angels We Have Heard” at Christmas). But when used in more “serious” moments of worship, I find it often distracting from our Purpose. It get’s people thinking about the song: “Don’t I know this song?” “I’m surprised they’re playing this song?” Instead of thinking about the Object of our worship.
Christians would not be comfortable in a setting where a group of Islamists had gathered to worship their god. Why would we Christians expect a lost person to be comfortable as we (Christians) have gathered to worship Jehovah? Our Master in Jesus. The lost are devoted slaves to satan.
Yes, as a Christian, I should and will be friendly and welcoming, but my priority for joining with other Christians is to worship Him. To “do everything we can do” in order to make a lost person feel very comfortable in our midst … should not to be our plan nor our focus. We cannot “out entertain”, “out impress”, “out market” the world, nor should we try. We are not commanded (nor suggested) to use the world’s machinations, plans, ways, etc. to spread the Gospel nor to worship our Heavenly Father.
Two last notes: (1) If a congregation has trouble singing a song, the people will not be focused on praising God. They will be more concerned about learning the words, melody, etc. They will be afraid to sing for fear of becoming a soloist (as they sing during an unexpected rest). It’s never a good thing to present an “opportunity” for a congregant to embarrass himself or herself. (2) In various hymnals, there are numerous songs, which contain non-Biblical lyrics. We should not be lax in reviewing lyrics before a song is sung in corporate or private worship times.
A song should be judged based on its content not its association. There are secular songs that have great meaning and have changed peoples lives and others that are just horrible. A tune doesn’t have to have the words Jesus, God and Lord to touch peoples lives.
If a secular tune can be used to enhance the message of God I will surely implement it. But I won’t make it a standard in corporate worship.
Great post! (Interesting variety of comments in response..!) I remember some 20 years ago listening to a guest speaker in the church I was in, who spoke on the Holy Spirit and during the talk recalled the song “Wild thing.. you make my heart sing…” After the message the worship leader jumped up and launched into it and the place errupted in spontaneous Spirit-filled joy. The moment was never repeated, which of course it never could be – you had to be there!
I was very interested to see other believers discuss this issue. My church plays appropriate secular songs that fit the sermon series (Brand New, Just Like Fire, Adventure of A Lifetime), and I would like to share one of the main reasons that they do this, besides the ones already mentioned in the article. This reason has not been mentioned yet.
It is a psychological trick geared toward people who come only on that particular week. When they hear the song on the radio or on their private playlists long after they have forgotten your church, they will think of your church and how welcome they felt there. They will be reminded of the message that was preached that day, and they might even start coming back again.
This is one of the major reasons that my church chooses to play secular songs on big weeks occasionally, and I just thought I should share for enlightenment.