Should We Sing Worship Songs by Bethel?

Over the last months we have received more than a few questions asking how we are thinking about the use of Bethel songs in our worship services in light of increasing and appropriate concern over Bethel’s theology, practices, leadership, and teachings.

These questions are deeply encouraging. It’s signal that many in our body are living out the exhortation in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to“examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.”

To begin the conversation, let’s acknowledge that for generations, Christ-followers have sung hymns that are grounded in solid, biblical truth, yet have been composed by authors who have held errant views in other writings and/or have fallen away from the faith. Some famous examples include:

  • A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, penned by reformer Martin Luther, who not only wrote Ninety-Five Theses, which rightly protested corruption in the Catholic Church and set off the Protestant Reformation, but also troublesomely wrote The Jews and Their Lies and On the Ineffable Name– works that are rooted in hostility and unsupportable viewpoints toward God’s chosen people. 
  • Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing, written in 1757 by Methodist preacher Robert Robinson, who later fulfilled the “prone to wander” lyric by drifting away from the faith. 
  • It Is Well With My Soul, by Horatio Gates Spafford, who wrote the lyrics after losing his four children in the sinking of the SS Ville du Havre in November 1873. While his most famous work is an anthem to the truth of God’s sovereignty, his teachings on eternal punishment and the Holy Spirit were at best ill-informed, and at worst clearly heretical.

Should songs strongly proclaiming the truth of God’s Word no longer be used by churches in light of other errant beliefs or practices by the authors or their associated churches?

Here are four questions to ask when assessing whether a song, book, or any form of communication is biblical. 

4 Questions We Use When Evaluating Media:

  • Are you examining everything you consume (sermons, books, music, movies) through the lens of God’s Word? It is important that all believers are equipped with Scripture so that they may accurately discern (1 John 4:1-3) whether a sermon, song, book, website, or other media is in alignment with Scripture and of the Spirit. Every believer should be equipped individually to discern truth from error and live in fellowship with mature believers who hold them accountable in their discerning (Proverbs 15:22). Bring your community, along with your Bible, into your listening and reading habits in your efforts toward “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) and guarding your heart from error. Just because something feels right doesn’t mean it stands the test of the light of God’s Word.
  • Does the song stand on its own, proclaiming the truth of God’s Word without explanation? Every song the Church sings should be grounded in Scripture and sound doctrine and be helpful for the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:29). If it doesn’t make much of Jesus, it’s not worth making much of in His Church. Right worship is a form of equipping, and if the song is leading the saints to ideas that are unbiblical, then those songs are not to be welcomed in the assembly of God’s people. Every song that is sung is the responsibility of the shepherds, and shepherds are to be on guard so that “savage wolves” (Acts 20:28) with snappy melodies don’t come in among the flock. 

Over the years at Watermark, we have examined many songs for clarity – from Away in a Manger to Reckless Love. We constantly ask ourselves questions like, “is it accurate to describe God’s love as ‘overwhelming, never-ending, and reckless,”’ as Reckless Love says in its chorus?[1]It is the responsibility of the spiritual leaders in every local church to make these calls. It is not an overstatement to say that the protection of their people (Acts 20:28-30) and their own future judgment (Hebrews 13:17) depend on it.

  • Is it possible to separate the truth being sung from the error of its associations? The Church is never in more danger than when a false teacher (any evil-doer disguised as an “angel of light,” 2 Corinthians 11:14) is proclaiming the truth. (See also Paul and Silas’ response to the slave girl who had a spirit of divination in Acts 16:16-18.) In addition to false teachers, we must also be aware of the danger of directing others toward ministries of even well-meaning individuals who are consistently associated with false or errant theology and practices. The leadership of Bethel and the teachings and practices embraced by its members, students, and ministry partners would, at a minimum, fall into this category. It must be acknowledged that singing and advancing songs, even though they are theologically accurate, could make others open to additional messages and ideas that are errant in practice and theology. Historically, there is at least one significant example of music and lyrics being a means through which heresy was propagated in the life and practice of Arius.[2]Arius was a third- and fourth-century “church leader” who also happened to be a capable songwriter who happened to also deny Christ’s deity and wrongly assert that Jesus was not eternal, but rather a finite, created being with “some” divine attributes. The popularity of his melodies and songs led to the rapid spread of his heretical ideas. We would do well to acknowledge that a well-written song can quickly lead others to a truth-forsaken place. While it is unlikely that many people will dig up Horatio Spafford sermons if you sing It Is Well today, there undoubtedly will be many people who want to know more of Bethel’s “supernatural school of ministry” because of the excellence around their music. 
  • Would using the song cause us to actively support an errant ministry? Finally, and in my opinion the one that is the most unavoidable in its implication, it has to be acknowledged that using songs from these ministries and artists creates funding which flows to and helps support and sustain them. So, even if we protect our flock from future influence, at some level we unavoidably are strengthening a troublesome one. Weighing the cost-benefit of this truth is a daily conversation. 

