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It’s Wednesday morning, and I’m sitting at a conference table in the middle of a mega-church cafe. Picture the greatest Starbucks you’ve ever seen, but for church people, meaning any way they can fit a Biblical word or phrase like He-Brews into something that relates to a coffee drink…they do.

Today I happen to be surrounded by ten or so worship leaders from surrounding communities who were invited to come together to share their trade secrets and insider knowledge about all things related to the ministry of worship arts. It’s no surprise that the conversation moves from light chit-chat about media and tech, to horror stories involving computer crashes, bad drummers and why church organs are actually ironic and awesome again. Up to this point, I’ve admittedly been a quiet, distracted observer, checking my I-Phone in between sips of my Psalted Caramel Mocha when suddenly the conversation shifts to who among us brings in musicians to lead worship who are not….well…saved.

Ok, now they have my attention.

The conversation starts going clockwise around the conference table, which thankfully, I’m at the end of. One guy says “Yeah, I have a drummer who’s not a Christian, but he’s only playing drums, so I don’t think it’s a big deal”. Another guy says “As long as they’re not singing the words, I think it’s totally fine. I mean, it’s not as if they’re leading or anything.” The next guy agrees and adds, “You know what, I think it’s a great way to evangelize unbelievers and get them into church”.

“Is it?” I mumble incredulously to myself, as I nervously wipe a drop of caramel mocha racing nervously down my chin.

At this point I realize two things: First, I’m cringing at the flippant, rapid fire responses to something I consider to be a serious issue and with that in mind, I see that I’m going to have the opportunity to offer my irritable two cents in like a minute, which I’m not looking forward to since I’ve only known these fine gentlemen for like seven minutes. Before I could worry any further, the conversation took a turn to a less divisive (for me at least) topic, but it caused me to want to further explore what I think is a not often discussed theological conundrum in many churches today.

Mountain or Molehill?

So what’s the big deal? Does it matter if we have unbelieving worship leaders on Sunday? After all, if all they’re doing is playing an instrument, they’re not really “leading” are they? I mean, isn’t having an unbelieving musician on stage who can play well going to be less distracting than a believing one who’s chops aren’t all that great? How would anyone know if the drummer’s not saved, anyway? It’s better for him to play at church than at a club, right?

I think a better question to ask is this: who does God call to lead worship and how does He call them to lead it?

…and it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord, and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever…” 2 Chronicles 5:13a

First off, it was assumed that worship leaders in the Old Testament needed to be people who knew God. The understanding here was that only people in a covenant relationship with God could offer acceptable praise to Him, so for the nation of Israel to bring in an awesome musician from a neighboring, pagan nation to help lead a worship service would have been unthinkable. Today, we worship in and through the completed work of Christ. To consider worship being offered outside of Jesus is incomprehensible with New Testament teaching. True worship is only found in Christ. (John 4:24)

Secondly, the musicians needed to be able to play in tune and in time. Though we can all agree that there are going to be groups and individuals who accomplish this with varying degrees of skill, the point here is that we do our best with the talents God has given us, knowing that we will always be serving a perfect God through our own imperfections. This is actually good news, because it keeps worship as a humbling experience of servitude to God rather than a performance driven display for man.

Thirdly, it says that the aim of these musicians being able to play in tune and in time was to give praise and thanksgiving to the Lord. The end game of all true worship is praise and thanksgiving to our savior.

The Object of the Worshiper

The problem with using unbelieving worship leaders is that they’re unable to offer either praise or thanksgiving, regardless of how in tune or in time they play. Before Christ enters our hearts and the Holy Spirit stirs our affections for the glory of the Lord, the strumming of our guitars and the beating of our drum kits will ultimately be an exercise in self-glory.

It’s contradictory to what we know about God to imagine that He would call worship leaders whose hearts worship something other than God to lead others to worship God alone. Only a redeemed heart is able to truly affirm the Lord’s goodness and His steadfast love. It’s worrying to think that somebody representing the living God on stage would be someone whose heart has not been made alive by God’s grace and mercy.

But don’t we want unredeemed people at church, Ronnie? Of course, but God calls us to repentance before He calls us to lead others to it. A better plan might be in caring for the hearts of our unbelieving musicians before we put them in a place where they’re expected but not able to do it for others. Getting together for jam sessions, concerts and coffee goes way beyond the agenda of simply getting them “on the team”, if there’s a gospel intentionality behind it all.

But how do we know if any musician playing on a Sunday morning is saved? The answer is by the fruit of their witness for Christ and the affirmation of other believers to that affect. What a grace it is for the body of Christ to be able to look at their worship leaders on Sunday knowing that they are redeemed sinners leading other redeemed sinners to receive God’s grace, the spirit’s conviction and the assurance of our salvation.

Here’s the second part of our passage:

 ”…the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.” 2 Chronicles 5:13b-14

Let’s be careful here and distinguish between New and Old Testament worship. Our churches will certainly not be filled with a cloud of God’s glory on Sunday mornings. Nevertheless, it is still God’s desire that His churches be overwhelmingly filled with the glory of His Word being proclaimed through the singing, preaching and praying of His people.

With that in mind, we should be careful not to treat His glory like a frivolous thing, while at the same time remembering that it’s not dependent on musical excellence at any cost, either. What we should always be mindful of is that it’s through the praise and thanksgiving of believers that the spirit moves in the hearts of unbelievers.

For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— Philippians 3:3

Only people filled with God’s spirit can point others to His glory.

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74 thoughts on “Should Unbelieving Musicians Lead Worship?”

    1. Around 1995, a church I was attending had a few musicians from the same workplace (Christian-owned music store where I worked) play on the worship team, and they would invite one of their salesman, a saxophone player, to be part of the “band.” I think they sincerely believed it was pleasing to the LORD, and a way to have him in church on Sunday, better than seeing him in bars and clubs on the week-ends.

