Should a church musician also play secular music?


Felix Atto's drums

I have been having a Facebook conversation with a young drummer in Kenya named Felix. (Isn’t it amazing how the world is shrinking!) He is a sincere follower of Jesus and also loves to play the drums. He has opportunities to play drums in secular venues, playing secular music, earning some money, but he is conflicted: He is not sure if he should play secular music. This is a question that I have had to answer along my journey as well. He asked for my advise and this was my response:

Should a church musician also play secular music?

It’s a good and important question, but one I cannot answer for you. If you follow Jesus, then I believe His Spirit fills you and is talking to you. Pray! Listen to his voice. Ask for advise from others … like you have from me. The answer should become clear to you.

To me there is not a certain yes or no with questions like this. But ask yourself: Am I bringing the love and light of Jesus with me when I play drums away from the church? Am I an influence for good? Or am I being influenced to move away from my love for Christ Jesus? Ask fellow believers to answer these questions about you. I hope this helps.

I will also share that I spent many years playing secular music in secular venues as a follower of Jesus. The experienced helped develop me as a person and as a musician. I believe it was the right choice for me.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. Colossians 3:23

A plumber can do his job in a way that honors God if he is working on the home of a fellow believer or the home of someone outside the church community. You can drum for God no matter where you are drumming, but be aware that the dangers and temptations will be stronger away from the church community. Make sure you remain connected and covered by your church family. No matter if you are drumming in the church or in a secular venue, the audience is always God! Peace to you!

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19 thoughts on “Should a church musician also play secular music?

  1. I have experience doing both music — and my paid profession of paralegal, both for church and for pay/pleasure. I figure that God gave me the abilities to do these things and support myself and enjoy myself, and also to do things for His kingdom. All work — whether specifically for the Kingdom or for secular employers (including self-employment) should be done as unto the Lord, thus you give glory to Him that way by doing your best!

    • I’m with you Heather. The word “Christian” is an ineffective adjective. There should not be any such thing as a “Christian job” or a “secular job” for the follower of Jesus. If I follow Jesus, everything I do should be done for Him.

  2. I sense that there are two types of Christian musicians: the Christian who enjoys music and the Christian who has been called into a music ministry. It would seem that the Lord moved you Grant from one position to the other.

    In this regard, if music is a ‘calling’ then it would be wise counsel to focus on the One who called you. After all, should a pastor also preach secular messages? He certainly could, but why would he want to?

    Back to music. Considering much of the subject matter of secular music, a Christian (called or uncalled) might be hard-pressed to find lyrics that do not offend the Creator. To ignore that lyric-reality is to operate outside of the will of God.

  3. As a church musician for many years I agree with Dave. What goes into your ears also goes into your heart. Is anyone really giving their gift of music to God , if they still love the worldly words to songs? If you are ashamed to play it where strong Christians attend then it is probably wrong period.

    • Thanks for your input Debra. But based on your comment, I’d say my opinion and yours differ on this. As a musician, or indeed with any other vocation, followers of Jesus are sent into the world, not to hide ourselves away in a “Christian Bubble” where we will never have any so called “worldly” influences. We are not immune from un-Godly influences, true, but surely the call of the follower of Jesus to be the hands and feet of Christ where-ever The Spirit leads is a stronger call than any desire to keep separate. I don’t believe it’s God who is offended by the questionable lyrics of songs written and sung by people who don’t know God’s love. He understands. But they are often offensive to religious people who but a high premium on their own appearance of holiness. It’s worth remembering this: Jesus’ example, while on earth in human form, is of hanging out with the “worldly”. The only group of people Jesus seemed to have a serious problem with were the religious leaders of His day who would NEVER allow themselves to be tarnished by associations with “worldly” people.

  4. “Christian Bubble”? Worldly influence is all around us in this day and time. It is the strong Christian who looks it in the eye and says “NO”, I will have no part in using my talents for unholy songs, immorally worded songs. As for as myself I don’t have to “put on any appearance of holiness”. I just don’t care about the worlds music. I never bought any of it nor missed any of it. Long years ago someone tried to suggest leaving gospel music and play for a rock band. I told them I had no desire whatsoever to even go near it. We are to lead the lost to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. You say “God understands”? Yes, he surely does. He knows our thoughts, our desires, our wants.

    • I am truly sorry if I am misunderstanding your position. I don’t wish to engage in a debate here. I suspect we may actually be largely in agreement, but we are speaking past each other, at least in some of this. May I point you to this Bible passage?:

      “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” 1 Corinthians 4: 4-5

      I totally respect you in your belief that God led you to steer clear of any involvement with secular music. I would simply caution you from making that a rule for every musician everywhere. If a musician feels led by God to be involved in music outside the church, they are either wrong about that, or right. If a musician feels they are led by God to steer clear of any involvement with secular music, they may be right about that … or they might be wrong. Maybe they’d be wrong in assuming some sort of Pharisaical, moral superiority to other musicians who have chosen differently.