Our team examines the content and implications of every song we sing – whether those songs come from our own artists at Watermark, Bethel Music, Hillsong, Passion, or any other collective community or individual artist. While there have been many songs that we have chosen not to sing because we did not believe the content to be theologically accurate or glorifying to God, we have not as of today chosen to commit to never sing songs written or produced by churches we would not want to see others discipled by. We daily stay vigilant so that everything we put before Jesus’ Church will ensure that “we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14) while constantly reminding ourselves and others that catchy tunes can cause a lot of trouble. We continue to listen with care and lead with humble, godly conviction. We don’t ever sing a song just because people love it; we sing it because it is true and we believe it will grow you in your faith and love of God and the truth that will set you free.  

[1]Many have asked if it is appropriate to call God’s love reckless while He is also sovereign. While it is right to praise God’s power and sovereignty, it is also right that when a believer considers God giving His only Son so that sinful people could be reconciled with Him, the response might be: “What kind of reckless love is that?” Well, it’s the kind of reckless love that ought to wreck our hearts and make us want more of Jesus.

[2]This gave birth to the term “snarianism.”

What Is One of the Biggest Mistakes a Pastor Can Make?

What Is One of the Biggest Mistakes a Pastor Can Make? I answer that question on this episode of Real Truth. Real Quick.

Show Notes:

1. Pastors should remember the Church is not their Church, and they are under God’s leadership.
2. The Church is a gathering of people, not a place.
3. A false pastor is more concerned with growth in numbers rather than with the spiritual growth of their people.
4. Pastors who fail to call their people to live for Christ are not faithful pastors.

“For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.”
Acts 20:27

“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” Acts 20:28

“…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

See Ezekiel 34

“Behold, you are to them like a sensual song by one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; for they hear your words but they do not practice them.” Ezekiel 33:32

“So when it comes to pass- as surely it will -then they will know that a prophet has been in their midst.” Ezekiel 33:33

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.” Hebrews 13:17

“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” Acts 20:28

“…for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ…” Ephesians 4:12

Other Resources:

Why Should Christians Serve?
What Does It Mean to Have Your Life Hidden With Christ in God?

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Click the following link to view our entire archive of questions and answers.

Why Leaders Need Community

3 Reasons Great Leaders Need One (and 3 Excuses to Reject if You Don’t Have One)

Note: I shared this a while ago, but given some recent conversations I have had, and with tragic news related to leaders being almost a weekly occurrence, we thought we would redistribute.  Join me in praying for those who are hurting from the pain of others’ decisions, and for the certainly numerous others who are isolated or who need the encouragement of friends like you.  The kindest thing you can do is to share this article with leaders you love, pray for them, and pursue them as you want to be pursued.

“It’s lonely at the top.”

I hear that often from pastors, CEOs, and others carrying the heavy weight of leadership in their organizations. The truth behind that phrase was brought to life in The State of PastorsBarna Group and Pepperdine University’s recent whole-life assessment of U.S. pastors. That study found that more than 50% of pastors have struggled with depression, and 75% are more likely to feel mental or emotional exhaustion, compared to 55% of all employed adults. A pastor myself, my heart breaks when I read about tragedies such as pastors taking their own lives, which seems to happen all too regularly. Even more common are the stories of prominent pastors who are caught in unrepentant patterns of sin, with consequences that extend to the flocks they were supposed to shepherd. Along with the loneliness and depression many faithful leaders face, such stories serve as urgent warnings of the dire consequences of leading in isolation.

