In his article entitled “Drunken Worship Leaders and Mercenary Musicians,” Dr. Brown launched a scathing attack on the hypocrisy of certain worship leaders, “If there’s anyone in the body of Christ who should be an example of purity of heart and purity of life, it is the worship leader, the man or woman who leads God’s people into his holy presence. Yet it is increasingly common to hear about worship leaders getting drunk after church services and dropping f-bombs while they boast about their “liberty” in the Lord. Some churches even hire unsaved musicians to play on their worship teams because of their talent. How can this be happening in the house of the Lord?”1
This crisis could be experienced by many churches, if not all, for the simple reason that all are imperfect. Worship leaders are not immune to imperfection.
However, expectation of a high moral standard for a Christian leader is reasonable and biblical (Cf. 1 Timothy 3). Christian leadership includes worship leaders, and those in the worship team should also be deemed a part of the church leadership (secondary leadership, if you may) because they are upfront and leading the congregation, in worship - albeit passively; not interacting directly with the congregation.
It’s not just the drunkenness and/or the F-bombing members of the worship team that’s the bane of the local church. The imperfection extends far beyond that.
Consider the anger issues or the rebellious attitude of some in the worship team or the gossip machinery laden with unjust judgment or the groupism predicated on every frivolous possibility or the trampling of the lesser talented members by their more talented counterparts. Each problem mentioned above is not inferior to drunkenness or F-bombing, from the perspective of sin, because it neither glorifies God nor elevates the worship team members to a higher moral standard.
So there is an existential dilemma in the church (with respect to the worship team). Godly wisdom is absolutely mandatory to resolve this dilemma.
Without implying that Christians are way better than non-Christians, should the church hire non-Christian musicians for their worship team? Having non-Christians to play in the church worship team is a risky proposition from a spiritual perspective. Dr. Brown emphasizes this aspect, “…What? A God-mocking atheist playing guitar on a church worship team? And what happens when they pray together and seek God’s heart? Or do they even pray together at all?
Little did I realize that it is becoming more and more common for churches to hire musicians who have no connection to their church—and sometimes no connection to the Lord—to play in their Sunday morning services. Forget about unity in the Spirit. Forget about harmony in the Lord. Forget about ministering under the anointing. The show must go on!
Oh yes, it’s important that we do things with excellence, and I know that a poor musician or an off-key singer or a lousy sound system can drag down a whole service. And as a musician myself, saved as a 16-year-old, heroin-shooting, LSD-using rock drummer in 1971, I fully understand the power of music, especially anointed music. And I believe that the laborer is worthy of his hire and that those who sacrificially serve should be compensated. But I also understand that God hates foreign mixtures, that a little leaven leavens the whole lump, and that the spirit of the world and the Spirit of worship are incompatible.” (Emphasis Mine).2
Should the church accept (into the worship team) only those who do not show any outward imperfections? This is one possibility. An entailment of this principle is that those accepted into the worship team should have been an active member of that church for a minimum period of one or two years or more. The one year (minimum) active membership could reveal the moral credibility of that member to the church.
But what if a musically anointed person joins the church and desires to be a part of the worship team immediately? Would the church management provide an exception for this member, thereby antagonizing those who are in the shelf waiting for their chance to participate in the worship team? This is for each church to deal with.
If a church is dogmatic about allowing members without any outward imperfections (so to speak) into the worship team, then it is quite possible that the church ignores or overlooks the other imperfections of that person. There could be hidden sins in that person as well (e.g. if that person plays dirty politics at the workplace and the church does not have any clue whatsoever about this imperfection or if he/she abuses his/her spouse or children, and the abused parties are silent…the list is endless).
How should the church respond when their worship team members are found in sin? This is a gazillion dollar question for every church.
The easier option is to fire those who are caught in sin from the worship team. But then the Lord’s gracious response to the woman caught in adultery would haunt the legalistic decision of the church management, “Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”” (John 8: 11b, NASB).
But the church management would argue that the lady caught in adultery was not an elder, overseer or a deacon in the local synagogue or the church. Hence, they may further argue, that the instance of Christ’s gracious interaction with the woman caught in adultery does not apply to the decision of the church, in our context.
Did Jesus employ sinless people as HIS disciples? No. There were horrendous imperfections in every one of HIS disciples, even to the every end of Christ’s earthly life.
God chose imperfect people to accompany HIM day and night while HE was on earth! What a great honor and an awesome privilege rendered to imperfect people by God! And these were the very imperfect people whom Christ trusted (so to speak) to carry out HIS great commission to the very ends of the earth.
In other words, the Lord Jesus was extremely gracious. HE did not focus on the imperfections of HIS disciples. HE kept forgiving them seventy times seven (Cf. Matthew 18: 21-22). Therefore, the church does have the option to forgive the sinning member as long as he is truly repentant of his/her sins.
The member found in sin should be corrected. Forgiveness notwithstanding, the church should also encourage and monitor the sinning members to quit their sinful deed. Whether the church suspends or allows the worship team member to participate in the team while he/she is on the corrective path is up to the church.
But what if one or a few in the Church leadership (Pastor, Elders, Overseers, Deacons) are also guilty of the sins committed by the errant worship team member? Would the church then deal with the errant worship team member with a high-handed approach while being soft by overlooking the sins of the influential leader of the church? It goes without saying that the church should be consistent in its operations.
There is another element of risk in this business and in this very context. Consider a pastor or an elder who drinks in moderation (I have no idea whatsoever about the precise definition of “moderation,” but then that topic is for another day!). It is quite possible that a worship team member could follow the footsteps of this pastor / elder by drinking in moderation and still retaining the hallowed halo of holiness upon himself. But in due course of time, the member could become a victim to drunkenness.
In this very situation, it was the pastor / elder’s practice of moderate drinking that led to the worship team member’s drunkenness. This is another dilemma the church has to constantly confront.
What if the worship team member refuses to acknowledge his/her sins? How should the church engage this situation?
Confronting a sin should not be based on the witness of a single person. Instead it should be based on the witness of two or three [credible] witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15 & 2 Corinthians 13:1; 1Timothy 5:19). If the member is proven to be sinful and if the said member refuses to acknowledge his/her sins, the church has all the liberty to fire that person (1 Corinthians 5:5, 13b).
Is firing the only option? No! The church can be gracious in its actions as well. Once again each church has to deal with their situation with the measure of godly wisdom that they seek to perform with.
Someone said, "the church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners." Humble and repentant sinners have a great role to play in the church of Jesus Christ. A gracious church is one whose leadership, first and foremost, accepts that they are wretched sinners as anyone else. Grace flows top down.
A church that rejects a notion that it consists of sinful members, whose leaders are as sinful if not more, rejects the gospel of grace. As Christian theologian Father Hans Küng said, “…The church must constantly be aware that its faith is weak, its knowledge dim, its profession of faith halting, that there is not a single sin or failing which it has not in one way or another guilty of. And though it is true that the church must always disassociate itself from sin, it can never have any excuse for keeping any sinners at a distance. If the church remains self-righteously aloof from failures, irreligious and immoral people, it cannot enter justified into God’s kingdom. But if it is constantly aware of its guilt and sin, it can live in joyous awareness of forgiveness. The promise has been given to it that anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Therefore, every decision of the local church should be overflowing with the grace of God. Such a church is the need of the hour and that church will overcome all its existential dilemmas by the grace of God and with godly wisdom.