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Which would you prefer:

  • A highly-polished worship team at your church comprised of at least a few non-believer muscians; or
  • A run-of-the-mill, aesthetically inferior worship team comprised only of believers?

Of course, the easy answer is: a highly-polished worship team comprised only of believers.  But since only mega-churches generally have such a deep talent pool among its own members, it’s not a viable option for the majority of churches.

Most of us have experienced the discomfiture of being led in worship by the musically ungifted.  The off-key harmonizing, the jarring guitar playing, the uneasy mesh of musical instruments – we’ve learned to put up with it to the extent that we barely notice it anymore.  It’s church after all, and those are our buddies up there, and we shouldn’t demand or expect perfection from people volunteering their time and energy.

A few Sundays ago, however, I brought my non-believer colleague to church.  Wouldn’t you know it, the worship team decided to try out a few new songs, and the result was a discombobulated mess.  It was also downright embarassing.  Since that Sunday, I’ve been listening with a more critical ear to the worship.  It is, for the most part, passable.  It serves its function, which is to give a musical context to the service, one which enables people to sing together.  But it is never something which awes me, never a moment in my week which inspires great thoughts about God.

What I find interesting is that Tim Keller, before Redeemer had its current talent pool of Christian musicians, used to welcome non-believer musicians onto the Redeemer worship team.  He would even pay them to play.  Inevitably, the worship became one of singular brilliance, artful and aesthetically admired.  It became a drawing point for believers, and, at the very least, not an offense to the visiting non-believers.

In a 2001 essay Evangelistic Worship, Keller wrote:

The power of art draws people to behold it.  Good art and its message enters the soul through the imagination and begins to appeal to the reason, for art makes ideas plausible.  The quality of music and speech in worship will have a major impact on its evangelistic power.  In many churches, the quality of music is mediocre of poor, but it does not disturb the faithful . . . But any outsider who comes in . . . will be bored or irritated by the poor offering.  In other words, excellents aesthetics includes outsiders, while mediocre or poor aethetics exclude.  The low level of artistic quality in many churches guarantees that only insiders will continue to come.  For the non-Christian, the attraction of good art will hav a major part in drawing them in.


Keller brings up some good points.  But still . . . isn’t worship supposed to be the centerpiece of the Sunday service, that very moment which is supposed to be solidly in the province of believers as we offer up a sacrifice of praise to our God?  A difficult issue, one which many churches don’t struggle with enough, in my opinion.

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2 Comments

    • believer@redeemer
    • Posted February 15, 2008 at 8:35 pm
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    • Reply

    i agree with u bro.
    correction: redeemer continues to hire at top dollar, professional musicians who are not christians. this is highly controversial esp. to the number of christian prof. musicians who are not hired – maybe not as good as the non-X musicians? Q is – should we also hire top notch worship leaders who are better than the Christian ones who cannot sing as well or who are not as charismatic? in fact, how about great speakers who need not be christian, since all are elements of the worship exeprience. dont know abut the policy atchurch office on nonbelievers as accountants, managers, etc. what it has done though is hire an ex. pastor someone who is not a pastor at all and has zero theological training – but has MBA skills. food for thought eh?

  1. “But any outsider who comes in . . . will be bored or irritated by the poor offering.”

    So what? The offering is not directed to the “outsiders”, or to you.

    I was at a wedding the other day, and the groom sang a song as a tribute to how much he loved his wife. He was terrible, off-key off-pitch and all. He didn’t think he was all that– in fact he probably knew he sucked– but he did it anyway, he wanted to sing to his wife and to show his dedication to her. In the end, did it really matter how he sounded? It was a sweet gesture of adoration. Some worship teams can relate to this groom.

    Now I wasn’t at your church, I did not hear your team, but if your worship team whipped their set together last-minute without care because they weren’t guided and they “do” worship for the sake of doing worship, then they need to be strongly exhorted. The problem is not on skill or giftedness, but rather a heart issue.

    But if this “discombobulated mess” was the best offering they could give with what they had, let them go to God on that. They are singing to Him not to you– you can join them or be embarassed for them.


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