I remember back in the 90s when black churches were discovering Praise and Worship. I was developing as a musician and getting used to my function as a bass player in a service. I learned that I could steer the direction of a service just by changing the groove a little bit. I would sometimes put in a groove that I heard on the R&B radio station and get a rise out of the congregation. Before you know it, the Electric Slide breaks out in the middle of Worship. Although it seemed innocent enough, I was completely wrong for this. In all of my growing at the time, I hadn't learned one of the most important functions of my job as a church musician. One that makes a difference between being a musician and a minstrel. But I will get to that in a minute.
I must give full disclosure, I in no way condemn playing secular music. I make most of my money playing outside the church. As Christians, we have to realize that we live on Planet Earth. Every word out of your mouth is not going to be Jesus. In saying this, we must also realize that music is a means of communication. It is seen by many as a language. I am not here to argue the spiritual issues of playing and listening to secular music. I just say this for context and to let you know where I am coming from.
As minstrels, it is important that we know the purpose of what we do. It is pretty common knowledge that we play for God. If you don't know this, you need to have a serious conversation with your pastor before you play another church service. Another function of what we do that is rarely mentioned is to help the people see God. We must be intentional in this. In the worship setting, we are to play in a manner that points people to the Cross. If I play the groove for Flashlight and the worship leader starts singing Jesus is awesome, which message do you think is going to get across more. You probably already have a context for Flashlight. It probably puts you in the mind if being in the club partying. Not exactly the desired frame of mind that we want the congregation in is it? We must realize that everyone has a past. And some people have a past that is as recent as last night. Ecclesiastes 3:1 says: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. We must know when to play what in order to have the people in the frame of mind that is relevant to the service. Even to the point that we are sensitive to what is going on in the service at the time. In most instances you don't want to be playing the offering song, which tends to be up beat and celebratory, during a time when people are being called to repent. Oddly enough, there may be a time when a "secular" song might be appropriate in a service. For example if the first lady is being presented with a birthday present you could play Stevie Wonder's Isn't She Lovely. Once again, we are on planet Earth and music is a means of communication. This song would put someone in the mindset of what is going on at the time. But don't keep playing that for the altar call. That would be inappropriate and take the focus away from what is happening.
As minstrels we must be sensitive to the spirit and convey his move to the people through the expression of music. We must not play things that take the focus off of what the Holy Spirit is doing at that time. If we shift the focus, we run the risk of making someone miss what they should be there for which is an experience with God. And for those that have other agendas, we just might be able to shift their focus. I believe that the power of the spirit expressed through music is just that powerful.