It’s a debate I’ve had with many people over the years, and my own views on the subject have certainly changed with time. Many Christians I know would say genre can determine whether or not a piece of music is worshipful. I disagree.
First of all, artists don’t fall neatly into separate genres anymore. They often span two or three different genres, and each song itself can also vary in category. Genres aren’t easily delineated. And just because an artist comes from a non-worship genre or doesn’t play worship music exclusively, that doesn’t mean their music can’t be worshipful.
I contend that the “worship” classification for each song is actually based on two things: 1) the lyrics themselves and 2) the heart of the person singing it or listening to it at the time. Obviously, the heart of the person who wrote and originally performed a song affects this criteria, but once they share that song with others, the listeners are free to interpret the song in their own way– that’s the beauty (and sometimes the frustration) of art.
While I love hymns and traditional praise songs, some of the songs I use to worship my King aren’t either. My favorite song (of all time) is Hanging by a Moment by Lifehouse. While this band has Christian roots, they’re a mainstream group and this song is most often viewed as a human-to-human love song. But most of the time, when I listen to it (or belt it out in the car), I’m singing it to God. And for me, it communicates how I feel about my relationship with him better than just about any hymn or praise chorus I know:
“Desperate for changing/ starving for truth/ I’m closer to where I started/ I’m chasing after you/ I’m falling even more in love with you/ letting go of all I’ve held onto/ standing here until you make me move/ I’m hanging by a moment here with you”
Ok, so maybe that’s acceptable– after all, Colton Dixon performed a Lifehouse song on American Idol and called it worship (plus the song he sang has been used in about 5,000 church skits) but what about something more questionable?
Take Lecrae. The biggest mark against his music being considered worship? He raps. And there’s no way rap should be used as a worship time to segue into a John Piper sermon… is there? (you know I’m looking at you, E-Money) Granted, I’m sure Lecrae himself would say that many of his songs are not worship (though I’m also sure he sees his career as ministry and a type of worship in itself). But, especially for people who have been raised on hip-hop and relate to it, many of his songs are the closest thing they have to worship in a musical language they really connect with. These songs have lyrics like:
“So let me just shadow you/ let me trace your lines/ Matter of fact, just take my pen/ here, you create my rhymes/ ‘Cause if I do this by myself/ I’m scared that I’ll succeed/ And no longer trust in you/ ’cause I only trust in me… I could play the background, background/ and you can take the lead.”
That may not be the kind of worship some people are used to, but it’s worship just the same. In fact, some Lecrae songs (in my opinion), have far deeper lyrics than the majority of songs on Christian radio today, and even many praise songs.
Ok, but what about truly secular artists? Can their music really be worshipful for Christians? Really, I’d say it comes down to your own heart and mind. There are several songs by secular artists that, in my life, I can’t help but sing to God or think about him when I hear them.
If you love someone, nearly every love song you hear becomes a love song to them. I don’t think we should let genres, traditions, acceptable mediums, or the boundaries of our comfort zones keep us from expressing our love for him. He created music, and he can be glorified through the beauty of every note, every beat, even if it doesn’t fit my style.
One secular song that hits my ears and leave my mouth as worship is All You Did Was Save My Life by Our Lady Peace (a song I’ve mentioned on here before). The chorus goes:
“All you did was save my life/ Pulled me out of that flat line/ Put the heartbeat back inside/ I’m not dying/ All you did was get me through/ I owe every breath to you/ Heart and soul unparalyzed/ All you did was save my life”
The way I see it, that’s what Jesus did for me… and I worship him when I think about the almost comical irony, yet extreme beauty of the phrase “all you did was save my life.” Though most secular songs don’t explicitly mention God, some of them hint at a deeper spiritual meaning and love… which I find in God. As much we have our ears open to recognize dishonor in secular songs, we should also have them open and tuned to recognize that in secular songs which could be honoring to God.
I won’t even get into this topic with some of my favorite bands that are mainstream artists coming from Christian backgrounds (Needtobreathe, Switchfoot, etc.), because I could write about that all day. Though if you want to know how I feel about Needtobreathe, check out this previous post.
But why does this even matter? It’s kind of a picky thing, and certainly one that we can agree to disagree on. Personally, I have to remind myself often that worship isn’t about me– whether it’s happening in a church sanctuary or in a massive auditorium on the street in a car. It isn’t about if I don’t like the music or the genre or that one phrase or how many times the chorus is repeated. When we get stuck on those details, they become ruts that keep us focused on ourselves and our preferences instead of pointing us upward, to God– the one we ought to be worshiping. And heaven forbid my ruts from ever extending to those around me in a way that keeps them from worshiping our deserving, amazing King.
COMMENT: What non-traditional songs do you find yourself using to worship God?