Many modern churches are including secular songs as a part of their worship set these days including songs from artists such as Taylor Swift, U2, Coldplay and others. Here are my thoughts on this in response to this article from Desiring God… https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/shake-it-off
First off, I don’t disagree with the article per say, but think there are some other things to consider in addition to what is outlined as the “dilemmas.”
Music is Worship
All music was created originally for the Worship and Praise of God. Some scholars believe that Satan himself was basically a musical instrument in form, and was responsible for leading the Worship of God in Heaven prior to the exaltation of himself above God, which resulted in the immediate, lighting strike fast, ejection from heaven…. which should serve as a warning to all the “super-stars” in the church music world.
So as man began to pervert music in it’s purest form, he (as a society of people) started creating music that worshiped other things such as sin, and even Satan directly. All music however, is still praise and worship and with rare exception can be placed in one of five categories. The categories of worship subjects are:
- God the creator; His character, his actions, his authority, etc.
- The creation; trees, birds, women, men, etc.
- The condition; emotional states of sadness, joy, romantic love, sickness, poverty, etc.
- Sin; adultery, idolatry, hatred, revenge, anger, etc.
- Satan; the character or person of fallen angels or Satan himself.
So you might be thinking… “what about stories?”. Some songs are just stories told with a melody and chords right? Well maybe… but if we’re honest, every good story has a point. The point of the store will always reveal the object of the worship.
With that being said, there are certainly songs that have been successful that don’t really seem to have any object, or point to be made, in which case it is generally the music itself (the rhythm or melodies) that seem to make it popular.
In some cases the music is paired with other art forms such as cinema, or videos that articulate the subject and the ultimate object of worship. In those cases, the music and the visual art combine together to become a form of worship.
Back to the point at hand… mechanically speaking music consists of a series of rhythmic patterns, melodies, and usually words, that combine to make a song. In all honesty, we all churches are most likely already doing several “secular” songs in their weekly sets if you just look at the music portion. Take a I – V – vi – IV chord pattern which is very popular in modern Worship music…
So using that same chord progression we have some great worship songs like, Awesome is the Lord Most High, Consuming Fire, I Will Rise, Made to Worship, Your Grace is Enough, Better Than Life, Thank you Lord, The Happy Song, Worthy is the Lamb, Blessed be Your Name, Heart of Worship, and many, many more.
And both the secular and Christian chord progression examples are from just one chord progression. So then you add the melodies, which are essentially just a series of notes at different timings and intervals. These usually (and legally) differentiate the songs to some degree, but I’m convinced the most important and relevant difference that we are talking about are the lyrics… which identify the object of worship.
Just the Words
Since the lyrics are primarily what makes one song and its category of worship different from another, then it should be the lyrics that we pay the most attention to in regards to selecting songs to be included in a Worship set. If a song communicates the desired message, supports it, or in itself glorifies (worships or praises God), then I don’t think it really matters who wrote it, or whose “money” made it popular.
Have you ever noticed that some of the most popular songs, could have been a worship song if just one or two words were changed? I don’t think that is by chance, but rather the fact that God’s gift of that song was written by a person called to be His psalmist.
Shake it Off
So let’s take a look at the song used as the title of the article, “Shake it Off”. Apart from what could be a couple of sexual innuendos, the song seems to be about ignoring what people say by “shaking it off”, and moving on with your life, goals, etc. There will always be “haters”, and they are going to “hate.” Not a spiritual message? Maybe not… but consider what Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 10:14, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town, and shake the dust off your feet.” Some people will not listen to you in regards to the gospel (“haters gonna hate, hate, hate”), some people will profess the gospel but not live it (“fakers gonna fake, fake, fake”). Jesus told his disciples to “Shake it Off”. While I would never schedule this song during a “Worship Set”, I can definitely see a strong sermon illustration here. You could also go with Paul “shaking off the serpent” in Acts 28.
How about this song by Pharrell Williams? “Here come bad news, talking this and that. Well give me all you got, don’t hold back. I should probably warn ya I’ll be just fine. No offense to you, don’t waste your time… here’s why… because I’m happy.” This song proclaims the writer is full of joy, regardless of the bad news you might bring. Not only that, but it goes on to encourage others to be happy too, and clap their hands, etc. Makes me think of Paul and Silas in prison. Or how about Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord Always”.
These are just a couple of examples and while I don’t think I would use either in a “Worship” set, I can definitely see how they might be used to get a message across. The bottom line is that God is not impressed with our chord patterns, melodies, lyrics, pews, chairs, lights, fog, or any of the elements that make up modern, or traditional church… but he is impressed with the true heart of worshipers, who will worship Him in spirit and in truth, regardless of who wrote the song, the music, how good or bad the musicians and singers are, etc. Whether we say, “great art thou oh God”, or “Jesus be a-ight with me”; whether we have an organ, or a 10 piece “rock” band; whether we sing, “I Love you Lord, and I lift my voice”, or if we bust into the chorus to Whitney Houston’s, “I will always love You” (singing to the Lord) in the car, it is the heart of Worship that matters.
And finally, never judge another ministry in their efforts to reach the lost. While we may not agree with other ministry’s methods, or even their theology, it is always best to focus on your own ministry and fulfilling what God has called you to do. In regards to other peoples affairs, we almost NEVER have the whole story.