Can A Non-Believer Be On The Worship Team?

Someone is going to read the title of this post and think to themselves: “Of course not! Who would think that is a good idea”. While someone else will think: “Why not? I know someone who did this or that and it worked out just fine”. The answer to this question really does not depend on what you think, or what I think. As with all things, our answer to this or any question should be ‘What does God think?’ This is why having the Bible, God’s word to humanity, as our final authority is so important. So let’s talk about this. In a day and age when churches hire musicians from outside the church, some who aren’t even christians, does God have anything to say on the subject of Non-Christians and Worship Leading?

HONESTLY, THE BIBLE DOESN’T TALK ABOUT US MUCH

By “us”, I mean worship leaders.

The truth is that the bible talks very little about worship leaders, and even then, not very directly. In the book of Revelation we have what we in Western Culture would see as being ‘worship leaders’. There are four living creatures who do nothing but stand before the Throne and declare the praises of God. There are 24 elders who are before the throne declaring praises. In all the glimpses of the glory of the eternal realm we see through out the book there is order in all things. When things get loud and raucous in praise, everyone is on board and when its time fore silence, everyone is silent. Heaven may not have a need for someone to direct this, but here on Earth in 2013, our churches need someone to call the congregation together, to pick the songs, to give leadership. That’s the worship leader.

WHAT ARE WE?

Since the New Testament doesn’t give a lot to go on, we have to figure out what we are “functionally” in the church. The Bible talks about elders and deacons, prophets and bishops. By and large, we no longer use these descriptive terms in our culture, so we have to figure out who these people are today. Also, we have things like Overhead Projectors, Church Janitors, Women’s and Men’s ministry. I even know of a church that has a “Paintball” ministry. None of those positions or in many cases, technologies existed in the 1st century. So while we have to figure out what 1st Century terms for leadership mean today, we also have to figure out what modern positions like “sound man”, translate to in New Testament church terms.

Since this is a blog for worship leaders lets keep things simple. Functionally, worship band members are deacons (Acts 6, 1Timothy 3). They are men and women who serve the church in a practical way, such as playing music. So for the rest of this discussion let’s just go with the idea that members of the worship team are deacons, and some (like the worship leader) may be functionally an elder or pastor as well in their role.

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT A NON-CHRISTIAN AND THEIR RELATIONSHIP TO THE CHURCH?

2 Corinthians 6:14 says: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (NIV)

Unbelievers, non-christians, are always welcomed at church. If they aren’t they should be. They are our guests. We are ambassadors who invite them to join us in following Jesus. But they aren’t part of the family. Sadly, some christians and some churches have lost sight of this. Often it is in response to the isolationist church culture they came from, but they swing so far the other way that they loose sight of the difference between the christian and the world.

Also, there are well meaning churches for whom everything is an Outreach. So they see being part of the band as a way to reach out to non-believers. I’m going to be bold and say that not everything is an outreach and there are roles and functions in the church that are reserved specifically for believers.

The 1st letter to the church in Corinth warns us that there are those who shouldn’t partake in communion (chapter 11). What does this mean for us? Not everything is open to everyone. What’s the key? Jesus.

SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

Functionally, the members of the worship team serve as deacons in the church, even if the church doesn’t call it that. I use the word “functional” because there are a lot of folks who only see black and white and they will say “well, my church doesn’t call it that, so I’m not held to that standard”. I don’t care what you call it, I just care what it is, and functionally, that’s what we are, we are deacons.

So when I as a worship leader and as a pastor look at someone to be part of the band, I look at them through the lens of 1 Timothy 3. Are they part of the extended family of God? (i.e., are they are christian?) Are they part of the family of this church? Do they meet the requirements of a deacon? Then, after these questions are answered, do I start to ask if they can play their instrument and play well with the band? Not before.

WHAT ABOUT THE YOUTH?

This is a personal opinion, but I don’t think I’m too off base. I give a greater leeway to the youth in my church than I do for the adults. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t some kind of standard. If I found out a kid was sleeping with their girlfriend or smoking pot, or if I started seeing pictures of them on Facebook drinking at parties that it would not be ok. I’ve taken high school kids off the band for all those reasons. What it does mean is that I cut them a little more slack. I’ve even told them that I cut them a little more slack, but I also tell them it’s not permanent. Functionally, it usually involves them being on time, etc. But there have been a bass player here or a drummer there who I wasn’t totally sure where they were with Jesus and I felt good about letting it slide a little.

