Can Christian Musicians Play Secular Music for God’s Glory?

Steve left a comment on a previous post, asking about the validity of a secular music “ministry,” referencing a comment Phil Keaggy made years ago about the lack of spiritual Christians involved in the secular music field. I received an e-mail recently asking a similar question about the legitimacy of Christian musicians pursuing a career in secular pop music. How should we think about it? Is it always wrong? It is something we should encourage?Here are some thoughts I’ve shared over the years with individuals who were trying to determine God’s will for their lives in this area.

The most important question to ask (and sometimes the most difficult to answer) is, “What are my motives for wanting to be involved in secular music?”

While I never assume someone’s motives will be completely pure, there’s a significant difference between someone who lives to play on stage and someone who lives to serve others with their gifts. If there’s any doubt about why I want to play music outside the church, it’s a good idea to ask others I respect for their honest evaluation of my motives.

A Christian’s success in the general marketplace is no sign one way or the other that the kingdom is advancing or the Gospel is being proclaimed.

A chart-topper isn’t necessarily a sign of God’s blessing. It might be the result of savvy marketing or great musicianship. In many “crossover” songs, the lyrics fail to communicate anything that’s distinctly Christian. Also, when a Christian song becomes popular people can assume there’s no difference between secular musicians and Christian ones – it’s all about the music and the money. God can use Christian musicians in the general marketplace to advance the Gospel – but he doesn’t need them. The church is and always will be the primary means God uses to spread the Gospel and to make disciples.

Secular music doesn’t necessarily mean godless or anti-Christian.

There are countless examples of popular songs that present moral values, insightful perspectives, and meaningful commentary on life that don’t specifically reference Scripture. The success of songs like “I Can Only Imagine,” “Butterfly Kisses,” and “Meant to Live,” are clear evidence of that. We can use our music to entertain without glamorizing or promoting the idols of materialism, pride, and self-centeredness.

We can’t be certain about a musician’s motives from a distance.

While we may be able to infer conclusions from a person’s dress, language, attitudes, and actions, it can be difficult to tell the difference between an unsaved rebel and an uninformed believer. Few of us would do very well if the details of our lives were published for millions to read about and critique. That doesn’t mean musicians who claim to be Christian are above public evaluation or scrutiny. It just means that in most cases we should focus more on disparities than pronouncing final judgments. At the very least, our private prayers for an artist should equal our public critique.

Being involved in secular music is no justification for abandoning the church or minimizing our faith.

A Christian musician may not overtly sing about salvation or the cross, or play music composed by Christians. But we can never state that our Christianity takes a back seat to our musicianship. There are no musicians who “happen” to be Christians. Our identity as Christians governs everything else we do. In a challenging little book entitled Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts, Steve Turner writes: “I sometimes hear Christians justify mentioning their weaknesses in their art because ‘I’m a sinner like everyone else.’ That is just not true. The Christian isn’t a sinner like everyone else because a Christian is a forgiven sinner, and this alters his or her whole relationship to sin.” Basically, the cross changes everything. The Gospel redefines our priorities, redirects our passions, and reshapes our worldview. We now live our entire lives “by the mercies of God” ( Rom. 12:1).

The world needs to see people in every arena who have been genuinely changed by the gospel.

Christian musicians in the general marketplace have the opportunity to influence non-Christians not only with their music, but with their lives. God may give them opportunities to share the Gospel with others who may never be reached otherwise. Kerry Livgren and Dave Hope are two artists who made a difference in that way. There are many more. Some Christians will serve the church in the church. Others will serve the church outside the church. Both are demonstrating through their lives that Jesus is the only Savior and sovereign Ruler of the world.

Not all music written and sung by Christians needs to expound the full Gospel.

Russ Bremeier, in a Music Connection e-mail, writes, “Some music explicitly shares the Gospel, and some merely plants a seed that can lead to the Gospel. Our art is a diverse reflection of who we are as the body of Christ. Whether it’s used in the church, on the radio, on a television program, or even in a 30-second advertisement, we can rest easy knowing that God can use the music we make in numerous ways to serve his purposes.” May there be music of all types that’s written from the perspective of those who live in light of heaven’s joys and realities.

