Christianity is a singing religion. Each week as we gather in corporate worship, a big part of our service is taken up by singing. I do not know of another place people go on a weekly basis and sing songs with other grown ups. It really is unique. Business meetings, college classes, and conference calls don’t typically begin with a song, much less a full music set. Yet, we find it completely normal, even expected, to have a series of songs at the worship service. Music has a powerful impact. In a congregational context, music is especially meaningful as it is a way for us to sing to one another, sing to God, and confess truth (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19)
Tim Challies had a few helpful post dealing with music and corporate worship. You can find them here and here. He dealt with what we have lost and gained by the modern movement away form traditional hymnals. I want to address something different here and offer some thoughts on a rubric for determining a song’s appropriateness for corporate worship. The job of the musicians is to assist the congregation, not to perform for the congregation. Song selections play a major role in how effective the music will be in engaging the congregation.
The Content Check
- What is the message of the song?
- Does it speak accurately? (Make sure to consider every line, not just the parts you like.)
- Does it say enough?
- Could you hear your pastor saying the words of the song in a sermon?
- Is the song focussed on God or on Man? Some “testimonial songs” are acceptable, but predominately, focus selections on songs which highlight the gospel and God’s character.
- Is it repetitive? How is the repetition being used?
- Does it use biblical language but in a way that fails to consider the context of a particular passage?
I have sometimes referred to the content check as the “girlfriend check.” Meaning, if you can take the name of God or Jesus out and plug your girlfriend or wife’s name in — and it still makes sense — you probably could do better in terms of a song selection.
The Sing-ability Check
- Is it easy to follow?
- Is it easy to teach?
- Is it technically attainable for the music leader and/or band?
- Is it a familiar song with an unfamiliar arrangement?
Musicians have to remember they are leading a bunch of people who aren’t really musicians. Just because it sounds awesome on the radio or even in practice doesn’t mean you can pull it off with a semi-musically literate congregation.
The Audience Check
- Is the song appropriate for the audience in both style and content? (Note: the age of a song, new or old, does not necessarily determine its fitness for corporate worship).
- As sets are put together, does this song complement the other songs in the set in both content and style?
- Are your music sets considering a multi-generational and/or multi-ethnic audience?
The Association and History Check
- Who wrote the song?
- Are there any significant doctrinal concerns with the author/artist?
- Would you have any hesitation being associated with the given artist/author/band?
- What is the history of the hymn/song?
- Is there any controversy surrounding any lyrics?
I’m thankful for musicians. I’m not musically inclined, but I do love to sing. Music folks, you have a tough and sometimes thankless job. If you regularly serve in congregational worship, thank you! May the Lord give you much grace as you point the hearts and minds of your local congregation to the Lord.