Yesterday I used the preaching style of John Buchanan to think about the idea of listening for God, not only in scripture but also in (other) works of human culture. Today I want to continue that theme by thinking about how we might incorporate pop music into our experience of worship.

A few years ago, for three years in a row, I organized a U2charist worship service at Fourth Church. Basing a worship service on U2 music is not all that difficult, because so many of their songs are so clearly grounded in spirituality, if not straight up Christianity. But I eventually decided that as much fun as it was to put on the U2charists, it probably wasn’t good stewardship to pay for them with money from our youth ministry budget because most of the people that attended them were my age or older—which makes sense if you consider U2’s fan base.

But the idea of using pop music in worship has really stuck with me. In fact, I’m working with one of our youth to plan a worship service that uses all Lady Gaga music. Of course, going in this direction might push the envelope of what we consider “worship”. It may be that the Lady Gaga event is more of an experience than a worship service—but I’m still thinking this through.

I have also used one of our junior high retreats to experiment with ways in which pop music can be effectively used in a worship context.

Once in the two years that our sixth and seventh graders are in our junior high ministry, we offer a retreat that directly addresses how we can use television, music, and movies to think about issues of faith. We watch some episodes of The Simpsons and the film Contact and talk about the religious themes suggested by them. We also have each youth and adult share a song that is somehow meaningful to them. I always find this experience to be a fascinating window into the lives of our young people. They always impress me with deep music that deals with some heavy life issues.

The last two times that we did this, we tried to use the songs that the youth shared in our closing worship service on Sunday. The idea is to use worship to connect the themes of the songs with traditional elements Christian spirituality. My theory is that the youth will have a deeper engagement with these worship elements if they are mediated through music that is meaningful for them.

This year, I used iMovie on my iPhone to create short mixes of their songs to use in worship. I did this on the fly in very little time, so these videos are certainly not perfect. In the future, I’d like to use some more interesting visuals than simply playing the text that describes each moment of worship.

Is this worshipful? Perhaps I need to articulate a theology of worship that makes room for this kind of thing, but I certainly think this constitutes a worshipful experience. What do you think?

John W. Vest

John is a "church hacker" attempting to overcome the limitations of church as we know it. To connect with him and learn more about his work, please visit

Reader Interactions


  1. Of course, depending on who the audience is…I can imagine that some visuals that enhanced the lyrics would deepen the experience.

    Music is a powerful communication tool because it evokes emotion as well as intellectual connection. When I hear songs from my youth, I can almost remember exactly where I was the first time I heard it. “straight liturgy” can’t quite do that.

    I commend your exploration. BTW, when do you sleep?

    Riverside, CA

  2. This is really clever (or to translate into Christianese: ‘inspired’).

    Well done! And on an iPhone at that! I’m going to pass these around my team and see what controversy I can stir up!


  1. […] Several years ago I organized three U2charist worship events at Fourth Church (one of which was covered by the Christian Century). Those were meaningful and fun, but didn’t really appeal to my target audience of youth as much as they did to adults my age or older. Ever since then I’ve been looking for an opportunity to put together a similar event that is geared more for youth. Well, it’s finally here. (Read more about my musings on pop music in worship here.) […]

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