Music and the Church: The Songs We Sing

Music is a gift that God has given to enable us to express truths and emotions in a powerful way. Our goal is to use music to glorify God and to serve the church of Jesus Christ.

He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord. Psalm 40:3 ESV.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16 ESV.

Music and the Church

Music is a gift from God. It enables us to produce vocal and instrumental expression to assist us in proclaiming the truth of God and His salvation and to give voice to the emotions that spring forth from our hearts in response to that truth. It can strengthen and unify us as we sing together, as one voice, as we declare the greatness and wonder of our God and Lord Jesus Christ. Music can help us express those things that we often do not want to say out loud. As David, in the Psalms, we can sing with the church and cry out to the God Who hears and Who knows our every care and anxious thought. It can help us to celebrate and praise God for His mighty power and the works He does on our behalf. Music is a great tool that can be used for the glory of God and the building of the church.

It is important to evaluate music in regards to its purpose and usefulness for the congregational setting.  Much of Christian music is not written to be sung congregationally. There is nothing wrong with that. Christian songwriters should have freedom to write music and lyrics for various venues and purposes. As long as they are not presenting unbiblical or immoral content, they are free to use their gifts in whatever manner God leads them. Regarding styles and complexity of music, songwriters should be able to write and express their creativity with their God-given talents.

However, when it comes to music and the church, specifically related to the songs we sing as a congregation, lyrics should always be grounded in the truth of Scripture. When congregational music is filled with the truth of Scripture, music can be used to teach and reinforce sound doctrine and also give voice to emotions in response to that truth.  What we choose to use in our services is a critical decision.  With the volume of music available to the church today, a choice does not have to be made between sound doctrine and good music. There are many good songwriters in the church today, clearly devoted to helping the church worship God in Spirit and in Truth. We do not have to settle for songs that have a great tune or beat, but are weak or unclear in regards to content.

We need songs filled with good theology and which clearly reflect the truth that God has revealed to us in His Word. If words or phrases are fuzzy or unclear, they could be confusing, misleading, or, at worst, inaccurate regarding God and the gospel. Corporate singing times are not the best occasion for marginal, unclear, obscure or abstract lyrics that could possibly mislead or misrepresent regarding biblical truth. The message needs to be clear and doctrinally sound. We believe that we will be held accountable for what is taught through the songs we bring to the church to sing. Let’s make sure that we are diligent to use songs with content that is biblical and will enrich the congregation as they worship with their minds and emotions – worship that is in Spirit and in Truth.

Process for Choosing the Songs We Sing Together

How do we select the songs that we use for our corporate worship times?  Over the years, the following process has been developed for selecting the songs that we sing as a congregation, through wisdom gathered through Scripture and from many other worship leaders and teachers.  While not exhaustive, the following provides much of the criteria and thought process used for determining what songs we will use in our worship services.

Lyrical content. This is the most important criteria in determining whether we use a song.  The following questions help in evaluating the content of songs for possible congregational use:

  • Do the lyrics contain accurate descriptions and portrayals of the character of God?
  • Do the lyrics contain accurate descriptions and portrayals of the works of God?
  • Do the lyrics contain accurate descriptions and portrayals of the condition of the human race apart from Christ?
  • Do the lyrics contain accurate descriptions and portrayals of the condition of the believer and their relationship with God in Christ?
  • Are doctrinal and theological principles presented clearly and without error or confusion?
  • Are there clear Biblical references, themes, and focus?
  • Does the song contain depth of content or is it shallow, lacking in substance?
  • Does the song contain substantive content or does it contain very little content, that is repeated over and over?
  • Does the song have a consistent theme or is it hard to pin down the overall theme of the song?
  • In addition to being Biblically sound, does the song speak to the vision, values, and focus of the church?
  • Is the song God and gospel centered/focused?
  • Is the song overly focused on us rather than God?

Song structure. This section describes the process of reviewing how the song is put together and how it will work in a worship team format and congregational setting.

  • What is the range of the song melody? Is it excessive to the point where many people could have difficulty singing along?
  • What is the meter of the song? Is it irregular or does it follow a structured meter pattern that is consistent throughout all of the verses?  Does the meter change from verse to verse, making it difficult to follow the rhythm of the song throughout the entirety of the song?
  • Are the style and tempo of the song appropriate for the content? Does the mood or feeling of the music match the doctrine or expressions being conveyed through the lyrics?  Or does the style/tempo detract from the intended meaning of the lyrics?
  • How difficult will the song be for the worship team to learn? How difficult will the song be for the congregation to learn?  If the song is overly complex, can it be modified to make it simpler and more accessible for the team and congregation?

Copyright coverage and music availability. This section describes the legal and compliance part of the review.

  • Are both the song and the author covered by the church’s CCLI license?
  • Are chord charts and vocal music available for the song through CCLI?
  • Both of these are required for us to be able to legally reproduce lyrics and music through our CCLI agreement.

Impact on currently catalog of songs used. Due to time constraints for congregational singing, there is a limit to the number of songs that can be successfully maintained in a song rotation in order to sing them frequently enough and retain familiarity for the congregation.  Currently, we maintain about 100 songs in our active rotation for use in congregational singing.  When considering whether to add a new song, the following questions could be asked:

  • What is the theme of the song? Do we already similar songs that have the same them and/or style?
  • What is the current balance of songs in the rotation with this theme? Do we another song on this same theme or style?
  • Is the new song better than similar songs in the current rotation, based on the lyric content, song structure, and copyright criteria described above?
  • Are there songs currently in the rotation that convey the theme or truths more clearly?
  • Will the song add variety to the song rotation or more of the same?
  • Are there good songs in the current rotation that will need to be excluded in order to add this new song?
  • Is it time to retire another song, currently in the rotation, in order to add this new song?