A couple of months ago, we opened our worship service with the Dierks Bentley song “What was I Thinkin?”. It sounded great. Recently, I heard someone questioning the appropriateness of playing a song like that in a worship service. If you aren’t a country music listener, the song is about a guy recalling stupid decisions he made with a girl when he was young. I would consider the lyrics at least “PG”- it has a few very honest lines. I love when people have questions like this because it gives me the opportunity to challenge people’s thinking about church and Christianity.
Typically, the explanation people give for us is that we are a church who is very intentional about reaching unchurched people. Therefore, we play music like this to attract them. I guess that may have something to do with it, but it is actually a pretty bad explanation. I mean, does that make it OK? Should we be OK doing anything as long as it attracts unchurched people? I can think of a lot of inappropriate ways that we could attract unchurch people. How about open bar Sunday evening services? The truth is, I would have played “What was I thinkin?” even if I were expecting a room full of Christians. So why? Why is that OK?
Well, first, there is no such thing as “Christian” music. I know we have “Christian” music stations all over the country, but what makes that music Christian? A lot of it is bad music (maybe that will be another post one day), but the music itself is neutral- not Christian. We can’t claim a specific music style as Christian. What those stations play is music with lyrics that mostly talk about God and spiritual things. My point is that the music is not sacred. It is just music. the artists happen to be Christians who write about the spiritual part of their lives.
But here is a question, “Are we only spiritual beings?” Absolutely not, we have social lives, romantic lives, academic lives, professional lives. So why should we be limited to only singing about the spiritual part of our lives? That seems pretty unbalanced to me. And why do we only have this standard for the art form of music? Do we only view “Christian” art, “Christian” acting (don’t get me started here), and “Christian” sculpting. And if we have this standard, any classical music is out because there is no way it could be “Christian”- there are no words. So, that is how I view “secular” music in general- it is music that talks about other parts of our life, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
So now back to the original question, why use “secular” music in the church. Well, first, since “secular” music itself is OK to listen to, then why not use it in church. Is it sinful to talk about things in church that we actually deal with in life? I hope not. Secondly, sometimes secular music is very appropriate in helping people learn the principle at hand. The day we played Dierks Bentley, it was during our Pause series. We were working through the temptations of Christ and were learning some principles about overcoming temptation. So I would ask, what more appropriate way is there of introducing the topic than with a song about a guy dealing with temptation? It was perfect, and hopefully, it helped people remember times in their life where they look back and ask “What was I thinkin?”
So in short, we use music in our services to help us worship God and to help us learn the truth from Scripture that day. Sometimes Chris Tomlin’s songs about faith help us do that the best, and sometimes Dierks Bentley helps us do it. We will use whatever music best helps us lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.