Bottom line: Know your heart and seek to make music for the glory of Jesus Christ, no matter where you play or sing. Our music isn’t about us. It’s about drawing attention to the God who gave us music in the first place. No other kind of music is going to last anyway.

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68 Responses to Can Christian Musicians Play Secular Music for God’s Glory?

  1. Even If Ministries March 29, 2013 at 10:47 AM #

    something I wrote recently that you might be interested in on this topic:

    http://evenifministries.wordpress.com/2013/03/28/do-lyrics-to-songs-matter/

  2. Scott Burrow April 21, 2013 at 5:20 PM #

    I always heard that there was no such thing as Christian music, but Christian lyrics. I’m a guitar player, been playing in the church for more than 20 years, serving god is always been paramount in my life. Started at a church around 800 people and it grew to over 20,000 people. What I’m going to say is shocking but even churches can get lost in purpose, become too corporate and loose focus, happens all the time. For me it went from being a guitar player to becoming a local celebrity, of sorts. Wasn’t my doing it was the churches growth and the seeker orientation of churches who want to be big. New Christians are new, they see a huge stage and a musician playing on it and it relates to what they see in the real world. Is it right, no, it’s just mirroring whats happening on MTV or concert stadiums around the world. My goal has always been to play clubs where seedy people go, because that’s where the people tha are in need go. Church people have god, because they go to church, other places is where the real ministry is. My job as a Christian musician is to get people ready to be in that moment emotionally to get to the place where it’s just God and them. Believe or not you can write a song about life without preaching in their face. To me it’s all about rubbing people with gods sand paper, and taking off little layers of them, so they can get to the inner layer of him.

    Serving God is what I do 24/7 wherever I am. Make life happen, you are the music bed of their lives. Don’t let an opportunity get by without seeing the possibilities, because, its God putting you there.

    • george spriggs February 5, 2016 at 12:36 PM #

      Hi Scott, great insight, I agree with what you’ve said. I’m a musician too, played for decades at church while raising the kids. Anyway, now I’m playing in a secular band because I really like the music we’re doing, two of us (out of 5 are christians), I play bass and the drummer is also a christian that I’ve played at churches with. Anyway, when I came to Christ (even before), I was playing in a punk band in San Francisco (my home town), and late at night driving home I’d get peace and solace from listening to a local christian radio station playing old time gospel. That went on for quite a while until I finally got asked to church on easter by a back sliden christian I had met in a bar. That let to my salvation. At that little brown church, a blue haired lady would sing old gospel songs at the piano, no other band. That was enough for me, it was ‘music’ to my ears. I loved those songs and it feed my hungry soul. I can’t really say which songs do what they should for the kingdom, but when a person is ready to hear, it really doesn’t matter (IMHO).

  3. Lindsay July 24, 2013 at 12:26 PM #

    My boyfriend has been playing in a metal band since I met him 3 years ago. Neither of us were Christians when we met. The band and its fan had us wrapped up in a very dark existence, full of the things you would think would accompany such a lifestyle. I shudder now to remember it. Thank God for his GRACE!

    I gave my life to God a year ago and he has now done the same. There has been an amazing change in our lives. I recently moved out of the home we were living in as I could no longer live in such a situation outside of marriage. We are doing everything we can to align with God and his ways.

    My boyfriend is struggling with knowing what to do about his band. He has poured everything into it and has a lot invested in the project. However, the band is very obviously not uplifting or glorifying to God in any way. The other members are involved in things that are definitely not Godly. The venues they play in and the crowds they play for are very dark, and again, very Godless.
    The head banging…the “Lamb of God” covers etc…it all seems very obvious to me that a man walking with God and desiring to be in the light has no business being in fellowship with and representing such a thing.

    I cannot be the one to tell him this. It is between him and God. I believe the holy spirit will convict him of whatever it is that he needs to lay down in his life.

    He thinks that maybe there is a place for it…that maybe he can be a light in the darkness by continuing to play in this band. Am I wrong to think that is a complete contradiction? I would love some insight on this from others. I would love to hear what everyone else has to say.

