“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”
Worship pastors have a unique role. We have the chance each week to put songs on the lips of our people. We are in essence choosing what people say as they worship the Lord. This is a privilege that should never be taken for granted or abused for our own personal gain. For this reason, we should approach song selection with extra care and caution to always make sure we are seeking the Lord’s guidance as we lead our people. When it comes to song selection, we have a six things that we always try to keep in mind with our approach. For us to decide to lead a song, we always make sure it is:
1. Vertically Focused.
Take a good look at a worship song before introducing it. How many pronouns like “me,” “I,” or “my” are in the song? If these pronouns are a common occurrence and tend to outnumber the amount of times that the song refers to God, then the song is not vertically focused. It is likely man focused and may not even be worth putting on the hearts of your people. As the body of Christ, the purpose of the large gathering is not to remind each other of ourselves, but to remind each other of the truths of God. “...singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”
As the body of Christ, the purpose of the large gathering is not to remind each other of ourselves, but to remind each other of the truths of God.
2. Theologically Rich.
Colossians 3:16 reminds us that the message of Christ must "dwell richly" in us and that the reason we sing songs in the gathering is to “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.” The reality is that songs are a teaching tool just as much as a sermons. Songs, however, have the added danger of being much more catchy and memorable, and thus tend to stick in people’s minds throughout the week. For this reason, we must be careful to make sure that the songs we sing are first and foremost, theologically accurate. They must be full of truth and not one ounce of them can be biblically questionable or unclear. To choose a song that is even remotely questionable in comparison with scripture is to effectively lead the flock astray by teaching a false doctrine.
"To choose a song that is even remotely questionable in comparison with scripture is to effectively lead the flock astray by teaching a false doctrine."
Not only must they be accurate, but it is important for them to be rich in biblical truths. Sure, we could “sing of His love forever…and ever… and ever,” but is this a full picture of truth? Yes, the Lord is loving! But why? And how? What has He done to show His love? To communicate a simple truth is great, but if not expounded upon, we run the risk of leading people into idolatrous worship (worshiping God in our own imagined image instead of worshiping Him for the fullness of who He is). God is not only loving, but righteous, holy, just..etc. We must lead our people to worship the Lord for the fullness of His character.
To communicate a simple truth is great, but if not expounded upon, we run the risk of leading people into idolatrous worship
3. Attributed Specifically.
I listen to Christian radio every once in a blue moon and to be honest, I am quite often appalled by what I hear. More often than not, many “Christian” songs are too ambiguous with their pronouns. We hear these songs that talk about “your love,” “his beauty,” or “his touch.” To someone skipping through and trying to find the next country station, how would a person know who is being sung about? Way too many Christian songs could easily be passable as musically bland love songs. When selecting songs for the Church, we need to be specific as to who we are singing to! I stay away from songs that don’t have any specific titles for the Father, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. There are many titles for God that we see in scripture, let’s express them! Songs that are ambiguous about who God is run the risk of subliminally condoning inclusivism within Christ’s Church.
What is the reason that we have the freedom to worship the Lord? Christ. The cross. His resurrection. “Let the message of CHRIST dwell richly…” We never let a Sunday go by where we don't sing at least one song that clearly outlines the fullness of the gospel. Not every single song is a clear presentation of the gospel of Christ, but it is essential for the sake of the believer, as well as the unbeliever, to hear and sing the truths of the gospel. For the believer, this serves as a humble reminder that the Lord has saved us. For the unbeliever, this serves as an opportunity for evangelism through song.
"Never let a Sunday go by where we don't sing at least one song that clearly outlines the fullness of the gospel."
5. New and Old.
There is a reason that many songs have stood the test of time... it’s because they are good! They are true! The Lord uses such songs to be an anthem of truth across many generations that His name might be praised. To abandon old songs for the sake of relevancy is to devalue many great historical figures of faith. The songs of David make up the largest book in the Bible and they are thousands of years old! If a song has a rich truth to proclaim, let’s sing it regardless of age.
"To abandon old songs for the sake of relevancy is to devalue many great historical figures of faith."
Conversely, we should never neglect to find and write new songs for our people to sing. Psalm 33:3 reminds us to “Sing to the Lord a new song...” We should never dismiss something simply because it is new, rather we should always examine it and determine it’s worth according to scripture. If it is truth, we should sing it!
I have been to a few churches that have such a large focus on the arts, that their song selection is way too abstract or complex for the average person to be able to sing along to, or even enjoy. Songs that are a mouthful are a sure way to lose people. Consider this: the average person has no rhythm or musical gifting. Simplicity of lyric and melody is the key to ensuring that a congregation will actually sing to the Lord. People will not sing if they feel like it’s too hard for them. Melodically, rhythmically, and even the key of the songs should be what’s best suited for the most amount of people to be able to join in! We are not called as worship leaders to showcase our talent or express our artistic creativity, but rather to lead people to worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness. We should always aim for rich truths, yet simple music.
“Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good;
sing to his name, for it is pleasant!” (Psalm 135:3)
Contributor / Matt Wagner
Matt Wagner is the Worship Pastor at Woodside Bible Church in Royal Oak, MI and serves as the Director of Worship for ONElife Worship.