      I don’t know why it felt so wrong, but ay some point as the saxophone player got into a “solo” I just stood up from the piano and walked out in the midst of it all. I just couldn’t deal with it, something deeply wrong was going on and my whole being rebelled against it.

      My actions shocked the congregation and leadership much more than having the innocent sax player partake of something I considered sacred and reserved for believers. I always felt that staying and “playing the set” would have been defiling. I’m not sure if I would actually even be part of it ever again if I knew in advance. What if we were on the streets of Rio of Janeiro or Amsterdam having a worship time, and someone would bring their djembe or other instrument and start “jamming” with us? That for me would be different. It’s complicated, though, because on the one hand I don’t want to dismiss and exclude, on the other, I don’t see this happening in the early church, as musicians would possibly be seen as deacons of some type, which had requirements for living a god;y life in front of all.

  1. Marcus T. says:

    I really appreciate this post, thanks for writing it and bringing scripture to bear on it.

    As one of the pastors at a church plant, I have and continue to wrestle with this issue, and I appreciate the biblically-based response to those who are flippant about it.

    However, I think it is possible to argue that allowing non-christians in the worship team could be consistent with a New Testament-based missional ecclesiology. What I mean is that we are often cool with non-believers/”persons of peace” helping out in various capacities, (ie. some tech roles) but obviously not being leaders in the church. Is it possible/acceptable then to see a distinction between the worship pastor/leader (because they are providing real leadership, must be a believer) and musicians (like volunteers in other areas such as tech stuff, may or may not be Christians).

    So to me, the question of whether or not non-believers can play in the worship band needs to also be answered in the context of the broader ecclesiological question of “to what extent ought non-Christians be able to enter into the life of the Church? or rather, to what extent does God intend for them to?” Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    1. Nice response.

      What about this…Can I worship to a gospel song written by a Christian but sung by a non-Christian?

      Is it OK in my car, but not in a church? There are various crossable lines that call for discernment…

      I think we also need to bear Paul’s teaching about the weaker brothers into consideration here. If people in the congregation struggle to disassociate the role of the musicians from the process of making the music, then we should be considerate of the weaker brother.

      If there is an element of insincerity or pretense about it (e.g. NC backing singers raising their hands to God) then it becomes inappropriate.

      I’m generally inclined to not involve not-yet-Christian musicians in leading worship, because you don’t *need* them for the purpose- it’s an aesthetic decision.

      I did however recently do a hymns tour of some of my own hymns and traditional hymns in a concert format where I was sharing about them from a position of faith. One of the band instrumentalists was not Christian, but it was a great opportunity to witness to him, and show him the beauty of a situation where his gifts might be used for the glory of God. His position is one of sympathy-but-not-commitment though, and I guess I would feel different if I’m performing hymns alongside someone who actively disdains my purposes in singing them.

      Also, we did not make any suggestions that the whole band felt consensus about what the songs said, or what I said about the songs, so I think those are some other practical considerations that can affect it.

      Definitely we ought not to sacrifice integrity on the altar of excellence…worship doesn’t *depend* on instruments, it *depends* on hearts that acknowledge God for who He is.

      Good discussion piece!

    2. I see two … problems with unbelievers doing the instrument thing.

      First, while they may not exactly be leading, they are definitely assisting, correct? If we think that they are neither assisting nor worshiping, then *why are they there?*

      And, if the are assisting … can an unbeliever really assist a believer worship? I guess kinda, but it’d be, at best, by accident.

      The second problem I have is that this, to me, devalues the service that believers give in this area. If it’s just as good to have unbelievers play the instruments, then what am I left to think? That my worship of God through playing my instrument in such a way that I worship God with it and encourage others to worship… isn’t actually important, because an unbeliever certainly isn’t doing that.

      1. Unbelievers assist me in worship all the time – I can worship God for His gifts of common grace bestowed on unbelievers. If I listen to a Bach mass, I am listening to the music, not thinking about the faith of the performer.

        1. Yes, this is true.

          But I don’t think that means that they should be placed in a position whose function is to do that.

          Maybe an analogy… can an unbeliever write/preach a good sermon? Yes, I think so, actually. But that doesn’t mean they should be placed in the position whose function is to do that. :)

      2. Katrina Wilbanks says:

        Your second point really spoke to me. I have been thinking about this problem for a couple of years now, and I couldn’t quite get into words what was bothering me, but I think you just did. Thank you!

  2. Theo K says:

    Good thoughts.

    Of course, the most pressing question should be this:

    When will the modern church abandon the unbiblical practice of having “worship leaders” in the first place?

    1. I’m sorry that you feel this way Theo. But Then churches would have to get rid of Student Ministry Directors, Children’s Ministry Directors, schools inside churches, tech directors, technology, modern chairs, sound equipment. None of that was in the bible. So its all unbiblical according to your standards.

      1. Cynthia Curtis says:

        Yes. Good riddance to all of that. Completely unnecessary and a distraction from true worship of the living God.

    2. Lance says:

      Theo K –

      Can you point us to some Scriptures to undergard your statement that “worship leaders” are unbiblical? I affirm that Jesus is our truest worship leader (Heb. 2:10-12) and that it is the Spirit who empowers our worship (Phil. 3:3), but I don’t think Ronnie is using the term “worship leader” in a way that undermines those truths. Is it unbiblical to have someone who provides leadership in the corporate worship of God’s people?

    3. Ryan says:

      Extrabiblical does not equal unbiblical. Most of the practices of modern churches are not found anywhere in the Bible (for example, I don’t know, drawing resources from the internet) but that doesn’t make them wrong. There’s a reason why Calvin’s regulatory principle of worship was rejected by most of his spiritual offspring.

