Is Secular Music Becoming Worship Music?

It may seem absurd to some and completely logical to others. Everyone has at least one “non-Christian” song that evokes a profound emotional or spiritual response within them. Why do songs that aren’t standard church hymns connect with us spiritually? There are many answers to that question. One thing is for sure though, many churches are inviting today’s “greatest radio hits” into their worship experiences. I work at a church that does just that. We intentionally seek to use non-Christian music in our worship services, because it often facilitates a connection to God, that our church standards cannot. I believe this is because they’re our songs. Worship music only tells one part of our story. Its a historical account of the consequences of the Gospels, lived out in the 21st century. But, so much has changed since then. The songs we are hearing on the radio the story of us right now. They express who we are as people, both individually and communally. Non-Christian music tells the story of humanity where its at. It’s the good, the bad, and the horribly ugly. It’s accessible. Using non-Christian music, will invite your congregation to continue writing their stories, as individuals, as a community, and as humanity. Why is it that so many people connect to songs like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” or Mumford & Sons “I Will Wait”? They’re accessible. They’re our story. This prompts a more important question, what does God want to hear? Ironically enough the words of Matt Redman resonate strongly here:

“I’ll bring you more than a song. For a song in itself is not what You have required. You search must deeper within through the way things appear. You’re looking into my heart.” – “The Heart of Worship” 

Below I’ve listed some of the right and wrong reasons for introducing secular music into your regular worship gatherings. My prayer is that this serves as a launching point for you as seek out the heart of worship in yourself and your community.

The wrong reasons to introduce secular music into your church’s regular music rotation:

  • To appeal to the younger generation. I get this question a lot: “Will more youth come to our church if we play secular music?” Maybe. But, carefully consider that, if the one secular radio hit you play each service is the only point that young people can connect to in church, there is a much more serious underlying problem that needs to be addressed. I know churches that have massive amounts of young people that don’t play any music written after the 1800’s. Conversely, I also know other churches with huge amount young people that would’t dare play something written before 2010. A community will only be as exciting and lively as those you let shape it. Young people are tired of going to church, they want to be the church. Let them, and you may be surprised with what they come up with.
  • To make seekers more comfortable. While at face-value, the intentions behind making seekers more comfortable by playing secular music is innocent, it is a difficult topic. As a Church body, it’s our responsibility to ensure that those who are new to our communities feel welcome and know that we are not trying to do anything to them. But, it is not our responsibility to make them comfortable. We gather together to build up each other and celebrate the Gospel, be reminded of God’s promises, confess our sins, exercise our spiritual gifts, and be challenged. I wouldn’t expect a new comer to feel totally comfortable with that at all, especially if they aren’t a Christian. Our primary goal is that every time we gather, our communities have the opportunity to encounter, in some way, the grace and truth of God revealed in Jesus Christ, and expressed through His church.

The right reasons to introduce secular music into your church’s regular music rotation:

  • To get sad and angry. When was the last time your church sang a lament or expressed frustration and anger towards God? We don’t like to sit in these emotions for very long because they make us uncomfortable. But if we ignore them completely, we miss out on a powerful spiritual experience that many of the great people of the Bible wrestled with. People in your congregation are struggling with very difficult things. A healthy community is one that rejoices and mourns together. There are some worship songs that express this well. But, many more secular songs that will take you there.
  • To encounter the mystery. One of my big pet peaves with modern worship music is that it tends to spoon feeds us the message. There is no mystery. There are no questions, just facts or “truths” as some call it. This is great because it educates people about many of the core messages in the Bible. But, are we allowing enough time for questions that may not be so black and white? Singing songs that make people have to think about what they believe, can aid in fostering a community that not only stands on the truths of the Bible, but also enters into the mysteries of it.
  • To inspire creativity. Many of the artists in our churches do not conform to the 21st century Christian genre. As a result, most of them will check out from church all together. Its so easy to be discouraged or even give up completely when a person tells you, “We don’t play that kind of music here” or “I don’t think that is appropriate for church” Does God only enjoy organ music and water colour paintings? Diversity in worship expression will inspire the “closet creators” in your community to invest their talents there.

Understanding that every individual, and every community connects with God in different ways, I’m not suggesting that everyone go out and start singing Coldplay or Rihanna this Sunday. This is not for every community, and that is OK. What I hope is that we remain mindful of what we worship with, and the impact that it has in our communities.

Peace,
Zack

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4 thoughts on “Is Secular Music Becoming Worship Music?

  1. My problem with Christian music isn’t just the plain, straightforward lyrics, but it’s the plain, straight forward music. If God exists, then He is the master of all creativity. Therefore Christian music should be the most creative… but it’s the least, in my opinion.

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    1. Love it! This really reminds me of an interview with Billy Corgan I saw a while ago. He explained that the future of rock and roll was God and that Christian bands should stop trying to sound like U2 and begin innovating in the genre.

      I find Christian music, for the most part, tails the trends of mainstream music by a few years. I look at the progression of genres in my own lifetime in the church scene; classic rock, metal, emo, electro dance, and now folk. I would love to see the church become the innovator in music instead of just following the trends of the day.

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  2. Some good thoughts here Zack. When I think of worship music I think of being inspired to look beyond my human limitations and have my eyes pointed towards God. In this case I wouldn’t consider ‘ Don’t Stop Believing ‘ a spiritual song because it points towards the human condition, although the music is inspiring emotionally.
    Worship songs for me then would lift me beyond myself and give me a taste of the divine. Another consideration would be musical taste. I enjoy some of the more modern Christian music even Christian rock but some of the older gospel songs like ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘It is Well with my Soul’ affect me deeply. So if a song is spiritual it will stand the test of time. I like your willingness to experiment and be open to how the Spirit may be moving among us.

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    1. I love that quote: “Worship songs lift me beyond myself and give me a taste of the divine.”
      I too have a profound spiritual spiritual response when singing songs that have been sung for centuries. The connection those songs have to history gives us the opportunity to worship with the wider Church community in a way that can’t be reproduced. It’s quite inspiring.

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