Monday, March 24, 2008

Why we play "secular" music

I want to preface this by saying I agree with something I heard Perry Noble say at a conference last year, "we believe God created everything but we think there's a secular/christian divide in music." I also agree with Rob Bell who says, "if anything is beautiful or good - claim it."

Way back on our third Sunday as a church, we played the song "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" as a 'bad-news' move in preparation for a message about community. This seriously offended a family that was on our core team. They stuck around for awhile but this event eventually came to a head. They (very respectfully and Christ-like) challenged my philosophy on playing 'secular' music in worship. I shared with them some of the things I'll share below but they weren't able to agree with me. They left TFC over this. As they were leaving, I was told, "When we come to church, we want to know that our kids are safe from pop-culture."

They had been strong leaders, this was a serious event for our young church. I had to decide whether we were going to stick with this or not. But I've decided (I did get input from other leaders) that we were sticking with our practice of playing 'secular' music during worship. Here's why:

  • There is no secular/sacred divide. There are profane and evil artistic expression but everything good belongs to God. I have trouble listening to Christian radio because of all the crap I hear on there, stuff that I don't believe honors God.

  • God is at work everywhere. We see this in the song we played yesterday. Maybe David Grohl wasn't directly thinking of Jesus when he wrote Come Alive, but ultimately that song is about Jesus. Only one person has "saved me the day you came alive" and it's Jesus Christ. Pointing out the yearning for God in the culture around us trains people to do the same thing.

  • It reinforces our Wesleyan Theology. One major part of Wesley's teaching was the doctrine of prevenient grace; which says that God is working in the hearts of every single person, pulling them toward himself. We're also following the methods of Wesley, who found ways to leave the church (we're leaving church culture) to proclaim the message of Christ.

  • It connects with the unchurched! I'd have to say this is the main reason. A new person comes in, expecting to hear lame church music but they're surprised to hear a song they recognize. I tell our band if they're choosing between a 'secular' and 'christian' song, pick the 'secular' song. I hate those labels.

Let me tell you an incredible story from yesterday that backs up what I'm saying. We had a brand new family come yesterday because of an invitation. I had the privilege of spending an hour talking with them on Sunday night. It was an amazing conversation, God was using me to help them take some HUGE steps in their relationship with God and each other. But it was a personal conversation so I won't share many details.

But what I want to (and feel I can) share is what happened in the husband yesterday morning. He showed up at church only because he was invited, "we figured we might as well pick a church for Easter, so we went along with the invitation." He didn't expect much - at all. Just going to put in time on Easter Sunday.

So the husband and wife walk in way before church starts (I wish new people could teach regular people what time worship begins) and find some friendly people to talk to. They're surprised to know the person who invited them was honest in telling them to dress casual. "Every church says that but I'm usually looked down on if I'm not dressed up. But you guys really were casual." This means another wall he puts up has been removed.

They then walk into the cafeteria and he's surprised to hear 'secular' music playing on the speakers. "I didn't know churches would play music like this." Although some guys (you know who you are) were making fun of me for the Phil Collins song, the husband told me, "I couldn't believe you were playing True Colors, I love that song. I started to think you weren't so bad."

And the way we spoke, the fact that the nursery ministers were so good with their son and the overall atmosphere of their experience helped him to drop his guard. And when I called for a response at the end, my heart did a somersault when he raised his hand. He didn't raise it when I asked who was "sure" of the Resurrection but when I asked "who wants to believe but needs more time." He couldn't believe I gave that option.

"I went from thinking I'd be lucky to stay awake the whole service to raising my hand at the end. I'm not sure what was going on. I'm not sure what to make of all of it."

We do what we do for a reason - to connect with unchurched families like these. Since I don't have the advantage of knowing what it's like to grow up outside the church, I do two things that raise my evangelistic effectiveness:
1) I depend upon my wife, who did grow up unchurched (basically) and does a great job of connecting with unchurched people
2) I study the methods of effective churches. I heard the idea of playing 'secular' (have I mentioned I hate that term) music before and after worship from Vince Antonucci. He said doing so would set new people at ease - which is exactly what happened. I also listen to his messages, to learn how to better communicate with unchurched people.

God called me to start a new church that would reach the unchurched. I knew this even before I knew he'd called me to Gardner. This passion is just as red-hot now as it was years ago. Maybe I'm even more fired up now that I'm seeing it happen even more and am seeing how our ministry approach is really working.

Trinity Family is here to reach those who don't yet know Jesus. We're sticking with that vision. It will continue to turn away some of the already-convinced. I'll continue to have my heart broken by the unchurched who start to follow Christ but then decide to turn back to their old life. But no matter the cost, we're going to keep doing what we're doing.


Derin Beechner (Durk Niblick) said...

Thanks for being true to your calling Donnie. Now if you could just do the things I want you to do! That is a joke. Really, thanks for being my cool pastor. Thanks for caring about those that are hurting and yearning for God. Thanks for listening to the right voices at the right time. (Which of course is mine, all the time! ME, me me...)


Donnie Miller said...

What did you say, I wasn't listening!

Actually, thanks for the love, I appreciate it.

joe k said...

That post, in a nut shell, is why I go to Trinity Fam. I continue to love you in every heterosexual way possible. Keep up the great work!!

Donnie Miller said...

And your support and ministry is why we're able to do what we do. My picture of the church is that the more mature christians are giving, serving, leading, teaching so as to create an 'incubator' for the new Christians that are just experiencing new life in Christ.

It's like the heat lamps we used in the farrowing house to keep the newborn pigs warm in the winter. You're a heat lamp, man!

BillMarty said...

Crud - I missed all these good times because I was singing lame songs at my church back in Iowa!

If you hate these labels so much, why do you encourage one over the other to your band?

Donnie Miller said...

Good question. Maybe it's because I lack a better term. Christian/secular is basically only referring to the branding of recording companies. Since there's a lot of crap put out by Christian recording companies and great stuff put out by non-Christian.

Dude, you missed it on Sunday. It was freakin' awesome!

Dawn said...

Well, I guess I'm the only "girl" here, but I so agree with what Donnie has to say about the music. (whoda thunk it?) I enjoy more "non-churchy" music myself and I think it does connect with the nonchurched. As kids, we only went to church for VBS and SOMETIMES for Easter. And then, they had all the hymns out of the hymnal, so I sure wasn't moved by that. I know there is more to worship than music, but when you walk in and it's playing and it's played throughout service and at the end, it sure is quite a big of the worship. My daughter (who is six) looks for God in a lot of her songs that she sings that are "secular". I think that says something right there. Music is music, it's what the words are. Keep on keepin' on, Donnie! Keep that lovin' feeling!

Donnie Miller said...

That's a great thing to be teaching Laney; to look for God everywhere!