I received an e-mail this morning that asked a question about why we choose the music we do at Valley Creek. It was a great question so I thought I would share with you the answer I gave. Here is part of the email question: “I don't mean to start your day off bad, but I feel the need to express my concern about the choices of music the worship team selects to play during greeting time. Part of a persons worship experience is about entering into his presence, but when the worship team (not rock band) choses to play secular songs during that time it becomes distracting.”
This is a great opportunity for me to share our church’s view on using “secular” music, “secular” quotes, and “secular” movie clips for God’s redemptive purposes. For me the issue goes way beyond music and gets right to the heart of how and why we choose to communicate the way we do. The whole idea of “Secular vs Sacred” is a misnomer. Jesus always used the culture to direct people towards the kingdom of God. I believe God uses our “secular jobs” for sacred reasons all the time. Ever since my days as a youth pastor, I have used the terms good music and bad music. It is a much better term, but much harder to define.
Good music and great ideas move the heart and challenge the mind. Using concepts from everyday life and from people who have a connection with our culture can engage lives and be used by God to bring people closer to Christ. We will never compromise the message of the Bible. In fact, the message of the Bible is so important that we must engage culture to communicate it.
The Apostle Paul chose to engage culture instead of boycotting it. Acts 17 is a great example of Paul choosing to use the culture of the day and quote from current poets to point people toward Christ. We are committed to using the same principle. By using modern day songs, movie clips, and books I am not saying “Everything these people say is right”, or even “go see this movie.” One of the most powerful video clips I used was part of the trailer for “Vanilla Sky.” I never saw the movie, I heard it was not a God honoring movie and said so as I introduced the clip... but the quote in the trailer was so powerful I wanted to use it. I knew God could redeem that video clip done by Hollywood and use it for His purposes. Cameron Diaz told Tom Cruise... “Don't you know that when you sleep with someone, your body makes a promise whether you do or not!” Talk about a powerful introduction to the subject of sexuality in marriage. I also use quotes from people like Mark Twain and love the music & lyrics of folk singers like David Wilcox and Marc Cohn.
I want my life to be fully integrated. Church is not a place where we live one way and then go home and live another way. When I was in my teenage years, I remember borrowing my children’s pastor’s car to watch their home while they were on vacation. There, in the am/fm cassette deck, was a Lionel Richie cassette. We had a great conversation when they got back about the differences between good music and bad music. We talked about how good music can be used to bring glory to God. There must be wisdom and discernment in this. For example, you will not find us using the song “Love Shack” in church.
Someone once asked a couple years ago, “Why did the band sing the U2 Song 'I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For' on the church float in the Woodbury Day’s Parade. Why not play Christian music?” The answer is that we are trying to build a bridge to people who are looking for Christ. We want to take concepts that people are familiar with in culture and use them as a bridge to the message of redemption in the Gospel! We sing about “finding what they are looking for” because people need to find what they are looking for in Christ. As I am writing this at Caribou Coffee, the Coldplay song “Fix You” is playing. That song causes me to worship God. It is a song about our deep desire to be loved and cared for... God is the one who has “Fixed Me” and it causes me to express worship to God.
In last September’s “Finding God in my iPod” series we used these songs: 1) Bring Me To Life: Evanescence; 2) Boulevard of Broken Dreams: Green Day; 3) Dare You To Move: Switchfoot; 4) I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For: U2; 5) Fix You: Coldplay. It was one of our most powerful sermon series we’ve done. We are committed to bringing the Bible’s answers to the questions our culture is asking. Our primary focus in church is to connect vertically with God. Most of the songs we sing are exclusively focused on that. But we will also include songs from culture to help people see the answers God provides.
This past Sunday we chose to use the song “How Sweet it is to be Loved by You” by James Taylor during the welcome segment of our service (that is what prompted the e-mail). Three reasons we used the song: 1) We believe Godly love between people honors God and should be celebrated. 2) It was fun... church should be filled with Christ honoring fun. 3) Hopefully people make the connection of how sweet it is to be loved by Christ the author of love. Steve’s whole message was based on the idea of how God is looking to make eye contact with us, love us, and revolutionize our world (See example from Zacchaeus’ life Luke 19). Jesus is searching for us and wants to love us no matter how far away we have run from Him.
So the short answer is yes, we will continue to use all kinds of good music to help lead people to Christ. Even if it offends some Christians. Our mission to: Connect to God, Reach out to others, and Grow with one another is too important.
Another great article worth reading on this subject is written by Tim Stevens, “Does secular music have any place in the church.”