A Hard Question…

So in my role as Lead Pastor at Eastside I provide counseling to many different people week in and week out… it’s for everything from someone going through marital issues to dealing with the loss of a loved one to just wanting to talk about stuff going on in their life. Sometimes this time turns into “Ask The Pastor Hard Questions About Christian Life.” Yeah… those can be difficult at times and I don’t think I have ever written anything here about any of these… but I think I will write about a few of these questions over the next few weeks because some of them are fairly common questions and maybe you have wondered about them as well… or maybe you will want to correct me on how wrong I am in my answers :) So here is the first of – I don’t know how many…

Should Christians Listen To Secular Music? The short answer is… maybe. haha and sometimes I wish I could just leave the answer at that but that’s definitely a cop out – so here is the longer, hopefully better, answer.

Let me tell you first in full disclosure that I do indeed listen to secular music. In fact, I listen mostly to secular music. A wide variety of secular music – everything from punk to metal to old country, bluegrass, jazz, blues and classical. As I am typing this I am listening to a Spotify mixture that includes Kings of Leon, Mumford and Sons, The Lumineers and I am pretty sure I heard a Macklemore song in there somewhere a few minutes ago. All of those bands have some questionable lyrics – some just down right bad with cussing and everything. Gasp. And I have been lectured to on multiple occasions by multiple Christians that I love and respect that I shouldn’t listen to anything that doesn’t glorify God – and I don’t want anything I write here be seen as dismissive of their points of view – because I get where they are coming from.

Almost every time someone has given me a “talking to” about this subject they inevitably pull the Philippians 4:8 verse out… Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. They say – Jason you can’t possibly be following this verse when Metallica is playing in your earphones or George Jones is singing about  getting drunk on White Lightning on your car stereo… I have to tell you, I totally get what they are saying. A good deal of secular music is anything but glorifying to God and is everything but pure.

But there is another passage that I think has some relevance in this debate … it’s in 1 Corinthians 10:23-33. You might be familiar with the title of that passage being called The Believer’s Freedom. Essentially Paul was trying to address a big problem that was happening where he lived – people loved to be judgmental of what other people were doing. Thankfully today, we don’t have such problem… ahem.

Paul’s instruction here really boils down to a pretty simple premise… don’t do something that will offend someone else. Which is really a condense way of applying Jesus’ command to love our neighbors more than ourselves… If we love others more than our own selfish wants we won’t do anything that would offend someone else… so how does this apply to secular music? I’m glad you asked. Here is how I see it anyway. I’m not going to – or always try not to anyway – do anything that will be offensive to someone else… So when I have friends over who don’t want to listen to secular music… I am not going to blare a Dropkick Murphy’s album in my living room. Because… I don’t want to offend them.

Now I will tell you how I have seen the flip side of that work… A few years ago I went in to Home Depot to get some paint for one of my wives many home re-decorating projects. As I waited for the paint lady to mix up my 2 gallons of Spiced Butternut eggshell – I noticed said paint lady continuing to give wary glances to another guy standing in line waiting for help. I followed her sightline to a guy who had hair down to his waist, tattoos from his knuckles up both arms and all around his neck, and multiple piercings on his face and his ears. He also looked angry. Really angry. And it seemed the longer he waited for her or the other guy behind the counter to wait on him – the angrier he got. After a couple of minutes, he stormed off. The paint lady called me over to the counter to show me the result of mixing my batch of Spiced Butternut eggshell only to realize that she had done something wrong… it was very orange instead of the yellow my wife had decided on. She apologized and said “I’m so sorry – that guy was making me so nervous – did you see him?” I said that yes I had noticed he seemed mad about something… She proceeded to begin the process of mixing up the paint that I needed and  I waited, again. Within just a minute or so – the tattooed, long haired, pierced fellow returned. He looked no happier. Especially when he realized that my paint lady was still busy – and the paint guy had taken another customer. I decided to try and talk to this guy… to this day, I can’t really tell you why for sure… but I did. We made eye contact and I said… “Hey.”  Very profound right? And his response? “Hey.” Now to me that was profound… because I sort of half expected a slew of profanity or a “What the bleep do you want paint boy?!?” But it was just a hey and somehow we struck up a conversation and very quickly his tension seemed to melt away. I think the conversation went sort of in this order… We started talking about his ink, then that lead to talking about him being in a band which lead to talking about the kind of music he played and listened to… with an interruption from the paint guy to find out what my new tattooed friend needed and then back to music that I listened to and that I too used to be in a band and what kind of music we played and then… duh duh duhhhhh… he asked THE QUESTION: what did I do for a living? Man – I hate that question sometimes… not because I am ashamed for even one second about being a pastor because I am not – I love being a pastor! But I do know that some people don’t like church, religion, God or conversely, pastors. But because I am a pastor and I didn’t want to lie – or because I couldn’t think any faster on my feet – I told him… “I’m a pastor.” He said – “No way.” And he said – “I don’t actually meet many pastors but you aren’t like any I have ever imagined meeting” … I said, “Thanks… I think.” And then he said something I won’t ever forget… He said, I am used to going in places and getting stared at. It’s a choice I made a long time ago with this ink and this hair and these piercings… and I am 99% of the time ok with it… But today… it was bothering me for some reason. I walked in here and I felt like everyone was avoiding me… He said I think maybe I am more sensitive to it when my mom and my son are with me – and he pointed over across the aisle where an older woman was trying to keep an active toddler occupied. He said – my son isn’t old enough to realize what people are doing yet – but I know that day is coming. I know that his friends will be afraid of me, I know that showing up at school stuff is going to be awkward… and for some reason, that’s what I was thinking about standing in this line trying to get someone to help me with paint. We talked a few more minutes and I invited him to come check out our church and he said he would think about it and then he shook my hand and he walked off… His mom actually walked over to me as he walked away and she hugged me and quietly said thank you … All in all it was a very emotional trip to the paint counter. So what’s that have to do with this question about “Should Christians Listen To Secular Music?” I’m glad you asked. The reality is – that I think our conversation would have gone much differently if in the first 65 seconds of our talk and he had shared with me that his musical influences were Slayer and Megadeath and my response would have been that I only listened to Michael W Smith or Shane and Shane… I doubt we would have gotten to the remainder of our talk. See we had a common bond that God was able to work through in a way that I couldn’t have imagined… I believe I was uniquely positioned that day for that conversation with that guy.

The question of whether we should listen to secular music or not is really the wrong question… Some Christ Followers don’t want to and they believe it pollutes their mind and that’s ok. Because for them that it is the right call. But the right call for someone else may be that they can and will listen to it… and I’m ok with that too… As long as both camps always work to never offend anyone else and we put the needs of others above our own and we strive to live our lives for Jesus and love others as He loves us. Keep your heart and your mind focused on Him and it’s amazing how He can work through the most unlikely of sources. And I won’t be afraid to call out when I see someone – regardless of what music they listen to – who claims to follow CHrist but doesn’t walk as He did.

Jason Rehmel is the Lead Pastor at Eastside Christian Church on the east side of Cincinnati. If you are someone who has had a terrible experience(s) at a church or churches – stop by some weekend and give it one more shot with Eastside. Whether you have felt judged, or dismissed, or unwanted – wherever it has been – Eastside is different.

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