    4. Bronwyn says:

      I think what he meant was that music does not equal worship. The elders/pastor are the worship leaders & the entire service (music, sermon, Lord’s Supper) are all part of worship. The person leading the music shouldn’t be called the worship leader because then people think that only the music is worship. A better title would be music leader.

  3. But to the precise question: “Should unbelieving musicians lead worship?” the obvious answer should be NO. Now, if we were to ask “Should unbelieving musicians > participate < in a worship team?" I personally would ask: is the worship time for show, or is it for turning and focusing the hearts on the LORD's presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit? If the latter, then the answer, in my opinion, is still NO. I don't have the whole counsel of God on this, other than my experience and an understanding of the Scriptures as anything that pertains to ministering to the saints always required a life live as a testimony and witness to Christ being alive and honored in one's personal life.

    I would argue that dramatized "announcements" and extended pre-offering "prayers" disrupt and "cheapen" the communion and fellowship times in community gatherings much more, imho. Just being honest…

  4. JohnM says:

    Only believers should serve in any kind of ministry in the church. If we stop elevating music beyond it’s level of importance the question of finding sufficiently talented musicians won’t be so critical.

    My two cents worth. Got to go to work now. All have a good day.

    1. But the importance of music is very high according to biblical standards.

      1. JohnM says:

        I wouldn’t say the importance is “very high”. There is precedence for including it in worship. No one should have a categorical objection to it. But music should not be understood as “the one thing we do that is worship” as is often the case. It should not be the central feature or take up the bulk of a church’s corporate time, as is often the case.

    2. I actually disagree slightly; I think it’s valuing music for the wrong reasons that’s the problem. If we valued music as worship and a “worship-encourager,” it would not make any sense to have an unbeliever, because they will neither worship nor encourage worship (unless it is accidental, heh).

      IMO, it’s a de-valuation of what music in the church *ought* to be that leads to this. If we simply view music as maybe setting the mood, or getting people into the church, or attracting people … then yeah, who cares if they are believers or not?

      But if we view music *as* worship and believe that the goal of the leaders – vocalists and instrumentalists and even tech people – is to first worship God themselves and second to encourage others to worship (and, as Paul says, to admonish each other in song!) … how can an unbeliver possibly do that? And I do think instrumentalists and tech people all have a part in “leading.” Not like we typically think of, but they are certainly viewed in a different way than just someone in the congregation singing along.

  5. David B says:

    Cant believe this is a question to raise :( Oh the downgrade controversy has not completed its whirlwind of captivity yet.

  6. SteveS says:

    This is an interesting post and I can see why there should not be unbelievers on a worship team for a church congregation.

    In my own experience, I was actually saved through being on a worship team, but this team was for the youth group and not for the congregation of the church. I was wondering what you guys think of having an unbeliever play for a worship team in a youth group. This person of course would not be leading worship but playing in the worship team. Would the same biblical principles apply to this situation?

  7. Michael Roca-Terry says:

    Thought provoking article. One question sprung to mind as I read, why are you certain that a cloud of God’s glory will not fill our churches on a Sunday morning?

    What’s the scriptural basis for this assertion?

  8. anonymous says:

    Our churches will certainly not be filled with a cloud of God’s glory on Sunday mornings.

    hm, they certainly can’t? And only on Sunday? how bout enough faith then for it metaphorically

    blessed be His glorious name forever; and may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen and Amen Ps 72:19

  9. I’ve no problem with anything you said, but I had a buddy in high school who what a very good musician … well, actually he what a drummer. He partied hard–lots of drugs–and now he’s a Christian councellor. He is a Christian because he played in a Worship band. The way he tells it, first it was just a gig and then it was God calling him into the flock.

    Before I reconnected with this friend on Facebook, and heard his unbleievable story, I would have thought it unthinkable that non-Christians should not be in the church band. Perhaps I still think that, but I am glad that my friend’s local church did the unthinkable.

  10. Sarah R says:

    I’m a public school music educator and a volunteer worship leader at my church. In my town, there is a habit for some of the larger, more traditional churches to work with our major university to get the very best organists and choir directors (professors or students) to come and work at their churches. When I was at the university, these “church gigs” were coveted by everyone as an easy way to make money without a huge commitment. As an undergrad and a believer, I applied for a job at one church who never even asked about my faith background or my beliefs at all. To this day I work with conductors and musicians who are atheists or frankly hostile to the church who get paid to show up on Sunday mornings, sing, sleep through the prayers, and then make fun of everyone afterwards. I wonder if those churches are being hoodwinked or used for their money but I’m pretty sure they really don’t care, they just want the best music and musicians they can get.

    I don’t understand it. I would never accept a job, no matter how well it pays, making music at a Jewish Synagog for example – because that would be disrespectful to the people in that community. I’m not Jewish – why should I be allowed and even asked to be in that position of leadership? In my opinion, any work with music in a church is a position of leadership, even singing in a choir or playing drums. You are part of this vision and direction for the church – vision of a glorious God who deserves worship and direction towards worshipping Him well.

  11. Dedra says:

    “John said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, we saw a man using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he isn’t one of our group.’ ‘Don’t stop him!’ Jesus said. ‘No one who performs miracles in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.'” (Mark 9:38-40 NLT)

    Yes, I believe “leaders” should be persons who not only profess Christ as Lord, but also practice that profession in their everyday lives. However, I find it difficult to “exclude” anyone willing to sing or perform the praises and worship for the Lord. The passage from Mark would seem to support the inclusion of willing non-believers in the hopes that what comes out of their mouths/instruments will also enter the ear. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17 KJV).