    • Wilmer February 17, 2016 at 7:32 AM #

      Hi Lindsay, I don’t know how the situation you mentioned is going on right now since you posted it in 2013, but anyways I’d like to share some advice regarding your question. I think you should not be afraid of telling your boyfriend that he ought not to be playing music that dishonors God, scripture is clear that we are to do everything for the glory of God, and that we have no communion with darkness if indeed we have been born again of course. We are to be in the midst of darkness only to shine light but not to approve darkness, let alone to participate in the works of unrighteousness. We need to decide whose approval we are seeking for, men’s or God’s one. The gospel costs us our lives because our old man has been crucified with Christ and now it is Christ who lives in us, and that’s the best thing that could have ever happened to us. So I encourage you to speak about these matters with your boyfriend. The Holy Spirit will finally convict him as you mentioned, but it’s the same Holy Spirit who tells us by the word of God that we are not be silent when we see unrighteousness, that we are to shine our light before others, that we are to fight evil and take action whenever the name of God is being dishonored, however, in this matter we also need to be prudent, we can’t start judging and condemning others for their ungodly behavior, we need to speak truth with tenderness and compassion, with words full of grace because the gospel is full of grace, always looking to benefit others with our words so that they may turn their ears to God, and find the way of salvation.

      I’d encourage you to also seek godly advice regarding your relationship as girlfriend and boyfriend since it is a very important issue because a relationship between a man and a woman should reflect the relationship that Christ has with the Church. And may be your relationship needs to be dealt with as you are discussing these matters with your boyfriend. I’d recommend you the book “Sex, dating and relationships ” from Gerald Hiestand and Jay S. Thomas.

      Hope this helps!

      Blessings

      • Ian March 8, 2016 at 2:30 AM #

        I agree. Im going through exactly the same thing as Lindsays bf. I play in a cover band but im starting to think its not right. We play pop music by The beatles, Stones, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga etc. All these people are un – godly. If i go into these places and preach the Gospel – diff story. But im not. If i had to do that i d prob get the band banned frm there.
        Its a huge income for me but i have to learn to trust God and maybe let go of this?

        • Bob Kauflin March 8, 2016 at 1:44 PM #

          Ian, thanks for your comment. God says, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). So if you’re having doubts, it’s probably time to move on. It’s difficult to see how God wants his children to be proclaiming lyrics that are representative of what Jesus died for. You can trust God will provide for those who seek to honor him with their lives and walk in integrity (Heb. 13:5-8).

  4. evanjroberts April 3, 2014 at 8:49 AM #

    Hey, thanks for your response. It’s a good idea to clear things up. It’s difficult to come to an absolute conclusion on cross-over artists. You’d leave out some good people lead by God’s voice if you decided to negate all cross-over music.

    I have a question for everyone.. Does anyone know a band/musician involved in cross-over and pure good-old church music or CCM? If you do I’d love to know for some university research I’m doing!

    • Bob Kauflin April 3, 2014 at 9:16 AM #

      Evan, can you clarify who you’re wanting to talk to? Christians that are playing both in the church and in a non-Christian setting?

  5. SJ Venter July 2, 2014 at 2:40 PM #

    Hi there all of you guys and girls.

    I am so glad I stumbled on this thread. I am leading the worship team in our church every Sunday for the past two years. I am 50 years old and started playing guitar when I was 10. I use to play lead guitar n a 60 and 70’s hard rock cover band for many years doing the pub thing, although I never drank or cheated on my wife I never really though about Jesus much.

    It was always just about the music for me and to have a place where I can show off my skills. One of my friends in the band died from a heart attack 4 years ago and we played some songs for him on his funeral. When I walked off the stage a young man stopped me and asked me, Do you know how much the Lord Jesus loves you? After that I just could not get myself to play in the rock band again and asked them for some time off and started spending some time going to church and reading the bible.

    My wife was diagnosed with cancer three years ago and I gave my life to Jesus and turned my life entirely around. I told my friends in the rock band that I will not play with them again and started playing at the church. They understood and our bass player started playing with me at the church, although he did from time to time still play for the rock band. At some stage my wife, when she was very sick, told me that if she were to die her only wish would be to get to a big praise and worship before it happened. I did not have a lot of money to take her somewhere and I got a couple of musicians from different churches together and we started doing big praise and worship events in the parking lot of a local mall using all the equipment that I have accumulated through the years.The Lord blessed us a lot with large crowds and some people gave their life’s to Jesus during these praise and worships.

