Hi! Let me introduce you to my atheist worship leader!

Yesterday I posted something on Facebook regarding who we have as part of our worship teams that I wanted to dive a little deeper into.

For context, you can check out the original post HERE.

As an added bonus (I love bonuses!), here is a little background on me: I am a part time worship leader in my church. I’ve been leading worship since the fall of 2001 (14 years) when I started as a guitar player for Campus Crusade for Christ’s worship team while I was in college (Charleston Southern University).

And by “worship team” I mean I played guitar and another guy played guitar and sang.

We had a pretty faithful group of about 30-40 college kids between the ages of 18 and 21 (I myself was 19) and we met in a small lobby outside of the Registrar’s Office. We were high tech in our presentation too. And by “high tech” I mean we used an old transparency projector on a rolling cart we got from the library which projected onto an off-white wall. No sound system. No lights (other than the awesomely bright incandescent lights above our heads). Just this old beast projector, our guitars, and our voices. Occasionally we had a guy jump in with a djembe. Which added a touch of “drum circle” to it.

Over the course of a few months I transitioned from guitar guy to the worship leader guy, and ultimately the other guy stepped out of the picture entirely. But I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to worship.

In that atmosphere, as a kid who grew up in a Southern Baptist Church who pretty much only sang like 6 hymns out of the 500+ hymns in the Baptist Hymnal (1991 edition of course), I was introduced to the meaning of worship and caught a glimpse of what it meant to be unbridled in worship and to worship from a place of love and devotion to God.

In those moments I saw that God demanded our hearts, and not our projectors.

In those moments I saw that He demanded our humility, and not our lights.

In those moments I saw that He demanded our entire being, and not just a cool facility to worship in.

It was an amazing experience that unfortunately brought with it a sense of “something is wrong with my church back home because no one is doing it like this there.” It led to a lot of soul searching, a development of incorrect attitudes toward traditional worship settings and worshipers, and…I hate to admit this….but a sense of elitism when it came to the people who I grew up with in my “formative years” in the church. I felt that I was the only one getting it right, and they were clearly doing it wrong and have been for centuries.

Thankfully God kicked my butt and wrenched my heart (Thank you 2 Samuel 6), and I found my way through that mess and developed a heart for all worshipers of all backgrounds and of all environments. It took a long time but with that came an understanding that not everyone comes with the same experiences that I do and the same heart or attitude or education in worship that I have.

Those were my early foundational years of learning to worship. And thank you God for giving them to me.

As I started into my early years as a worship leader in a Church (an Episcopal one at that) I was a big proponent of allowing just about anyone to come in and be part of my church’s worship ministry. I had literally ZERO standards when it came to the ministry, except one – can you play your instrument or sing?

And because of that I got burned…a LOT!

I can’t say this enough though…thank God for bringing pastors and other ministers into my life who helped shape me and guide me through a lot of my early failures as a worship leader and helped bring me to the place that I am in now.

But I say ALL of this because unfortunately, it is not too uncommon to find worship ministries in churches all over the place in the United States NOW, where musicians are not held to any standard, let alone held to any “profession of faith”. I’ve literally heard of church worship ministries who employee or bring in volunteer musicians/singers who are atheist or flat out from another religion altogether (I believe Hinduism was the religion of the one I was told about).

Couple that with all sorts of other issues such as these musicians/singers living with their boyfriend/girlfriend, being an active homosexual, or engaging in all sorts of sinful and unsavory behavior 6 out of 7 days of the week, and if they were really honest, probably engaged in those things 7 days out of the week.

And I look at this and questions start flooding my mind…

…What is this communicating to the church?

…What is this communicating to the world who is looking in on the church?

…Where are our standards?

…Are worship teams simply believing that they are above these things and do not require these standards because we are more concerned with having a full worship team with professional sounding musicians and “quality”? Or do we just simply not care that the message we are sending to the church and the world is that “We don’t care how you live, just make sure you show up at practice and play well on Sunday?”

Over the years I have developed and reshaped how I view the worship ministry and I believe I have landed on a pretty healthy and biblical philosophy for what a worship ministry should look like.

Here it is:

  1. The Worship Leader is the head of the worship team. He/She is responsible for setting the temperature and standards for the rest of the worship team and ultimately the church. They manage the team from top to bottom and act as a spiritual leader to the members of the team and should have times of spiritual outpouring into their lives or at the very least have requirements that they belong to LIfeGroups or other ministries in the church that deepen and challenge their spiritual growth.
  2. Musicians and Singers are JUST as equally responsible to be “worship leaders” as is the Worship Leader. Sure the worship leader is the front and center person of the ministry, but each person on the team is just as responsible as the other for leading in worship since they are just as visible to the church.
  3. Leading Worship does not begin or end with stepping on or off the stage. It extends into every aspect of our lives. And whether we like it or not, people are watching us. And because of our visibility, we HAVE to make sure that we are living in line with a biblical standard of being above reproach.
  4. And for crying out loud, BE A CHRISTIAN!! I can’t even believe I have to say this….but seriously folks, you need to actually believe in, serve, and worship the very God you are leading others into worshiping. Otherwise, you are a liar.
  5. Have standards for your team. Because of their visibility, with that will come greater responsibility. And with greater responsibility will come greater requirements. These standards should be the first things mentioned to any prospective worship team member. If they aren’t onboard with the requirements, then the conversation isn’t worth taking any further.