    1. Jason says:

      I don’t think this passage from Mark says that at all. Jesus said that people who perform miracles IN HIS NAME was for him, not against him. He was talking about the distinction between apostle (chosen 12) and non-apostles, not between Christian and non-Christian.

  12. Bradley says:

    Someone should have asked Tim Keller what he thinks. Obviously there may be room for different opinions here, but if I’m not mistaken, Redeemer has non-Christians in their worship ministry. I would also guess that TK has thought through this one more than a lot of worship leaders shooting the one-line responses. I’ve always been of the mindset that only Christians should serve on the worship team, but Keller has some good points.

  13. Mr. Dee says:

    I’m a recent bible college graduate, and have taken on my first church job. My Pastor, who is awesome, has a different view on this than I do.. I grew up in a very conservative church, and the thought of an unsaved person on the stage would bring down the rafters! Now, I’m encouraged to get talented musicians on the stage EVEN IF they are unsaved. In fact- it’s encouraged because he has seen many families come to Jesus by playing music in church.

    I’m not feeling the Holy Spirit telling me to refute his leadership, I just agree with what is stated in this article. Thoughts?

    1. My first thought is this: what does your pastor think the function of the musicians “on stage” is?

      If it’s no more a spiritual function than a musician playing in a rock concert or a symphony, then I guess his conclusion is correct.

      But if it is, then I think there’s something wrong. (and I do think it is :) )

      God can use all kinds of circumstances to save people; but “people were saved” doesn’t mean that the agents creating those circumstances were acting in a way pleasing to God. An extreme example would be something like 9/11. If people (I don’t know) re-evaluated their lives because of that and actually came to Christ, that is awesome… but nobody would argue that the terrorists were thus pleasing God.

      A more biblical example might be temptation. Temptation and trails are used to sanctify us. But that doesn’t mean the agent causing the temptation and trails are “pleasing” God by doing so. God can use sinful motives, circumstances, and actions for His glory and what He deems to be good, but that does not at all mean that said sinful motives, circumstances, and actions are actually good in and of themselves… it just means we have a God that is far greater than them. :)

      (I am not trying to say your pastor, by the way, has sinful motives or actions; just illustrating the point that “good results” cannot be used, solely, to justify an action/to say that the action is what God wants us to do)

    2. Jason says:

      I think Paul Ellsworth is spot on (especially speaking as one who came to Christ because of a re-evaluation of my life post-9/11).
      Another example: I know a few people who have become believers because they were dating Christians who introduced them to Jesus. I’m glad that these brothers and sisters are in the Kingdom, but that doesn’t negate God’s command not to be unequally yoked with an unbeliever.

      I also think of Gomer, whose, erm… flighty ways, were used by God to show his people’s relationship with him.
      And the fact that he used Babylon’s wickedness as a fair and righteous judgment upon Israel.
      And Jacob lying to receive the blessing God said he’d receive.
      Yes, God’s will can and does come about from disobedience, but that doesn’t justify it.

  14. Woman worship leaders, music pastors, unbelievers leading praises to God: what is the church world coming to? (INSERT SMILEY FACE HERE)

  15. Michelle says:

    Ronnie- I can’t thank you enough for this article. This is becoming a huge issue for small churches where it’s hard to find a decent pianist, never mind a drummer or guitar player. My husband is a minister of music. We have served mainly in small churches and have faced this dilemma on more than one occasion. We came to the same biblical conclusion you did- no unbelievers serving as church musicians. Fortunately, technology can help us out here when we have no other choice. While we really don’t like using “canned” accompaniment, that option is better than having unbelievers play.

  16. Paul says:

    My perspective as copy/pasted in my email to the author this morning:

    Hi Ronnie,

    This morning I was surfing the blogosphere as I do every few days and I went to check The Gospel Coalition’s latest posts. I found your blog about Non-Christians leading worship and was quite intrigued. You see, I myself am a worship pastor. Well, technically, I am now a youth pastor but at one point I was a worship leader within a church. While I agree with you that leading worship in the church (as well as any other church ministry whether external or internal) should in no way even border on be treated as frivolous, I have to say I disagree heavily with your assertions made in your blog. I wanted to correspond with you in hopes that in the very least you would read this and at the most we might even be able to dialogue in order to better understand such an important issue as well as lead each other to the glory of Christ through thoughtful and prayerful discussion.

    A couple of years ago, another worship pastor friend of mine and I met for lunch. As we ate and talked about ministry together and exchanged prayer requests, at one point my friend piped up with, “Oh, dude! You gotta hear what’s going on! This is awesome!” He then began to tell me a story that angered me greatly. He had gone out to a bar specifically with the sole purpose and intention of finding unregenerate prospects to help fill in musician roles in his band for Sunday services. He saw this as outreach. I couldn’t believe my ears. I began to cite scriptures such as you did in rebuttal to what I considered at the time to be an incredulous and blatantly erroneous notion. Ironically, my response was almost a cookie-cutter copy of your assessment on the situation. My friend smiled and then proceeded to tell me about how he had been praying about this for quite some time and that he was assured this “was of God.” Let me vouch for my worship pastor friend. You see, he wasn’t just a skilled a musician. This guy was one of seminary’s finest. He was certainly a well-versed and theologically sound man of God which made this encounter all the more baffling to me.

    I’ll never forget what my friend told me next. He looked at me and asked, “Well, let me ask you this: would you let an unsaved person clean the toilets at your church?” Well, obviously. “Okay. So, you’d let him volunteer and clean the toilets?” Again, my answer was an emphatic yes. My friend’s next question was, “Would you let an unsaved person lead a small group or lead the congregation in prayer from the stage?” Well, of course I wouldn’t. “Well wouldn’t that be making an extinction? See, here’s the thing, Paul. I would never let an unsaved person lead a team, sing vocals, or even speak on a microphone. I see no difference in letting an unsaved person serve and volunteer through playing drums and an unsaved person cleaning the toilets.”

