"The Gospel is like a caged lion. It does not need to be defended. It just needs to be let out of its cage."
Above are the words of Charles Spurgeon, the great English preacher of the 19th century.
They sound great, and I'm sure we would all say that we believe them.
But do we really?
What about when the outreach pastor starts talking in the church staff meeting about that megachurch down the road that plays secular radio rock songs "because that's what unbelievers are comfortable with?" And, hey, look at the massive numbers that other church is pulling. How come our music isn't reaching them? It hits our ears as a serious challenge.
Do we really believe that the Gospel truth is enough to draw people in? To captivate their hearts and minds? To save them?
Seekers are sensitive, not shallow
The so-called "seeker sensitive" movement of the last 30 years has posed and continues to pose a danger of diluting the gospel message with the intent of making it more palatable to those who are new to Christianity or are just checking it out. This can take many forms, such as avoiding speaking about the realities of eternal punishment apart from saving faith in Christ, or an inordinate focus on God's love, while sacrificing an awareness of His judgment of sin and wickedness.
For the worship pastor, there can be a temptation to dilute the gospel message through song selection in order to cater the service towards those who are exploring Christianity or wondering about all this "God stuff."
People make the argument that we should do anything short of sin to bring unbelievers to salvation, and certainly that should include, they recommend, singing whatever music makes the unchurched more comfortable. (To which we reply: if music in the church represents primarily the "sung prayer of the congregation" as Calvin said; how can an unbeliever compose an effective prayer for the church to sing if they, according to Jesus, do not have the Holy Spirit? Even in the other categories of church music--proclaiming our faith (kerygma) and the fellowship (koinonia) of edifying each other and calling each other to righteousness--how can those without the Holy Spirit compose content for the church effectively?)
Who is worship really for?
Above all else worship is for God. It's a worship "service" because we serve God--and that's the work of the people, leitourgia. In Christ, washed by his blood and raised to new life in him, the saints lift up clean hands and a pure heart. The One who has no needs, the Creator and Sustainer of all things--astonishingly--will actually accept the gift of worship from his people! The heart of our song is Christ Himself. How can we possibly sell out for fluff when Immanuel is our song?
Maybe that's obvious to you. But there are more subtle steps we might take. How often do we reason (consciously or not) that settling for the fluffy is an appropriate compromise? I'm not saying everything has to be at maximum depth, all the time. Really, I'm not. But singing only light/happy stuff, and never anything that deals with some of the harsher realities of life, such as the author of Psalm 88 sang, can lead to a disillusionment of the congregation. Sin has messed this world up horribly; failing to recognize that fact, and our desperate reliance on God, will look hopelessly misinformed at best and willfully ignorant at worst.
Additionally, songs that just "feel nice" are doing more harm than good. Trying so desperately to evoke an emotional response, to the point where participants feel forced into faking a posture before God which is not actually mirrored in their hearts, is damaging to those who are seeking truth and those who are hurting. The hurt is real. Because of the effects of sin, every one of our congregants will find themselves weeping anguished tears over the pain in this world. Will our song choices have given them words for that moment?
Give them truth
The gospel message speaks for itself. It is sharper than a double-edged sword. It doesn't need to be softened or molded, it needs to be presented. In 2 Corinthians 4:2, the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthian church,
"But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God."
Paul was clearly convinced that the message did not need any modifying or altering for different audiences, and the same remains true today. Don't be afraid to guide your congregation to God's truth.
Let the lion out.