Question: "Should an unbeliever be allowed to participate in a church worship team?"
Answer: In many of today’s churches, the desire for an appealing, professional-sounding praise and worship service has led to considerations of allowing (or even hiring) unbelievers to play instruments or sing on the worship team. While it is understandable that churches want skilled musicians in their music programs, the placement of unsaved people in a position of helping lead worship raises several issues that need to be addressed.
First of all, an unbeliever singing in a church worship team is inherently hypocritical. Unbelievers cannot truly worship the Lord—without Christ they have no relationship with God—so the worship lyrics they sing are really nothing more than empty words in their mouths. Of course, hypocrisy is spoken of negatively in the Bible. Jesus warned of people who honor God “with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain” (Matthew 15:8–9). For one who does not know the Lord to presume to lead others in worship, as if he did know the Lord, is hypocrisy.
Second, we find no examples in the Bible of non-Christians leading Christians in public worship. Those who stand in front of others in a church service are, by their very presence there, inviting emulation. On a purely professional level, we could emulate the musicianship and proficiency on display, but that’s not the purpose of a worship service; the purpose of a worship service is to promote worship. Any emulation should be of the worship we see displayed. Unless the worship leaders on stage are believers engaged in the worship of Christ, then there is really nothing worth emulating.
Third, the public ministry of a church is representative of that church. Whenever someone is serving in a ministry within a church, he or she is in effect representing the values of the congregation. If an individual is representing values and beliefs contrary to the Bible and the church’s teaching, then hypocrisy again becomes an issue. For an unbeliever to help lead a church’s worship service is to send mixed signals and may foster confusion as people question what the church truly values.
Finally, local congregations must take seriously the idea of protecting the honor, dignity, and reputation of both the church and Jesus, since the church represents Jesus Himself. As Paul asked, “What fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14; also see 6:15—7:1).
That friend of yours might be the best bassist in town, but if he is an unbeliever, he should not be standing on stage giving the appearance that he is worshiping the Lord. That singer might have a voice to rival the angels’, but if she is an unbeliever, she should not be placed in a position where she is simply mouthing empty words of praise. A church should not wittingly put people in a position where they are forced to act hypocritically.
If your church is dealing with the issue of allowing unbelievers to participate in the worship team, here are some things to do: pray for your pastor—something you should be doing anyway—and for those in charge of making decisions. Schedule a meeting with your pastor and express your concerns in a truthful, loving manner. Regardless of the outcome, purpose in your heart to maintain a close relationship with the Lord and to personally worship Him in spirit and in truth.