If you have no standards, and you bring in musicians and singers who are not even believers in the God we worship, you are in essence engaging in “missionary dating” or “missionary marriage”. I totally appreciate the heart of these worship teams to want to believe that by allowing these kinds of people into the music ministry that they will provide an influence over these people’s lives that would hopefully lead them to Christ and change their life forever.

But just like in missionary dating or missionary marriage, this is rarely the case. And when it does happen it is more likely the exception and not the rule. And in the process of trying to be a missionary to them you are endangering your ministry, yourself, and your church.

If you want to be a missionary, and an evangelist, and lead others to the Lord, PLEASE DO! We need more people like that. But PLEASE don’t use the worship ministry of the church as the base camp for this outreach to the lost.

You must remember why the worship team exists to begin with:

  1. To lead people in worship of God
  2. To proclaim the message of God through music
  3. And to set the temperature of worship for the church

If they don’t believe in God, or believe in another god, or live like hell during the week and come in with no expectation of being “set apart”, how can you possibly expect them to accomplish the 3 things listed above?

Short answer: YOU CAN’T!

I believe 1 Chronicles 25 gives us a great picture of the expectations we should have on the musicians/singers of the worship teams in our churches:

David and the army commanders then appointed men from the families of Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun to proclaim God’s messages to the accompaniment of lyres, harps, and cymbals.

All these men were under the direction of their fathers as they made music at the house of the Lord. Their responsibilities included the playing of cymbals, harps, and lyres at the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman reported directly to the king. They and their families were all trained in making music before the Lord, and each of them—288 in all—was an accomplished musician. The musicians were appointed to their term of service by means of sacred lots, without regard to whether they were young or old, teacher or student. 1 Chronicles 25:1 and 6-8

Notice the requirements they had placed on them:

  1. Appointed by the king to proclaim God’s message through music
    • TRANSLATION: They were appointed to and expected to preach God’s word through music
  2. They were under the direction of their fathers as they made music in the temple
    • TRANSLATION: They were to be disciples and students under their fathers
  3. Their family was trained in making music BEFORE the Lord
    • TRANSLATION: They were to lead their families in becoming worshipers of God as well.
  4. They were skilled musicians
    • TRANSLATION: They were to be skilled at what they do. (i.e. practice and learn your craft, don’t just come in and wing it)
  5. They were sacredly appointed without regard to their age or whether or not they were a student or teacher
    • TRANSLATION: This was taken seriously, and the position they held was a sacred position and not just by anyone, but by skilled worshipers. And I believe when they say there was no regard to whether or not they were a teacher or student was to draw attention away from their “skill” (though that was required) and put more emphasis on being called by God to do what they do.

If these are the requirements placed on the men responsible for leading the worship in the Temple of the Old Testament – why in the world would we expect less of our musicians now in the Church of the New Testament?

So I beg you to PLEASE look deeply and intently at how your worship ministry is being conducted and ask yourself if it is being conducted in a way that honors God and serves the people of the Church the best way that it can.

If you land on the word “No”, now is a great time to turn that ship around.

2 thoughts on “Hi! Let me introduce you to my atheist worship leader!

  1. I agree man. It is a hard thing though because you’ll have that really talented drummer in the crowd isn’t a believer and you want them to play so much. One question, what positions could an unsaved person work in the church? Greeter? Parking attendant? Sound guy? Where do you draw the line and why?


    1. I guess I’d have to counter those questions with a question…if they are an unsaved person…is any area of ministry open to them?

      I think there is a HUGE difference between being open to them engaging in the church and being ministered to. But when it comes to doing the ministry OF the church, is that really something a lost person should be handling?

      I’m not saying that if an atheist comes to your church, and as you guys are stacking chairs he says “Hey man, do you mind if I help?” Of course I’d let them help….but would I put them on the setup/tear down crew as a member of that ministry ministering to my church? I’d have to REALLY think that one through.

      I think the biggest thing to consider in weighing those things out is how visible is this area of service, and does it require as much of a standard as other areas of service/ministry that are more visible?

      Depending on how you answer that question will likely dictate at what level you would allow a lost person to engage in ministry and service.

      Does that make sense?


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