      In truth, I believe none of our human hearts are pure in our motives, nor are we perfectly obedient to the will of God. We are all some mix of “right” and “wrong”. None of us have arrived. We are currently being transformed. Only God can judge. You and I would be wrong to think that we can. Your conscience might be clear Debra, but that does not make you innocent. Nor should it make you believe you can judge the heart and the behavior of all musicians everywhere.

      Peace to you.

      • Grant, not one of us is perfect but we should strive to honor God alone, not people, even though we are also servants to members of a church. I can tell you with all honesty, that members of a church feel the same way toward it’s musicians as they do the pastor. If they found I was participating in playing rock music for example, I would be put off the piano bench pretty quick. I don’t think that all secular music is wrong. I have been asked to play for church banquets, and they wanted to hear songs such as Exodus, Chariots of Fire, old folk song type music of yesterday. I think they content of what we play is the answer. God bless you.

      • It sounds to me that you have been serving in, what may be, a very critical, judgmental and religious environment. I am sorry if that is the case. Yes, we should please God and not people, but it’s just as possible to succumb to people pressure to play only certain songs a certain way in the church too. Pleasing people is never the same as pleasing God – even if the people call themselves Christian. The content of what we play is certainly a consideration, but not the answer. Jesus – who knows our hearts – is the answer. God Bless you too.

  5. Well, Grant, I don’t think we are communicating well here. I think the drummer just needs to decide for himself, I cannot answer for him. IT would be tuff to force someone to only do gospel music if their wants are somewhere else also. I feel like he will be able to decide soon. There are people like myself who hate rock, heavy metal “anything”. People seem to divide church music into two category’s. There are more than contemporary and southern to gospel to sing in church.

    • I have to agree with you Debbie. To me, personally, secular music drains my spirit. If it does not feed my spirit, I stay away from it. I could eat a small portion of rat poison and live………but there will be stiff consequences to doing so. If I can stand in a bar and entertain people who are drinking and say “Lord, I do this to your glory, then it is ok. But I can’t. It all goes back to WWJD. We should do all things to the glory of God. Slippery slopes are everywhere, and if we don’t stay off of them we will end up riding them.

  6. Let’s explore the term “conflict of interest”. Burger King is not going to invite McDonald’s to be a major influence in how they run their restaurants, introduce new ideas, or allow their stricktest competitor to be privy to their confidential business. There is a yes or no answer to this question all you have to do is ask yourself, “whose best interest am I serving?”

    • Well put Ruby. Thanks for your input. But given that this is a field of so many mixed motives, and tugging influences on BOTH sides of the equation, I am not sure I can ask and answer that question of myself honestly. I would not intend to lie to myself, but I am fully capable of the lie anyway. We ALL aren’t capable, whether we realize it or not. I think the question, “Whose best interest am I serving?” needs to be asked of God, not myself. I need to listen to His answer to that question not my own. That is what I have tried to suggest to my drummer friend.

  7. I have played Christian music in secular venues and secular music in church over a 45 year musicians experience. I’ve found that some will appreciate and some will challenge your song selection in either place.
    I believe that a professional musician is like any other person working at a profession. A person who is spirit filled is always being challenged to honor Jesus, and not bring him shame, on their job.
    I play only family friendly secular venues that accept Christian content in songs and even hymns.
    My Pentecostal church only allows worship music. At one time or another I’ve “performed” secular songs like Al Greens, Let’s Stay Together for church functions “Valentines Day” couples dinners, and even done a Pierce Pettis or David Wilcox song. I’ve also re-lyric’d pop and country songs
    and sort of sanctified them for church “specials”. Some timeless traditional hymns were re-lyric’d Tavern beer drinking sing alongs.
    Lyric content is one issue, but I’ve also seen worship music get people dancing in not exactly modest ways. God knows our thoughts and intent. We should guard against causing a brother to “stumble” by “eating meat offered to idols” so to speak. So just be honest with God about the music you play, and be honest with yourself.

    • Good comments Jim. Thanks for your words. I agree that we must be honest with God and with ourselves as we make these choices (or any others). I would only add to that, that we must recognize that God alone knows our hearts and that we do not. We can easily be fooling ourselves that we are being honest with him and ourselves. We can easily think that our motivations are pure and be completely wrong about that. This is where the community of believers and the conviction of the Holy Spirit are essential.

      • “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” 1 Corinthians 4: 4-5

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