Full disclosure: I had the support of the pastors and elders of my church on this policy.

“SOMEONE I DON’T THINK WAS A CHRISTIAN PLAYED IN THE BAND AT MY CHURCH, SHOULD I BE WORRIED?”

If someone asks me “should a non-christian be on the worship team”. I will say no without hesitation. If someone says “the bass player’s brother was visiting from out of town and sat in on drums because our guy was sick… but the brother isn’t a christian”. I’d probably shrug and say “Well, I wouldn’t do it, but I wouldn’t worry about it either.” I could see a situation where the worship leader either just didn’t think it was a big deal one time or just assumed that the brother was a believer.

If someone asked if their friend could sit in on the set Wednesday night, and I found out before service they weren’t a believer, I’d probably let them play, and they explain to the person after that it was a one time thing. The reason isn’t hypocrisy, it’s pragmatism. I want to teach the person about the difference between a christian and a non-christian in the church, and I think they’ll receive it better after the fact rather than if I make a big stink about it 5 minutes before service.

Where I would worry is if this is a regular practice of your church? Is it something to leave the church over? Probably not. But is it something to talk over with your pastor or leadership? Yes, absolutely. If this is ok with the church band, what about the kids ministry? Do we want un-believers teaching our kids? I think it’s a valid concern.

WHO MAKES THE CALL?

Ultimately, the church leadership does. Pastors, Elders, etc, and we need to follow their lead. I had pastoral support for my policy regarding youth and worship. If the leadership wanted “so and so” to be part of the band, then that’s their call. If that person isn’t qualified then it’s my call to not be the worship leader. It’s that simple. But before it even gets to that, we as worship leaders need to lead biblically. Have you sat down with your team and talked about biblical qualifications and standards? You might just head a lot of problems off before they start. Do you have a sense that doing what’s right before the Lord is more important than having a killer band? I’ve seen churches keep a guy in the band because “he’s a killer guitar player” while he has left his wife and children. That’s horrible.

Let’s be leaders who lead, and lead biblically.

Who makes the call? We do. What call do we make? Then in that case we should ask what does God think?

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10 thoughts on “Can A Non-Believer Be On The Worship Team?

  1. Scott Wetzel

    Good words. I’ve recently had some conversations on the same topic with worship team members very recently. You said it much more eloquently than my “would you be okay with their being a non-believer leading a church service?” But ultimately the point that we are ministers (whether we like it or not) when we are on the worship team still stands. Thanks for this post.

    1. Thanks Scott.

      I think the question is a symptom of the bigger question “what is a worship leader?”

      but it’s also an interesting topic of conversation in regards to “what are things that probably aren’t right or good, but if they happened once we wouldn’t freak out”. i’m just not sure how to write that blog post yet 🙂

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  6. I think the biggest stumbling block for many is that the role of even an unpaid church musician is a very visible role by nature and the need to see visible roles occupied by someone who is “one of us”. I doubt that many church members even know, let alone care, about the faith of the janitor who cleaned the building on Friday afternoon, or even an admin staff who might do everything from answer the phone or manage the church’s finances in some capacity. These types of roles are fairly off radar for church attenders, especially if they don’t personally attend that church on a Sunday morning.

    It’s an interesting question overall, and one I’ve been pondering lately without trying to let pragmatism overcome addressing legitimate concerns. I’ve contemplated the dynamic that would result by opening (emphasis here) NON-leadership musician roles to those outside the church desiring to come and play. Almost if to say “This church community is about making excellent music because we serve an excellent God, and we are okay with others coming and being a part of that even if they don’t ascribe the same beliefs”.

    1. Hey Solagratia82,

      I hear what you are saying and I would agree that this is how many churches view things.

      My take (as i said in the post) is that being a worship leader (or I would add, church administrator) is a deacon level position. I want to make excellent music because I serve an excellent God, but I also know that that same God who tells us to play with excellence (Psalm 33:3) also tell us that to obey is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22). So to have someone leading worship who had a heart to and for the Lord would be better than to have someone with more skill but a rebellious heart.

      Hope that makes sense.

  7. Leading worship is, by nature, similar to an elder role. I will agree to that wholeheartedly. It is teaching, admonishing, encouraging, it requires discernment, etc. It should definitely be reserved for those qualified spiritually. I think its wrong when churches disregard the spiritual health and maturity of a music leader in favor of their charisma or musical abilities. I just think we are kidding ourselves if we think the guys who rotate in on playing backing instruments need to be deacon material lest they need not apply.

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