If you don’t want to be “lonely at the top,” you need people who truly know you and are actively engaged in caring for your wellbeing. Like all of God’s people, leaders are called to live in intimate relationship with others (Proverbs 13:2027:5-627:17). This is much more than taking time to talk shop with other respected leaders. It’s about surrounding yourself with a circle of trustworthy, godly friends who:

  • pursue one another relationally;
  • confess sin to one another continually; and
  • encourage, admonish, and pray for one another constantly.

Your inner circle must know where you are vulnerable and “prone to leave the God you love,” so they can help fortify you as you follow Christ. Here are a few reasons why great leaders have an inner circle and some excuses that you should reject if you don’t have one.

Three Reasons Why Leaders Need an Inner Circle

  1. Jesus had an inner circle.

Jesus was often alone, but never lonely. There’s never been a better leader than Jesus. If we are committed to following Christ’s example, we won’t live or lead alone.

There was only one time Jesus was isolated and alone, and it was when He was bearing the sins of the world on the cross. Apart from that moment of separation, He walked in perfect unity with and in obedience to the Father, and that included Him walking in authenticity and deep community with other men. Jesus was alone with sin so you don’t have to be.

Among the first things Jesus did in His earthly ministry was appoint 12 disciples, “so that they might be with him…”(Mark 3:14). He was not above asking for human help even as He entirely depended on the Father. When Jesus was most tested He was most vulnerable with His inner circle, repeatedly informing them of His condition and asking them to be with Him and pray for Him (Matthew 26:36-46).

Wise men pursue solitude, but fools isolate. Jesus did not isolate, and if you do, you won’t be like Him or lead well for long.

  1. Our hearts are sick.

There’s an old saying among common men: “A fox doesn’t smell his own hole.” Sadly, fallen humans, especially when they have position and power, don’t either.

The world needs those who speak truth to power, and the powerful need others who speak truth to them. David knew this and prayed that the Lord would “Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness,” and He asked the Father to see correction and care from others as “oil for my head” (Psalm 141:5). The more fans you have, the greater your need is for true friends who will speak out when they observe inauthenticity, sin, and selfishness taking root. Our hearts are “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). Our flesh naturally withdraws from correction, but “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment”(Proverbs 18:1).

The longer a healthy leader serves, the more he should seek sharpening and correction from his inner circle, because he knows what is at stake.

  1. The enemy is at the gate.

A few years ago, I was speaking on a panel with a well-known Christian leader. When asked if he had an inner circle, he replied: “You should tell some things to everyone, a few things to someone, and everything to no one.” The crowd was noticeably impressed by the tweetable quip. I waited, and seeing there was going to be no further comment by him or others, I said, “I love the way that rolls off the tongue, but while that comment was pithy, it is entirely unsupported by Scripture.” Nowhere in the Bible does it say that we are better off living isolated and telling everything to no one. Sadly, the person who shared the “advice” was living by it, and shortly thereafter lost his ministry and family because of the temptations and destructive choices he was hiding from those around him.

We have an Enemy: “a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”(1 Peter 5:8). Over and over, God’s Word likens us to sheep—a pack animal in need of both our Shepherd and each other. If you’re a lone sheep hanging out amidst the wolves, you’re not a stud. You’re next.

Three Excuses to Reject if You Don’t Have an Inner Circle

  1. There’s no one I can trust.

Many leaders don’t have an inner circle because they claim they can’t find people they can trust. While the Bible warns believers to be discerning about who they lock arms with (Proverbs 13:201 Corinthians 15:332 Corinthians 6:14), it also makes clear that “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another”(Proverbs 27:17). The Elders I serve with at Watermark fill that role in my life. We invest hours each week not only talking about how we can shepherd the flock God has entrusted to us, but especially shepherding, admonishing, and encouraging one another. I’m blessed to have them in my life.