    There are literally dozens of stories I could share about my worship pastor friend using this method this past two years, but I’ll only share one. This one is my favorite. It is about Kevin. My worship pastor friend found Kevin at a bar slaying the drums. He was quite a gifted and skilled drummer. After the band was done this Friday night, my worship pastor friend approached Kevin and asked if he would mind helping out with a different sort of band. The moment my friend mentioned church, Kevin snickered and said, “Bro, I’ve never set foot in a church. And if you knew me a little better, I’m sure you wouldn’t want me near your’s.” After some discussion, numbers were exchanged and Kevin was invited to show up at band practice were he to change his mind… And a couple of weeks later, he showed up.

    There are some incredible stories through the course of Kevin’s journey as a drummer at church. My personal favorite is the morning Kevin simply just didn’t show up to warm ups. Fast forward to an hour before service and a few missed phone calls later and my worship pastor friend is scrambling to find a replacement. Finally Kevin called in with a hangover and said he had partied to hard the night before. My worship pastor friend, I believe filled with the Holy Spirit, answered, “Alright dude. Love ya. See you next practice.” Later that week, my worship pastor friend dropped by Kevin’s work place to drop off the demos for the next week Kevin was scheduled to play and take Kevin out to lunch. Kevin couldn’t believe he was still in the band and started to ask questions like why my friend still wanted him to be part of it and at that moment, after trust was built and developed, my friend was able to share the Gospel with him. After a couple of months, Kevin had began soaking in the words to the songs he was hearing week after week. The prayer time in the green room before services started to make sense to him. Kevin started bringing his live-in girlfriend with him on Sunday mornings and his two little boys. This is incredible! His two kids were getting taught practical, biblical messages on their level every Sunday morning in Kidzone! After his girlfriend had been attending for a few weeks, she got saved! A couple of weeks later, after she realized her sin, she moved out of Kevin’s place and said it was sinful to sleep together. Kevin’s kids both got saved as well!

    One of my other favorite stories is at about the six month mark. At this point Kevin had started showing up on time to practice and service warm ups now. He had now started coming to church even when he wasn’t playing! At this point he had been incredibly real and transparent with my worship pastor friend saying, “I know Jesus is Lord. I’m just not ready yet to say I give my life to Him.” WOW! God was stirring in Kev’s heart. On this particular Sunday morning, Kevin didn’t show up in the green room ten minutes before service started as was custom. Five minutes passed. Still no Kevin. Eight minutes. Where was Kevin? The band hits the stage. No drummer. When the countdown was at about the thirty second mark, Kevin sprints in from down the aisle, hops on the stage, runs to his kit, glances at my worship pastor friend who at this point is pretty ticked and Kevin simply says “Sorry, bro!” My worship pastor friend prayed quickly and asked God to remove the anger from his heart so he could lead in praising Jesus. After the service was over my worship pastor friend walked up to a couple he had never seen before and asked how they enjoyed the service. They said they really loved it and neither of them had been in church in years. When asked how they found out about it, they said, “Your drummer came and knocked out door this morning and said we had to come see what God was doing at this place.” WOW! WOW! WOW! Kevin was evangelizing and wasn’t even saved yet! Incredible!

    As you can imagine, Kevin eventually surrendered his life to Jesus. For you so adamantly opposed to such methodology you are probably still finding all the half-baked Scriptures to combat such a story. My question is simply does the ends justify the means? I don’t know. Why don’t you ask Kevin when we get to Heaven?

    1. Hi Paul :) (I smile pretty much anytime I say hi to someone with the same name, hehe…)

      “I see no difference in letting an unsaved person serve and volunteer through playing drums and an unsaved person cleaning the toilets.”

      I take issue with this. Cleaning a toilet, while service, is not the same as participating in/leading/encouraging-through-music corporate worship of God. I find it very … indiscriminate to say there’s no difference between cleaning a toilet sometime and playing an instrument during corporate worship. I don’t mean to say that cleaning toilets is less of service, of course; it takes humility to do so, and I think God is honored. However, because it is not a *visible* role and because you are not helping *lead people in worship* by cleaning toilets, I see a … distinct distinction. :)

      Regarding the end justifying the means; we ought to praise God that God worked in Kevin’s heart to draw him to Himself. That said, I am reminded of the story of Joseph. Joseph was used by God in a pretty big way. But I’m pretty sure none of us would say that God working through circumstances actually justified his brothers’ actions, would we?

      There’s a difference between “oh, well, the results were good so I guess the actions were okay, too” and “wow, even though the actions weren’t right, God can still accomplish what He wants to do.”

      IMO, this is why it’s so important to come at this issue biblically and not experience. As a human, “the end justifies the means” kinda makes sense. But I don’t think it does biblically, because God doesn’t judge based on the results that He was able to accomplish. There are numerous examples of this in the Bible, IMO (Joseph, many judges, even Judas… or even pre-Paul Saul persecuting the Christians!).

    2. Rob says:

      This is pragmatism. It works, so why not? My friend was brought into the church that way and has been captivated by God’s call to salvation. That was before I came and changed the policy. He is fine with it and agrees that it is a bad practice.

      Just because something works doesn’t mean it is good. The Insider Movement has “saved” millions of people (supposedly) but it has substituted Christ for something else. This is the same as the moralistic therapeutic deist movement that many pastors are preaching. It is working and brings many people into church, so who cares?!

      The Bible gives us enough information to tell us that the practice is wrong. If I have a team of confessing church members and one falls into sin, then we can correct them and bring them under our care since they have given us the ability to (by becoming a member). If I have a non-christian and they fall into sin, then the church cannot do anything about it, and it is much more public since they have been participating in a vital ministry of the church.

