What is Worship:
Worship is a Christian’s entire life. If your life isn’t an act of worship to God then you have no business singing to Him on Sunday morning. Our worship as the gathered church on a Sunday is just the continuation of our worship throughout the week. Singing, praying, reading, preaching, baptism, communion, are some forms of acts of worship we do together in a congregational setting. But our lives, fully submitted and glorifying to Him at all times, or we are doing it wrong.
We approach our songs with that same reverence to God. All life is worship, but when we sing worship, we want it to be the best, most faithful and true to the best of our ability.
Here are some ways we think about singing in Church.
PRINCIPLES FOR CHURCH SONG Kevin DeYoung
1. Love is indispensable to church singing that pleases God.
There are more important things than the kinds of songs we sing. Music should not be the glue that holds us together–the cross, the glory of Jesus Christ, the majesty of God, and love should. But even churches centered on the gospel disagree about music. So love is indispensable when we sing and when we are trying to discern what is best to sing. I imagine the Apostle Paul, if he were writing to the church today, might have something to say about our worship style. “If I sing in style of the hippest music, but have not love, I am only a banging drum or a strumming guitar. If I have a gift for reading music and enjoy the richest hymns, but have not love, I am nothing. If I am discerning of excellent music and fine poetry, but have not love, I gain nothing.” The first principle for singing as a congregation and choosing music for the congregation is love.
2. Our singing is for God’s glory and the edification of the body of Christ.
God is the one we want to impress, the one we most want to honor. Our first aim must not be to win over the culture or appeal to the unregenerate. Worship is for the Worthy One.
Following closely on this priority is the goal of edification. The singing on Sunday morning should benefit God’s people. This is a fair application of Paul’s concerns in 1 Corinthians 14. It’s also part and parcel of teaching and admonishing each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16). We should never approach the music as an entertaining lead-in to the sermon. Before you employ secular songs as your background music prior to the start of the service, consider whether a vaguely spiritual song from U2 will really build up the body of Christ.
Congregational song is part of the teaching ministry of the church. Church musicians and pastors should ask themselves: if our people learned their theology from our songs what would they know in twenty years about God, the cross, the resurrection, the offices of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, creation, justification, election, regeneration, the church, the sacraments, and all the other fundamental doctrines of the faith?
6. We should strive for excellence in the musicality and the poetry of the songs we sing.
I’m not for a moment suggesting elitism. A tune has to be relatively simple for hundreds or thousands of people to sing it at the same time. But we can still insist on un-distracting excellence (to use Piper’s phrase). We want the cross to be the stumbling block, not our poor musicianship or faltering power point.
While I believe a wide variety of styles can be used in worship, I am not a musical relativist. Some songs are better than others. Some styles work better than others. And when it comes to lyrics, we should avoid obvious sloppiness like using thee and you in the same song or heaping up trite clichés. I heard a song on the radio a couple weeks ago whose chorus had something about a fragrant rose in the early spring and an eagle soaring to spread its wings. If your church sings this on Sunday, love your worship leader all the same. But if you’re the worship leader picking this song, try for something with a little more artistry, something that doesn’t sound like it came from a random page in your inspirational pocket calendar.
Some songs are simply deep and some are deeply simple, but there is a way to do both well. With so many songs to choose from, there’s no reason churches can’t make an effort to sing songs with some sense of poetry and musical integrity. The Hallelujah chorus is repetitive, but it’s musically interesting. Most songs, choruses, and verses aren’t good enough to be repeated for very long.
7. The main sound to be heard in the worship music is the sound of the congregation singing.
Everyone is responsible to sing. The young girl with her hands in the air and the old man belting out the bass line. What people want to see in your worship is that you mean it. And no matter how chill or how reverent your worship is, if no one is singing, it’s lame.
And if the main sound is to be the congregation singing, this will have implications for how we play and choose our songs.
- Is it sing-able? Pay attention to range (too high or too low), and beware of syncopation and lots of irregularities in the meter and rhythm. Make sure the melody makes some intuitive sense, especially if you don’t have music to look at or people can’t read music. When your guitar strums between G, C, and D there are a lot of notes to choose from.
- Is the instrumentation helping or inhibiting the congregation to sing? This means checking the volume. Is the music too soft to support the human voices? Is it so loud it’s drowning them out? One mistake music teams make is to think that every instrument needs to be used with every song. Some songs should get the whole kitchen sink, but just because you have a drum, piano, guitar, bass, lyre, zither, flute, chicken shaker, banjo, cello, and djembe up there doesn’t mean you have to use them all.
- Is this song familiar? People cannot handle a new song every week, let alone two or three new songs. Stick with your basic sound and core songs and go out from there. On occasion you may have to admit, “That’s a great song, but I don’t think we can do it well.”
10. All of our songs should employ manifestly biblical lyrics.
We must start by asking of all our songs: is this true? Not just true, but accurate to the biblical text. For example, I like the Third Day song “Consuming Fire” but the lyrics, while true, misuse the biblical text. According to the song, our God is a consuming fire because he reaches inside and melts our cold hearts of stone. That’s true, but the text in Hebrews is about God our judge.
Similarly, our songs should be manifestly true. That is, we shouldn’t have to put a spin on the lyrics to get them to be ok. We are looking for subtlety. We don’t want to sing songs that leave us wondering “what exactly does that mean?”
On the flip side, don’t be too hard on “I” songs. About 100 of the 150 Psalms have the word “I.” “I” is not the problem. The problem is with songs that are too colloquially, or use I thoughtlessly (I just want to praise you – well then praise him), or never move from how I am feeling about God to who God is and what he’s done to make me feel this way.
In all our songs we want to be teaching people about God. If we aren’t learning good theology and biblical truth from our songs, then either we don’t care much about our songs or we don’t care much about rich biblical truth, or both.