Seek out a group of friends who are convinced they can play a significant role in your life and are unimpressed by who you are and what you have accomplished. If you’re struggling to trust your fellow elders and leaders, ask yourself this: If I can’t trust the hearts of those I lead with, why am I willing to ask others to trust and follow them? 

  1. I’m too busy.

When you say you’re too busy to spend time in biblical community with other faithful leaders, what you’re really saying is, “I’m too busy to care for my soul.” Proverbs 24:30-34 describes a once-fruitful vineyard surrounded by a stone wall. Neglected by its owner, the vineyard becomes overgrown with thistles and nettles. The passage ends by saying, “poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.”Those verses remind us that a time will come when it is too late to remedy the neglect of your soul.

There are few things more important than taking the time to “train yourself for godliness”(1 Timothy 4:7) with encouragement and support from those you trust. Your strength as a leader depends on it. If you’re too busy to live in authentic relationships with others, you are busy doing too many of the wrong things.

  1. I’m using my power to maintain power (though you might not know it).

When was the last time someone called you out or held you accountable? In a recent staff meeting, a dialog with another staff member became laborious, and my tone became harsh. Almost immediately, another member of the staff graciously pointed out how the way I responded was inconsistent with what he knew to be true of my heart’s desire to honor others as God’s man. Positionally, I had the authority to shut him down or make it clear that if anyone wanted to “give me a word of advice” it would soon follow with me advising them to “take a walk.”

Thankfully, because I pray with David the words of Psalm 141:5, and because I am surrounded by strong friends who love me (Proverbs 27:5-6), I was able to accept the admonishment of a faithful friend, immediately acknowledge my fleshly response, and seek the forgiveness of the one I addressed. Grace-giving, humility, relational courage, forgiveness, and repentance are constantly modeled by those in my inner circle, and I am a better man for it.

If you’ve surrounded yourself with “Yes Men” (or “Yes Women”), there is a good chance you are using your power to maintain your power. Super Fans will not confront you when you fail to “render true judgments” or“show kindness and mercy”(Zechariah 7:9). Too many senior leaders rise to the level where they only spend time with those who revere them—people who will never tell them the truth because they don’t want to lose their pay or their place in the leader’s court. Kings without a strong court often become jesters and rule over others as the Gentiles do (Matthew 20:25). Wise men have trusted counselors who faithfully wound them until they are more faithful men.

Leaders who are informed by God’s Word and heed the counsel of other godly people become stronger and more effective in their God-given role. But the benefit does not stop there. Because you are a leader, others in your organization will follow. Only when we faithfully avail ourselves of all the resources God offers, including the humility to heed the counsel of others, can we say with integrity, “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ”(1 Corinthians 11:1).

Leadership matters like nothing else. To my fellow leaders in the Church, I beg you to care for your soul by inviting others in to admonish, encourage, and strengthen you as you do the essential work of leading others to Christ. The stakes are too high to try to do it alone.

Todd Wagner is Senior Pastor and Elder at Watermark Community Church, and the author of Come and See: Everything You Ever Wanted in the One Place You Would Never Look. This article originally appeared on his blog here.


How to Live Faithfully in Fayetteville and Forever

Much to my surprise, I have found dropping off (turning loose may be a better term) a young man on a university campus to be a much more sobering experience then the dropping off of a young woman.

The first two previous times I loaded the Suburban and headed to college towns it was to drop off a daughter, which as you can imagine, has its own set of concerns.  When I dropped off Ally and Kirby, they were ready to meet, enjoy and integrate into their college campuses with their eyes wide open and their hearts cemented to the idea that whatever college was about, it was more than just themselves.

My girls and I had long ago shared all the necessary conversations about the duties and dangers of being a young woman in a university setting, and though it is never easy to leave any child you have invested in and enjoyed daily for eighteen years in a strange land to care for themselves, I knew it was time and we were all sad, excited and ready.

Fast-forward to the fall of 2015 and all of a sudden my wife and I were about to make our way to Fayetteville Arkansas, home of the Razorbacks (the boy had “said no” to the Ivy League option) to drop off our first born son.  As the day neared, and much to my surprise, I had a growing and much different sense of responsibility in sending off a young man to college then I did a young woman.  I knew college meant my son, like my daughters before him, would have a new and greater freedom to live and lead his life as he wanted, AND I knew that there were Dad’s, just like me years earlier, who were dropping off their freshman daughters where they would either be blessed or burdened by the young men around them.

