Bob Kauflin: Should We Use Secular Music in Worship?

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 churches where songs were used 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 that 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.

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Source: Church Leaders