      This podcast from the White Horse Inn talks about the issue:

      1. Paul says:

        You can call it pragmatism or whatever you want. But this is one the biggest problems with the state of the church. Just because you disagree with methodology, you draw lines in the sand and fail to see that there are souls that would be dying and busting hell wide open if not for people like my worship pastor friend willing to face criticism for taking a different approach that ultimately WINS SOULS FOR GOD’S KINGDOM.

        Before you judge me, EVERY church has unbelievers involved in their ministries. The only difference is, we do it on purpose, and in most cases we know who they are. Heck, I’ve even worked at churches where I’m pretty sure some of the staff weren’t saved. We’re careful about it. There are guidelines. We don’t let unbelievers teach, preach, or lead worship. But we invite as well as encourage them to serve in our Guest Services teams, participate in service projects, volunteer on our parking teams, serve as audio/visual members, play in bands, and anything else we can think of!

    3. Jason says:

      Doesn’t your friend make a distinction when he says that he would never allow a non-believer to be on lead vocals, though? I’m glad that good is coming from this, but I still don’t think it lines up.

    4. 072591 says:

      **He looked at me and asked, “Well, let me ask you this: would you let an unsaved person clean the toilets at your church?” Well, obviously. **

      And THAT RIGHT THERE is the problem! An unsaved person should not be involved in ANYTHING at the church – including cleaning the toilets. I agree with whoever said it first that every act of an unsaved person is sin, especially those acts that are in service to the Lord. The church is for believers. This doesn’t mean that an unbeliever cannot attend a service – but even then, a regular attender who will not repent and turn to Christ should be told not to come back.

  17. Ryan says:

    If you want to reach out to unbelieving musicians, hold jam nights. Put on coffee houses. Host concerts. These are all great ways of encouraging the arts in the local community and providing a witness to local musicians that do not involve making them praise leaders on Sunday morning. Also I have no idea where this strange notion of “The only person leading worship is the vocalist with the mixed-out acoustic guitar” came from.

    To put another spin on it: The wait staff at your local five-star restaurant need the Gospel just as much as anyone else, and they’re skilled at distributing food and drink discretely, professionally and warmly. Are you going to start contacting them and asking if they would serve Communion?

  18. eMatters says:

    Great points. I’ve seen non-believers in praise bands, and I’ve seen non-Christians taken on mission trips and as church leaders (one was a trustee).

    That was at my former church, btw, and a big part of the reason that it is my former church.

  19. Jon Visser says:

    There are so many wrong points about this article. Everything seems to come from the wrong starting point.

    1. Church is for believers. It is not a place for non-Christians. That doesn’t mean that if someone is seeking the Lord, they can’t come to church before they are baptized and confirmed, but in no way can they have communion. Some people will disagree with that, but the Christian church has NEVER allowed that. Look at the history of the liturgy and any Christian writings. Communion is only for those confirmed and baptized. Communion is actually Christ’s body and blood – not a symbol. If it was, there would be no reason to prevent seekers from communion. Again, every Christian writer in the history of the Church believes that. Christ says so Himself and those disciples who couldn’t handle that teaching left.

    2. In whatever capacity, I believe that any workers or volunteers should be a practicing Christian. Otherwise bad yeast will cause divisions because that person does not believe or teach Christian doctrine. A big part of being a volunteer is helping others out. If someone sees a tech guy or a musician working in a church, they will be a role model. That person will have influence over people who need help or advice or encouragement. Does that mean you will always have the best people doing those jobs… no, but then you might as well have Bill Gates working in the IT department and Eddie Van Halen on guitar and Steven Spielberg working the production side of the service. We take the best we have from within the congregation and teach and build up the younger Christians to take over.

    3. Anyone in a “worship” position is a conduit of God’s grace to the congregation. As musicians, our spirits must be in the right place. Even as a Christian, there was one point where I was playing for a mega-church for awhile but my spirit started to change. Not away from God, but from the mission of this church. I knew that if I continued playing guitar for them, my spirit would hinder the worship setting of everyone else (not because I was playing poorly). Would I play there again? Sure, but only on a temporary basis to help out. I am not against Christian musicians playing at different churches, but it is best for the community if the Christian is an active member of that church. It is a good thing to have continuing education and learn from other churches and their worship setting and sometimes that takes getting in “special” musicians to help out for a little while who are not part of the congregation.

    4. The nation of Israel had a specific group of people to worship that trained for years for this service (they also lead the army into battle once – and won!). They were true, worshiping Israelites and not pagans. As musicians, we all lead the congregation to Christ. That is the whole point.

  20. Bradley says:

    I like much of the premise of this article, trying to place a high few on God’s holiness and of authentic worship. I get that and I think it’s so needed in our culture.

    But I also think that the last statement of the article is an assertion the author makes that is a little misguided.

    “Only people filled with God’s spirit can point others to His glory.”

    I think I kind of get what you’re trying to say, but this statement disregards much of the doctrine of creation, including Imago Dei. If the only people that can point others to God’s glory are spirit-filled believers, then the Psalms are wrong to say the heavens, the stars, the birds, declare the glory of God.

    Again, I get what you’re trying to accomplish in the article, but I think some of the founders of TGC would say that non-believers can bring glory to God and point to him (whether they know it or not) when they reflect his beauty that is found in the created order, including that of visual art and music.

    I guess this is an open-handed issue and not a central one, but it is a little confusing that the article presents this side as the only side. I’ll have to go back and check, but I think Tim Keller gives his few of paying non-christian musicians in “Worship by the Word” edited by DA Carson. I’m kind of getting a mixed message from TGC.

