Four Things I Think About When Picking Songs for Worship
One of the most important ways music leaders can disciple and teach their congregations is to choose good, appropriate songs to sing for congregational worship.
But what makes a good song for worship? Whether we sing from a hymnal or read the latest contemporary songs from a screen, whoever picks the songs answers that question weekly. As we seek to answer it faithfully, here are a few more specific questions for consideration I’ve found helpful.
Do our songs tell the story of the gospel?
“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel” (2 Timothy 2:8 NIV).
There are many wonderful songs to sing in worship, covering many areas of life and faith. But the core of our faith is in God’s redemptive work in Christ. So let’s sing about it! We sing about His role in creation, His fulfillment of Israel’s covenant, His incarnation, life, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and future glorious reign. That is the message of Scripture and the hope each person needs deep in their soul. Every song need not mention Jesus explicitly, but many should.
Are these songs good for singing?
“Praise our God, all peoples, let the sound of His praise be heard” (Psalm 66:8, NIV).
This question may sound silly, but songs we pick often end up being very hard for a whole congregation to sing together. There are common pitfalls: perhaps a song’s range is too high or low (or both), its rhythm is too challenging, or we simply sing too many new songs for the congregation to learn them well. However, since every group is different, the best idea is to observe. Are people visibly engaged in singing? More importantly, can we hear them singing?
Do our songs honor the work of the Spirit in all of God’s people?
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6, NIV).
God’s Spirit has given abundant gifts of song to the church through many centuries and in cultures across the globe. Embracing this diversity helps us welcome and minister to diverse people. It can also reveal blind spots particular to our culture and time. Plus, we find beauty and joy in places we may not have expected! Without disowning our own worship heritage, we can explore songs from a different decade, a different century, a different country, or a different ethnic group in our own country. A great place to start is by asking questions of the people we know.
Do our songs make space for all the emotions of life?
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15, NIV).
The Psalms give us a wonderful example of worship that covers the whole gamut of human experience. Rejoicing. Bitterness. Sorrow. Thankfulness. Exhaustion. Questioning. Firm confidence. People walk into our gatherings with all of these feelings on a weekly basis. It is particularly dangerous to ignore suffering in favor of positive emotions when planning worship (see Proverbs 25:20). Yes, God’s redemption is cause for celebration. But let’s not sell our loving Father short — He welcomes all of who we are in worship.
As you read this list and think about your congregation, do you feel overwhelmed? I do! I’m one of the people who picks songs at our church, and I weekly fail to live up to this vision. It is more than we can handle on our own. Thank God for His grace in Christ! May His Spirit lift us up, keeping us thinking and discussing, and striving towards His best for us in the incredibly important work of leading singing in the church.
Michael Murchison is the worship director at Life Connection Church in Severn, Maryland, and a Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies student.
Featured Photo: Jon Kempson, FBC Waldorf, along with other praise leaders throughout the BCM/D led worship at a past BCM/D annual meeting. (photo by Shannon Baker)