A friend of mine recently shared a great quote from a worship leader: “When you preach, you’re putting words in people’s ears. When I sing, I’m putting words in people’s mouths.” What a profound statement on the weight of the words we sing! As I’ve sat beside a dear saint on their death bed, I find that they rarely quote their favorite theologians, but they do sing their favorite hymn or worship song.
I’ve seen calls for pastors to exclude songs from ministries and artists who hold theological stances that many evangelicals might disagree with. While I don’t have the space here to dig into the theology or practice of each of these artists, it’s worth simply asking the question: should we, as pastors, narrow the spectrum of artists whose songs we sing corporately?
My elder team and I recently discussed this question in-depth. My hope is to present both sides fairly. We’ll start with three brief arguments for including songs from artists like those I just mentioned, then move to three brief arguments for exclusion of some artists. I’ll conclude by sharing what my elders and I decided for our church.
Three arguments for inclusion
1. Is the song is theologically accurate?
The most important thing is that the songs we use in corporate worship are theologically sound. Horatio Spafford, author of the hymn “It Is Well,” held theological views that many would take issue with. Yet there aren’t calls (yet) for boycotting this well-known hymn. As long as the words we’re singing are theologically accurate, we need not forbid certain artists from our repertoire.
2. The vast majority of congregants won’t be led astray by artists.
Through our teaching and discipleship of the congregation, our church should be able to separate between the truths we sing and possible error artists espouse in their churches. In fact, by singing and discussing these songs openly with our congregation, it can help them grow in their discernment when they ask about the artists who composed them.
3. It’s virtually impossible to draw a line consistently.
With the increasing collaboration between artists today, it is extremely difficult to police which artists are theologically sound and which are not. Where do we draw the line? Or is it really even possible to draw these lines? And how much time would it take to try and keep up with all these collaborations between artists as they constantly change?
Three arguments for exclusion
1. In our digital age of accessibility, members can be led astray.
When artists have clearly questionable teaching and practice, singing their songs can inadvertently lead people astray. Admittedly, there are plenty of artists whose teaching and/or practice are not known to us. It’s virtually impossible to implement these limitations with perfect consistency. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, especially for artists and groups who have such large platforms and influence. We’re not just singing songs our church members will remember; they will go home and Google artists they hear and like.
2. By singing their songs, we are supporting these artists and their ministries.
Even though it’s not a verbal endorsement of all their ministries, using songs from questionable (or straight-up heretical) artists not only supports them, but spreads their influence. Churches are required to pay license fees through organizations like CCLI when they sing copywritten songs, so there are financial implications every time you report usage of a worship song you sing corporately. That alone should cause us pause.
3. There are so many great worship artists we align with theologically.
We’re not going to run out of great worship songs to sing in our congregations. It doesn’t put us in a bind to limit which artists we use. Perhaps expanding our repertoire can be a good thing, especially if it points congregants to artists with whom we have no hesitation on their theology and influence. With so many great songs from great artists, why not focus on and support theologically solid artists?
Where our church landed
There could be many more arguments and nuances given here on both sides of the issue. For us, we decided to steer all church ministries away from using songs written by theologically questionable artists who have an active influence on Christians.
We don’t have a problem with our congregants listening to these songs on their own; in fact, some of our own favorite songs come from these artists. However, for the shepherding of our church, for the support of orthodox and faithful Christian worship artists across the world, and due to the biblical mandate to have nothing to do with the “fruitless deeds of darkness” (Ephesians 5:11), we’ve decided it is best to avoid these artists in all corporate gatherings and ministries.
With so much confusion in our world about biblical truth and what it means to be a Christian, we need to take seriously our task of shepherding our flocks in the truth. No matter where you land on this important question, I would encourage you to do your research and ask the hard questions. No matter what you decide, this is a weighty task. Why? Because we’re not only putting words in people’s ears when we preach. We’re putting words in people’s mouths when we sing.