    1. Nicely stated. Although my comment will deviate from the topic of leading in worship, it is directed to your statements of bringing glory to God. Was it not Pharaoh who disobeyed God’s commands and plotted to reverse his decision to let the Israelites leave? Yet God was glorified in through his disobedience in that He demonstrated His great power as a result. Wasn’t it Paul who said that some were preaching Christ for personal gain? Yet he did not command any to tell them to stop because Jesus was being glorified. (This is not a condoning of unbelieving worship leaders, but an agreement that even unbelievers can demonstrate the glory of God, even through sin and disobedience!

  21. Allen Burns says:

    Consider this:
    1) How do you shepherd an unbeliever? It seems it is a rather awkward position for the elders/pastors to minister to the unbelieving musician in the worship band.
    2) Unbeliever, standing in the front of the church for any visitor to see. What is this person’s life like? Answer: they live like an unbeliever. So, people come in and see this person and they become a testimony to your church (the good, bad, and ugly of their lives). What if they are fornicators? Do they take the Lord’s name in vain when not at church?
    3) I like what Ryan said a few comments ago about communion.
    4) What message are you sending to an unbeliever about the value of worship if you let them participate on a formal level? What message are you sending to your congregation? What message are you giving God? It totally devalues worship. It put the ability to play an instrument as more valuable than the inner-heart.
    5) We don’t let non-members on the worship team, let alone unbelievers.

  22. CP says:

    Should Unbelieving Musicians Lead Worship?

    Sorry, this is a no brainer and doesn’t take long to answer…”What fellowship does Christ have with Belial?”

    The answer is NO!

  23. Andre says:

    Following this conversation and enjoying where it’s taking me.

    I was fascinated by Kevin’s story, and I find I don’t have an issue with it. In many evangelical traditions, organists and pianists are actually hired from outside the church, so the formal singing of hymns isn’t an issue, many of them actually went through music school using them as part of their curriculum.

    Possibly a separation could come when we enter a more charismatic type of worship experience. One that flows from the heart. But then again, how many Christian musicians and worship leaders come to church on Sunday after spending hours watching porn or getting drunk the night before?

    I wish I could be part of a church that allows the Kevins of this world a place to find purpose for his talent in a different environment. It challenges me to really focus on love. Maybe there can’t be a universal absolute answer to this question. I’m sure the Lord has lead many to His door through stranger circumstances. Kevin’s pastor was possibly following a leading of the Spirit in recruiting the lost for the kingdom and see how it works at a soul level… Kevin could have continued to go out and get hammered, not show up and totally use the church as a gig like any other. But somehow his heart got hooked by the love, attitude, setting, and he found solid ground for his heart at the table of Father God.

    I think the better question we could ask would be: “Do we have a theology of worship leading that is biblical, and if so, how can we not let our theologies shut the door of the kingdom to non-believers? How do missionaries and church-planters deal with that? Who do we answer to: God? or the board of direction?”

    Great conversation!

    Blessings to all,


  24. This is a fascinating post. Very thought provoking, and in a western world where cool Christianity is hipster, it is a timely post. Rather than posting my thoughts on the issue at hand, I would like to comment on the responses in general. I’m reading a lot of “I thinks” and “My opinions.” Let’s be careful to build our views on the foundation of God’s Word. By stating our cases without Scriptural evidence to teach, correct, or rebuke, we become not much more than those who engage in meaningless arguments (1 Tim), and then render ourselves useless to the common purpose: spreading the gospel.

  25. Steve James says:

    Thanks for this. As a pastor and worship leader your right on with only having Christians leading or playing. The issue for worship leaders is the idolatry of wanting it to sound great – your non Christian drummer is better than the guy in your congregation – so who do you choose?
    The issue for the pastor is then criticising the music director when his band isn’t so good that morning!
    I’m from he UK so things may be different but for us it’s about letting go of your pride in how good it sounds- not easy!

    1. Femi Osunnuyi says:

      Hey Steve, glad to hear this is the approach adopted over at ours.

  26. the Old Adam says:

    There are plenty of unbelievers in the pews, also.

    It’s a good thing that they are there, in the path of the living Word.

    I would not let unbelievers have anything to do with picking out the hymns (sorry – ‘songs’)…because they do not understand what is at stake or the antidote to our ‘death problem’. From what I read in the Christian blogesphere, and hear on the radio, a lot of preachers don’t either.

  27. B-tone says:

    But the temple was also built by the people of God – by that logic should we only have churches built by Christian architects and contractors, and AV systems designed by Christian acousticians? For some people the quality of the music is inherently related to the worship experience, and having good music is a great way to reach out to skeptics in the congregation. Some people can worship to much more basic music, and that is fine for them as well. I think this is an issue on which we need to think more about the context of the congregation rather than trying to pose an across-the-board norm based on a passage about trumpeters in the OT.

    1. 072591 says:

      Actually, b-tone, the answer to your question is “as much as possible.” If it is possible, then only Christians should be involved with the building, the groundskeeping, the web development, the maintenance, and the accounting. While it may not always be possible to have only Christians involved with some of those things, it is possible to have only Christians involved with facilitation of our Lord.

  28. Matt says:

    I agree, just because a certain method may lead to someone’s salvation does not mean that the method is okay and acceptable. It means that God is sovereign and works despite ourselves. How can an unbeliever worship in Spirit and in truth?

  29. Femi Osunnuyi says:

    I absolutely l-l-love Tim Keller, I cannot state just how influential he has been to my life as a Christian and a bible teacher. However, his position on this issue is one I have not been able to come to grips with despite granting the fact that he will have thought this through over and over again.
    Apart from the wonderful article above, my thoughts can be illustrated with these two questions:

    1) Q: Is music during the collective gathering of God’s people a ministry of the church, such as prayers, teaching kids and the youth etc?
    A: Yes

    2) Q: Should any of the ministries of the church be open to unbelievers at any point? Would I be comfortable if an unbeliever, possessing unbelievable (no pun intended) communicative skills, were the youth pastor/leader?
    A: No

    Therefore (at the risk of being reductionistic), we should not make special concessions for this particular ministry on such a fundamental issue.
    I fear that creating a separate membership standard for the music ministry of the church fundamentally redefines what local church ministries are. Different ministries will have different functions and different competency requirements from those serving in them, but the criteria for membership should essentially be the same. If this is not the case, we inevitably begin to create cracks in the common foundation that should under-gird the various ministry expressions in the church.

