Churches that are concerned for artistic excellence in worship will often employ unregenerate musicians to “lead in worship.” Though these individuals do not know God, as skilled musicians they are able to offer fine presentations in the worship service. Is this a biblical practice? If churches are concerned about offering fine presentations in their worship service, will they be forced to enlist unregenerate people to lead in worship? The answer to this question can be a resounding “no.” But if we are to offer that “no,” we must understand what we mean by “artistic excellence” and what we mean by “leading worship.”
Worship cannot be offered by those who do not know God through Jesus Christ. Thus, it would be impossible to have an unregenerate person leading in worship, since leading would include participating in worship—something an unregenerate person cannot do. Thus, the issue would be whether or not a church’s emphasis on “artistic excellence” would risk enlisting the unregenerate to utilize their skill in facilitating the worship of the regenerate.
This is where 1 Corinthians 12 provides an important reminder. Paul points out that God has carefully designed the body so that each member is integral for the health of the body. No member can claim that they do not need the body nor that the body does not need them. In fact, God has given spiritual gifts to the church in order to edify the body, to unify the body, and to manifest the reality of God’s presence in the world.
These three purposes help shed some light on the differences between a natural ability and a spiritual gift and on when someone gets his/her spiritual gifts. A spiritual gift is different from a natural ability because it displays the Spirit, but also because it is designed for the edification of the Church. There is a difference between a person who utilizes teaching in a business or school and someone who utilizes it in the church. The first is a “natural” ability (still given by God), while the second would be a spiritual gift.
Since a spiritual gift is a manifestation of the Spirit, it cannot simply be something someone had prior to salvation. Spiritual gifts are either bestowed at or energized at conversion—when one receives the Spirit. It may be that a natural ability, which is still a gift from God but not a spiritual gift, is energized by the Spirit at conversion for the good of the church. For example, a person may have been a compassionate person before he/she was saved, but at salvation the Holy Spirit takes that compassion and energizes it to minister to others in the church. It may also be that at conversion or sometime thereafter a new gift is given to a person since verses 7 and 11 state that the Spirit gives them as He wills. Thus it is possible that He could choose to add or subtract spiritual gifts when He thinks it will better manifest Himself and edify and unify the church.
I’m inclined to think artistic ability could be a spiritual gift (since there is no definitive list of gifts in the New Testament). But that would mean that either a person gains artistic ability at conversion or, more likely, that artistic ability is now energized for the good of the church. An unregenerate person would not possess that spiritual gift and would not, then, be able to edify and unify the church in its worship. So a church should not enlist the unregenerate in the hopes of accomplishing what only the regenerate can do.
What should a church do if it does not have people with artistic ability to lead in worship? Again, Paul points out that God is in charge of distributing the gifts (v. 11). God has ensured that each church has within itself what it needs to glorify God at that time, which is why it would be best to think of “artistic excellence” along these lines—doing the best with the resources (talent, time, money) that you have. Thus, what artistic excellence means will be different for each church, but each church should be striving for it with the resources God has given.