Posted by Craig Borlase on 19 December 2014

The Friday Pickle: Would you, should you, could you… use secular songs in worship?

Last month at facebook.com/WeAreWorship we asked how you felt about the idea of using mainstream songs in your worship services.

It turned out that together you had quite a lot to say.

For some of you, the question was a bit of a no-brainer. “Why not?” wrote Peter Barnes. “Obviously, it depends on the song - but that is true of any song in any service.” Vicki Blessett had plenty of examples of songs that she has covered with her children’s choir: Hero, Happy, Let It Go, You've Got A Friend In Me and You Got The Love (a song that many other people ‘fessed up to using). “I believe all music is God Given,” Vicki explained. “Sometimes you have to think outside the box a little.”

Peter Hall took it one step further, remembering how at Catalyst festival in May, Katy Perry’s Roar was sung prophetically over the congregation. That wasn’t all: “I've seen Martin Smith sing "it's not about the money" on a gift day!”

Though she leads worship at a conservative church and didn’t think it would be likely that she would be allowed, Shannon Campbell laid down a pretty decent trump card in support of the ‘yes’ campaign: “Bach wrote hymns from bar songs, for crying out loud!”

Not everyone was convinced. Michael Patrick Wilson wondered whether there were any secular Psalms and James Everett Jr was clear in his rejection of the idea. “Worship is about singing to God,” he wrote. “Not about our crap.”

“No way!” wrote Scotty D. Hill, who had an interesting rhetorical question for us to consider (“Do we want the world impacting the church or the church impacting the world?”) and for Steve Frew the whole thing was a bit too much: “Is this even a real question? The apostate church needs to wake up. Stop trying to clean up the worlds crap to make it acceptable to God. Worship is another thing entirely than secular music. Duh.”

Jen Turnbull wrote that “Worship songs are primarily written about and to God, with the feeling of love toward Him, to help us express ourselves toward Him and tell Him how we feel about Him, and to thank God for all He has done for us. Secular songs are written about other people, about life, general things. Really, is our God not greater than that? Are the songs about and to Him not good enough that we have to start bringing the world into church? So basically letting in sin? My answer would be No.”

Others were less polarized. For Barry McCormick it is “an issue that has to be carefully thought about.” The content of many secular songs (“filled with innuendo and sexual reference”) puts him off and he worries that people might be distracted into thinking about “the person who wrote it… which may not be wholesome. Secular songs are not "designed" for worship so care is most definitely needed. Having said that I have been in a couple of worship times when they have been used.”

Faye Streek agreed, sort of. For her the key is context. “We used various secular songs … as introductions for services that were very visitor focused in order to give some familiarity.” Interesting idea, huh? “However during the weekly life of the church I think we need to steer clear for a couple of reasons:

1) I think that modern churches are very production, very professionalism friendly and my non-Christian family do like the 'karaoke bit of the service' - this will only work so long as we are often contending with culture on various arguments… truth is, we are not there to put on concerts and entertain but to worship and anything that distracts from that is, in essence, pointless!

2) I think we need to be cautious of the different levels spiritually and theologically that will be encapsulated in one congregation.

If we were to indulge ourselves by playing some of the (albeit) awesome songs that are out there, how can we ensure a distinguishing between worship and a good ol' singsong?”

Finally, for Gareth Brocklebank, the whole experience was a bit of a let down. “I did Knocking on Heaven's Door as a call to prayer when I was a young worship leader. Was going great so I decided to do the verses too… Rookie error!

"Mama, put my guns in the ground, I can't shoot them anymore...."

Never did that again!”

We really appreciate everyone who took the time to read, think and weigh in. We’re a beautiful collision of backgrounds and cultures in the Church, and here at WeAreWorship love it when we get the chance to hear from and learn from each other.

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