There are thousands upon thousands of songs classified as “Christian” available on iTunes, YouTube, Pandora, the radio in the car, CDs lying around the house, and those old cassette tapes that gather dust. With more music being written and released than ever before, how do we discern what is good and what is not? More importantly, how do we decide what songs to use in our corporate time of worship? This is a question each church needs to carefully answer. With thousands, perhaps millions, of songs to choose from on any given Sunday, why do we sing these particular songs?
We believe that scripture allows us to sing a variety of songs from all times and seasons in church history. “…psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19) covers singing straight scripture, songs about scripture, ancient hymns of the faith, modern hymns, praise choruses, and a host of other categories that could be also be called “spiritual songs.” In our church we practice a blended style with a mix of ancient and modern hymns as well as some contemporary songs. As we sing songs from the history of the church we connect with our past. As we sing songs from the present day we connect with churches around us who worship the same God.
There are several filters we use to determine what songs are appropriate for our time of singing on Sunday. These are the same filters that underlie all we do in the worship ministry and are helpful in determining which songs would be a good fit for our congregation. You could summarize them with three important questions: Is the song God-centered, are the lyrics Biblical, and is the tune intergenerational?
When we ask, “Is the song God-centered?” we are asking about the focus of the song. Does it glorify God or man (Ps. 148:13)? Does it lift up and exalt the deeds of the Creator or of His creation? This doesn’t mean every song is addressed to God, but it does mean that each song is centered on who God is, what He has done, or what He has called us to do as His church. He is the focus and He must receive the honor in our worship.
When we ask, “Are the lyrics Biblical?” we are asking if the words align with scripture and are plainly Christian (2 Cor. 4:2). The lyrics certainly shouldn’t contradict scripture in any way, but they should also affirm what scripture teaches in a way that is clearly about the God of the Bible, not just a vague deity. A Muslim, Hindu, or Jewish person should feel uncomfortable singing in our service because of the explicit way our singing points to our Triune God.
When we ask, “Is the tune intergenerational?” we are asking if the style of the music is one that can cross generational lines and help the message of the song reach the hearts of all who sing. The style of Worship must be one that is inviting, not offensive. Worship is a time to draw people near to God (1 Cor. 14:26). Therefore, extremes of any style of music are inappropriate in a Worship setting. People from diverse backgrounds and age groups are brought together at church, and the style should be reflective of that diversity. As we sing we show preference to one another (Rom. 12:10) as we praise God with a familiar tune, or perhaps sing songs that may not be as familiar, knowing that God is the audience and we are there to honor Him.
In the end, we sing the songs we sing because we believe they help us worship God in a way that honors Him and enables us to encourage one another (Col. 3:16). Thankfully, God has given the church hundreds of gifted artists to supply us with the offerings we can give to God in worship.