    Well my wife recovered fully thanks to our Lord Jesus and the guy leading us at church and with the mall praise and worships got a calling to go and learn as a pastor and before he left he asked me if I would lead the team.

    Long story short, recently my friends from the old rock band came to me to ask me if we could not do a reunion show in one of the pubs as so many people was asking for it and they offered a good sum of money. Now do not get me wrong every fiber in my entire flesh wanted to do it. I wanted to feel the power of my fender stratocaster cranked to ten through my Marshall valve amp once again so bad and have the crowd at my feet again, but I tried to be obedient as much as possible and went about praying to the Lord about it.

    I just sort of understood the Lord saying “I have paid such a huge price for you with My blood and it took you so long to come to Me, do you really want this?

    I just could not get myself to the point were I could say yes for the rock show.

    So my advice would be, pray about it if you are not sure, and then listen very careful with the ears of your spirit as the Lord will answer you. He might not say the same to you as what he said to me, as He might have something else for you to do, but in any case if you love the Lord Jesus you would want to do all things to His glory, so why not ask Him about it. If you feel that you can still play what you are playing, where you are playing it, to His glory for which ever reason and that it caries His blessing, then rest assured about it.

    May the Lord bless you.

  6. Kevin Wyglad October 27, 2015 at 4:10 PM #

    This post confirms many points for a new ministry I plan to start in the new year. A ministry God has placed on my heart for a few years now. I wanted to make sure this ministry endeavor was not something I was creating myself, but the Holy Spirit placing on my heart. I’ve been seeking spiritual guidance for quite some time. It is a support ministry for musicians in secular markets. The ministry will begin as a monthly small group setting at my recording studio. The exact intentions of this message is what the ministry is about. As well as concentrating on disciples making disciples. I’ve been a full time musician in Atlanta for 35 years. As a believer and musician in churches and in secular venues, I have had countless encounters/opportunities to share the gospel with people. I have been amazed to see how many people will be open to that conversation(if it approached gently) and how many heart breaking stories there are out there. At times, those venues are a battle field, but mostly it is a mission field and the ministry will help equip those Christian musicians. I encourage others to pray about doing the same thing in their area. Please also pray for the success of this ministry endeavor. I’m all ears to input on this ministry. To God be the glory!!!

    • Bob Kauflin October 28, 2015 at 6:00 PM #

      Kevin, may God bring much fruit to your labors for his glory!

  7. Tim Robillard July 28, 2016 at 1:21 AM #

    My biggest concern are the musicians who declares they live by faith, but then produce music which they suggest can be either for God or for a secular perspective depending completely on the audience’s choice. There’s a couple reasons why this really rubs me the wrong way, & also why I’m not quite sure if God could even accept a “gift” so lukewarm.

    As born again believers, we understand that we now exist eternally in the spiritual realm, created and ruled by the only true God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). If a song is made to worship or praise Him (which can only be done through the spiritual realm) then how can a song that is also made for the world (the world which is consequently ruled by Satan for the time being) be used as a true device to show our genuine love towards God?

    If a person was ignorant to the fact and they believed that the lyrics of said songs were truly only for glorifying God’s name, then I am confident that God would accept their feelings, as our sincere hearts are what He truly cares about.

    However, if we knowingly understood that other non-believers were singing the same songs while (un)knowingly worshipping the Devil with them, then I really struggle to see how God would or could even receive something like that at all.

    No, I believe that for any type of gift which we honour God with, it needs to be sincere and given to Him with our whole hearts. If we create music for God, then we need to proclaim to everyone that it is his and his alone – that these songs are intended for the purpose of praising/worshipping the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as well as furthering God’s kingdom while we’re still alive in the physical realm.

    Please comment if you have an opinion on this matter and God bless you.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Culture and Religion: Performing Secular Music- Part I | Mark Hernandez - Writings - January 21, 2014

    […] serves or should serve a different contextual function… to evangelize, inspire and worship. This is a good article on this subject. ©DAMGRP […]

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