"Secular" Music in Church - Part 1

Maybe I'm opening up a can of worms since no one has commented on this for a long time, but I want to address the use of "secular" music in church for several reasons.

  • The issue gets to the heart of spirituality. When I talk about everyday life Christianity it's not just about the practical nature of biblical faith; it's even more about a way of looking at our world and at life as being about God and his glory, and it's about rejecting unbiblical dualities of sacred and secular.
  • There may be some in our congregation who suffer the use of secular music silently, not saying anything, but bothered about it. So this is a chance to join in on a conversation.
  • We're planning to use more "secular" music in the coming months for a variety of reasons.

I'll open this conversation up with a summary (using excerpts) of an article by Tim Stevens called "Does Secular Music Have Any Place in the Church?" 

  • First of all, we should clarify terms. There is a big debate in church circles today about what "secular" even means in relation to music. ...But for sake of this conversation today, let's agree that secular music refers to popular songs that are written by a mainstream artist without any specific Christ-honoring intent. The song isn't about Jesus or worship or moving toward God. The person singing isn't a known Christian artist.
  • Here is what I believe: I think it is permissible, and even advisable, to use music in your services that has been written by non-Christians and that doesn't have an obvious Christian message. How can I make such a statement?
  • It all has to do with how you view your services. Your service probably contains several elements... You can view these as separate elements that stand alone in accomplishing a purpose, or you can view your service as one seamless experience that builds toward a goal.
  • If you see it as a seamless experience, then you might use a secular element to open people's hearts to receive a truth that comes later in the service. You might, for example, use a secular drama featuring a married couple fighting about money to prompt people to think about their own lives and prepare them to hear a message about God's plan for financial peace.
  • Or you might use the song called "Untitled" by Simple Plan to show the pain of messing up and hurting other people in the process...so when the teaching pastor talks about what to do with your shame, people are ready to hear God's Word. They may already be thinking, "That's me. I've messed up. How could this have happened to me?"And the next week, when they hear that song on the radio, they may be instantly pulled back to the service.
  • Every element in your service doesn't have to be prescriptive. Yes, you are trying to teach a principle or encourage people to consider a truth, but you can use certain elements to raise questions and other elements to help provide answers.
  • It's amazing to me that the same pastors who have never allowed a secular song in their services have quoted secular authors, secular poets, and secular historical figures. They quote these people to make a point, to get people thinking, and to open their hearts...
  • Paul did this when he quoted from a famous poet of his day (Acts 17:28). He wasn't saying, "I agree with everything this poet wrote." He wasn't saying, "Read all of his poems." He was just using a well-known secular poem to connect with his listeners in order to help make a change in their lives.
  • ...It's all about speaking the foreign language of our culture in order to reach the people in it. If you view your community as a foreign culture, then you are a cross-cultural missionary. It is your job to learn the language, signs, symbols, and customs of the culture – and then use what you learn to build a bridge back to God.

Here are some principles from what Tim writes:

  • Different elements in a service accomplish different purposes and not all have to be prescriptive.
  • Be consistent. If you're against "secular" music in a service, then you should be against "secular" dramas, "secular" film clips, "secular" quotes, etc. (Parenthetically, if you're against all these things, how are you surviving at Five Oaks?)
  • Using "secular" elements is scriptural.
  • Using "secular" elements is missional.

He's not saying:

  • He agrees with the secular and sacred duality.
  • This has anything to do with the singing of songs of adoration and praise.
  • This is about seekers in the church only. Most people I know that like music don't only listen to "Christian" music. So the bridge a song makes to the heart or mind is as much a reality for the believer as the seeker.