Should an unbeliever be allowed to participate in a church worship team?
Some churches allow or have considered allowing unbelievers to serve on their worship teams. Usually this is for one of two reasons: 1) the church is striving for excellence in worship and the individual is a talented musician, or 2) the church wants to use participation as an evangelistic tool. While each of these reasons is well intended, they do not supersede the biblical description of what worship ministry looks like—a description that cannot be fulfilled by an unbeliever.
Corporate worship through music is a special ministry to lead people in surrender into the presence of God. The worship team is not present to perform a musical show or impress others with their talents. Rather, they are there to help others worship God. They are to lead by example, worshipping God in their own hearts and inviting others to join in. The Bible says that "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). An unbeliever is unable to lead worship because he does not worship God in his spirit. In fact, the unbeliever might be worshipping himself, music, or any number of other things on the stage on Sunday mornings, profaning the worship of God (Exodus 20:4–5; 1 Corinthians 10:14). By definition, an unbeliever does not worship God, so how could an unbeliever effectively lead others to worship God?
God is holy, and therefore the worship of God should be holy, set apart and unlike the music of this world. We should strive for musical excellence in our worship (Psalm 33:3), just as we should give God our best in every area of our lives (Colossians 3:17). However, striving for excellence should never become so important that we compromise the most important aspects of worship by inviting unbelievers to join the worship team. Our spiritual worship is to present our whole bodies to be used by God and not conform to this world (Romans 12:1–2), and this should not be sacrificed on the altar of perceived excellence. Worship is not about performance, but about honoring God. The most well played music does nothing to honor God if it does not come from a heart of true worship. Similarly, even the most offkey voice offered up in gratitude and a heart surrendered to God honors and pleases Him.
Another aspect we need to consider is the prominence of the worship team. Whether we like it or not, every person who appears on stage on Sunday morning becomes the face of the church to the congregation and the world; this includes the worship team. Even the person who gives announcements or someone who comes up to read Scripture or pray will be perceived by the congregation as a spiritual leader. First Timothy lays out the requirements for deacons and elders, unquestionably acknowledging that they need to be believers. Though clearly not all who participate in the public ministry of the church are elders or deacons, they are still representatives of the local church, both within the church and to the community. The Bible also says not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14)—if this is important in relationships, how much more important is it in ministry? The pastor and leaders of the church should carefully consider the spiritual lives of those who serve on stage in some capacity.
As to the argument that allowing an unbeliever to participate in a church worship team for the sake of witnessing to the unbeliever, consider what type of witness that is. Allowing an unbeliever to lead Christians in worship would seem to demonstrate that there really is no difference between believers and unbelievers. It gives the appearance that we view worship to be nothing more than a musical show. If that is the case, what type of God are we even worshipping? How would the unbeliever come to know that Christianity is different from other religions, that church isn't a sing-along and a pep talk, but that it is worship of the one true God as we communally seek to know Him more and to love one another and others? It is far better to witness to unbelievers in our words and our relationships. Invite the unbeliever to join you at church and in things like Bible study or Sunday school. Support the unbeliever's musical talent in other ways. Build a friendship based on truth in which you can demonstrate God's love practically while also showing that a relationship with God is something to be valued and honored as distinct. Prayerfully the unbeliever will come to know Christ, and when he does he will likely be glad that he did not hypocritically attempt to lead others in worship of a God he did not know.
The Bible says that our worship should be acceptable, filled with reverence and awe. Unbelievers are simply incapable of worshipping God like that, nor are they capable of leading Christians to worship God in that manner (Hebrews 12:28–29). Worship ministry should be reserved for those who know the God whom they are worshipping, and who worship Him not only through music at church but with their entire lives.
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