One might think that dropping off a girl and leaving her alone around a bunch of newly unleashed young “men” with unlimited freedom and limited maturity was the more daunting task, but such was not the case for me. Without going into too much detail, suffice it say that I found it more sobering to turn loose a potential predator then I did potential prey.

What you have below is a summary of the last hours of conversation this Father had with his son as he dropped him off to prayerfully, be faithful in “Fayetteville and forever”.  You can be certain I pray daily that these truths would be embedded in his heart for more than these next four years and you can be certain that I am praying now that they will be in some way useful to you as you seek to be faithful yourself and with any men you are charged with shaping.  Fayetteville is not the only place that needs faithful men…right where you are does too.

So to Cooper (and eventually Cade and Camp) and to you today, I say….

If you would like to hear a message I gave at a men’s breakfast at Watermark on this very topic listen here,


  • College is not a time to taste the world. It’s a time to increase your appetite for God’s Word.
  • First, believe that college is not a time to sow your wild oats. It is a time to show your world Whose you are.
  • John 1:1-4; Col. 1:15-17; 1 Cor. 6:19-20


  • God does not deny men pleasure, He makes them great.
  • College is the beginning of your revealing the greatness of your God, not having what the world calls a great time. What the world calls a great time does not make great men, God does.
  • John 14:3; 1 Peter 5:10; Col. 1:13-14; Psalm 84:11; Prov. 22:4; Heb. 7:25


  • Nothing is about you. Your life is not your own. Great men know this. College is for men.
  • Men understand the principle of delayed gratification. College boys do not.
  • Eph. 5:18-21; Phil. 2:3-5; Prov. 13:16; Ecc. 10:16-17


  • Discipline is the heavy door that leads to freedom. Lead yourself to be free to serve others. • Everything you read, watch, eat and do is a blessing or a burden.
  • 1 Tim. 4:6-8; 1 Cor. 9:26-27; Prov. 12:27


  • You will be what you are daily becoming.
  • Every day is a day you are preparing for something. Make that something faithfulness.
  • Galatians 6:7-9; Matt. 6:33-34; Psalm 27:4; Prov. 15:14; 18:15


  • The best way to lead yourself is to run with men who follow the King.
  • Make sure your “mighty men” are committed to going to war against enemies of God’s people.
  • 2 Tim. 2:22; Prov. 1:10-18; Heb. 3:13; 1 Cor. 15:33


  • Live honorably in the dark so you can walk boldly in the light. • Prov. 10:9, 11:3; Mat. 5:11,16


  • Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
  • Wait to taste the lips of a woman. Don’t waste yourself on lust.
  • Consult your Dad on all dates and consider every time you are alone with a woman a date.
  • 1 Thess. 4:3-8; Prov. 31:30; Prov. 22:3; 1 Tim. 5:2


  •  Money takes wings. Fame is a vapor. Character endures.
  • Love people. Use things. Avoid those who love things and use people.
  • Prov. 23:4-5; 28:20; 1 Tim. 6:9; Heb. 13:5


  • You have a powerful enemy who wants you to be foolish, prideful and believe that faithfulness to the Father is a fast track to futility. He is a liar.
  • John 8:44; Prov. 13:13-15; Psalm 16:11


  • Go forth with courage. Return with honor. Live fearlessly because of your future hope.
  • Play the man: Step up. Speak out. Stand firm. Stay humble. Serve the King.
  • 1 Cor. 16:13-14; Jeremiah 1:17-18; Micah 6:8; Prov. 20:6; Heb. 6:10

I will build my life on the truths above.
I will attend my classes (tend to my business) every day.
I will be excellent in my work, diligent in my effort, and my work will  produce results.
I will welcome accountability in all areas of my life.
I will self-report my failures.

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A Few Thoughts On The Israel – Gaza Conflict

I recently made a few comments on my Twitter feed regarding the Israel – Gaza conflict which I’ve consolidated below for your reference.