The Bible has a lot to say about worship. Whether it’s concerning our hearts (Matthew 15:8-9; Exodus 29:13) or the types of songs and instruments used in worship (Psalm 150:1-5; Psalm 98:1-7). I personally enjoy the Psalmist’s call to use clashing cymbals and ram horns in worship. The world needs more of that. All said, even if our hearts are in the right place and we use every single instrument, worship in song and sound doctrine is important (1 Timothy 4:16; Titus 1:9; Titus 2:1).
It is out of this understanding of God’s call to worship that I strive to lead our congregational worship. But, choosing music for congregational worship isn’t that easy. Surprisingly, it takes a lot of time, thought, and energy. As you read on, I’m going to take you on a journey through the process I follow when selecting music for congregational worship. My hope is that those who read this would glean something to use in their personal lives to evaluate the music they choose to listen to and worship God with.
First, let’s expand a bit more on sound doctrine.
1 Timothy 4:16
16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.
Sound doctrine in our worship music is important because music tends to walk out the door with us. Were you ever taught in school to put something to music or in song form if you need help memorizing or learning it? Recite the ABCs to yourself for a moment. Seriously, stop and do it.
I would bet 9/10 people just sang the ABCs versus a monotone recital. At the very least, your “L, M, N, O, P” was thought through faster than the rest of the letters as if you said the word, “Elemenopy.” …H I J K Elemenopy Q R S… This is something my wife constantly tells me to slow down with when teaching our girls the alphabet. She’s right too. “L… M… N… O… P…”
The same concept is true of the words put to worship music. We remember them so much easier because of the music than perhaps we would remember “Bullet Point #2” in the sermon given four weeks ago. This is why sound doctrine in our worship music is important to me; that our church family would walk out of the door with a song stuck in their head that’s teaching them sound biblical principles.
The Song’s Focus
Is the song focused on me, us, the world, or is it focused on The Father, Son and/or Holy Spirit? What a song is focused on helps determine whether it has a fit for congregational worship. I specify congregational worship because there are many songs that are perfect for, in fact, intended for personal worship between a person and the Lord. When selecting music for congregational worship, a song that is upwardly focused on God easily moves further in the process. This is because we are gathering together to worship God, not to sing songs about what we want God to do for us.
Unfortunately and fortunately, there are a lot of songs that are focused on “me,” “I,” or “us.” It’s unfortunate because these types of songs are often used for congregations when it really seems like the song was a sweet moment between the songwriter and the Lord. It’s fortunate, because I do think songs like this play an important role in our worship of God as individuals during our day-in and day-out relationship with our Creator.
The Song’s Purpose
This is the last criteria I usually either start the process with or end it. What purpose will a song serve in our worship services? This criteria is often the broadest because there are a variety of factors at play. For example, we are usually planning our upcoming sermon series in advance, so this gives us the opportunity to see if there are any worship songs that fit well with the theme of the series. In this example, I would start the search process for a new worship song based on the theme of the series, and then further evaluate the ones I find for sound doctrine and focus.
Another example is song tempo. This is a random factor, but having a good balance of upbeat, medium, and slow-paced songs is important. Introducing too many songs of a certain tempo in a short span of time can create unbalance in our song repertoire.
Sometimes songs play a smaller role as a “special” where they may not receive a regular spot in the rotation, but they serve a purpose maybe just once or during certain times in the worship service. For example, because we take Communion weekly at Friendship Church, occasionally playing a special song during Communion is refreshing and thought-provoking.
This criteria is the most interesting to me because it doesn’t have a concrete evaluation tool to measure against. It’s easy to exclude a song if it has poor doctrine or if the focus is lopsidedly on me.
The truth is that I try to connect music, message, and sermon series the best I can. Because of this, a lot of great songs come my way and I end up having to keep them on a potential music playlist for some time down the road. According to CCLI, the Christian music copyrighting organization, there are over 100,000 Christian songs available to the world. What an amazing testament to God’s work in the lives of many people who are called to write songs of worship through each generation. At the end of the day, we’ll never have a shortage when it comes to song options for praising God’s name. It’s just a matter of choosing the right song for right now. Sometimes that’s easy. Sometimes it’s not, but if it has sound doctrine and draws us to a rightful view of God, it can’t be wrong.