As a worship leader, I hear it at least once a month. “Have you heard _______’s new song?! We should sing it next Sunday!”
I love when people ask the question! I want to sing songs that our church family loves and will connect to. Not only that, but I’ve found some of my favorite worship songs through friends and church family members who’ve introduced me to a new song.
At the same time, I have to approach the question with caution. There are loads of songs that I love to listen to in the car or during my personal devotion time that I would never lead in corporate worship. It doesn’t mean the song is bad – some of the worship songs God has most used to impact my life are ones that I have never, and will never, lead on a Sunday morning in corporate worship. That being said, some songs are better than others for the purpose of corporate worship.
Here’s three criteria that I use to gauge whether or not a song is appropriate for corporate worship:
- Is it accurate?
Is it rooted in and consistent with the teachings of Scripture? Are the words we’re singing true? Sometimes a song contains a word or phrase that just isn’t true about the character or person of God. When our church family gathers on Sunday mornings, we need to be fed from the truth of God’s Word. The world offers us plenty of things to worship – and we can hear about them on the radio or at a concert down the street on Friday night. Ultimately, the world will push us to worship a lie. The Church has something better to offer – the truth of the Gospel. And that truth has to be the defining characteristic of the songs we sing. It’s what makes us different from the world around us, and it’s the only thing we are able to offer to a world that we truly believe is dead and dying. If the words we sing aren’t true, then are we really offering anything different from the world? We aren’t inviting people to a concert, and we certainly aren’t inviting them to be passive listeners – we are inviting people to worship, interact with, and experience the living God in a way that He prescribes in His Word.
2. Is it helpful?
Do the words we’re singing help our people to know and love God more? Do the songs help us to walk in obedience to God? This metric helps me choose between a good song and a better song. There are so many great songs written for corporate worship. We could sing new songs with great content all year long! When lots of good options hang over my head, I reach out for the ones that I think my church family most needs to hear – the ones that display truth in a way that I think people are most desperate to be reminded of. This is where song selection gets tricky. A song that was helpful in one season of the life of my church may not be as helpful in the next season, or vice versa. All in all, I try to remember to sing songs that clearly and articulately remind our people of God’s love displayed in the Gospel. In the words of Tim Keller, we want to sing songs that remind our people that we are more flawed and sinful than we could ever imagine, but at the same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus than we ever dared hope.
3. Is it singable?
Beautiful truths should be paired with beautiful melodies. Are our people helped, or hindered to lift their voices by the use of melodies in the songs we choose to sing? Does the instrumentation distract people from the truths we’re singing, or does it help our people experience the truth in a more profound way? Over 50 times in the Bible, God commands us to sing. If we sing songs with lyrics that are accurate to the truth of God’s Word, but have a melody or instrumentation that makes it difficult for people to sing, we’ve failed in song selection. People should look forward to singing the songs we lead on Sundays! If a song has rich, accurate lyrics, but the music is boring or bland, it creates an internal confusion in our hearts. How can I sing about the greatness and grandeur and beauty of God to a melody that sounds dull and monotone and uninviting? How can I reflect on the depth of my Saviors suffering on the cross if an electric guitar is smashing out a complex solo during the instrumental of How Deep the Father’s Love? Bad melodies and instrumentation distract and hinder people from authentic worship. But beautiful, singable melodies and proper instrumentation can be used by God to fuel our peoples hearts to experience the truth we sing in a profound, meaningful way.