    Also I do not think that arguing from a pragmatic -the end justifies the means -sense on this issue will help in coming to any theological conclusion. We should celebrate that God, through this means, sovereignly saves unbelievers, but this still does not make it right. None of us will encourage unbelievers to join jihadists who specialize in targeting Christians simply because Paul was converted in a similar fashion. The sovereign God will always gather His elect through means that will constantly dumbfound us, to His glory, but this does not mitigate our responsibility to reason out from Scriptures which means are permissible for us to use.

  30. Johnny A says:

    Well, if you can make an atheist band leader somehow jive with the regulative principle, then… oh wait, you can’t.

  31. Rev. Min Thu says:

    Yes, I do strongly this article. The people who know God their Savior should lead the Worship.

  32. zilch says:

    I don’t see anyone here talking about the other side: should I, as an atheist, provide music for Christians? I’ve done so in countless services and masses, and I must admit, I feel a bit strange singing “credo in unum Deum”. Will my spot in Hell be hotter or cooler because of this?

    1. Jon Visser says:

      Zilch, unfortunately, you misname yourself as an atheist when you are an agnostic. This is because it is impossible to be an atheist – it would mean that you are god or that god told you he doesn’t exist. Either way, that disproves the idea that there is no god. The best you can do is not be sure if there is a god or not.

      The question you need to ask yourself is if you want to experience God. You sing music for people and they are able to worship God because of you. You should talk with the priest about this. Life is much better with God and death will be even greater.

      1. zilch says:

        Jon- thanks for the thoughtful comment. I call myself an atheist because what that means to me, and to most atheists I know, is that I don’t believe in gods. I don’t need to be a god or have gods talking to me to not believe in them. I don’t claim to be absolutely sure, or have proof, that gods don’t exist; but provisionally I don’t believe in them.

        An agnostic, at least according to the original meaning by Huxley, Darwin’s “Bulldog”, who coined the term, is someone who thinks the question of God’s existence cannot be proven one way or another. I believe this too, so I’m also an agnostic. The terms “atheist” and “agnostic”, at least the way I use them, are not mutually exclusive.

        And yes- I’ve asked myself many times if I want to experience God. And I’ve asked God many times to come to me. No show so far. But some very nice music along the way. For instance, do you know Josquin Dezprez’ “Ave Christe Immolate? If there’s anything more divine than that, I don’t know what it is.

        If you want to believe in God, that’s fine with me. Lots of my friends are believers- in fact, the mother of my children is a believer. I don’t care what people believe as long as they behave nicely.

        cheers from hot Vienna, zilch

        1. Jon Visser says:

          Zilch, Thanks for sharing the Des Prez. I am a huge fan of polyphony and Renaissance music. The new “Christian” pop/praise and worship crap in contemporary services have about as much good theology to most polyphony as the story lines in a Sunday comic does compared to Dostoevsky.

          I understand your “atheist” and “agnostic” reasoning as not being exclusive.

          I’d have to say that you really do get to experience God in an amazing way every time you sing. I feel badly that God isn’t showing Himself to you as you want Him to. I suppose you feel like you don’t need to worry about a God as long as everyone behaves nicely. I think it’s because people don’t behave nicely that I draw closer to God and His perfection. Either way, keep searching and be open… but than again, if you keep an open mind, people will dump garbage in it.

          1. zilch says:

            Jon- you’re most welcome. Drop me a line if you’re ever out this way, or in the SF Bay Area most summers, and lunch is on me.

            cheers from rainy Austria, zilch

  33. D4JEtu Thanks for sharing, this is a fantastic blog article.Much thanks again. Much obliged.

  34. Graeme says:

    The truth is, the Bible doesn’t say anything about this at all, at least not directly. There were no “worship” bands as such in Jesus’ day. The matter is chiefly one of how to apply theological principles to a very modern question.

    My primary objection to the article is the final sentence: “Only people filled with God’s spirit can point others to His glory.” Where exactly does this statement come from? In fact, the Bible says even animals and flowers do this. Surely people made in God’s image, whether Christian or not, can point others to God’s glory, whether intentionally or not.

  35. Drawing the line … on the one extreme I think almost everyone will agree that the people doing the primary preaching and teaching must be Christians … on the other extreme, I don’t know many churches that require “proof of Christianity” for the people who manufactured the materials that the church building, instruments, etc… are made of … At this point I don’t think we require our parking lot attendants to be church members … and if we had a cleaning day at the church, we wouldn’t require those who are helping to give their testimony first, … So how about some really tricky ones like:
    -sound tech? lighting tech? media tech? videographer? Setting up Stage?
    -the people installing and training your sound/lighting/media team…
    -orchestral members for a special worship service/concert?
    -would it change things if the band was not on stage, but in an “orchestra pit”?
    -musicians at a Christian wedding/funeral at your church?

    I am passionate about training our own volunteers to do the core leadership functions of the worship service. I’ve only ever had people claiming to be Christians as musicians and technicians, but I’ll leave it to God to judge those who might read the scriptures differently…

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Ronnie Martin is lead pastor of Substance Church (EFCA) in Ashland, Ohio and co-author with Ted Kluck of Finding God in the Dark (Bethany House, 2013). You can follow him on Twitter.