Choosing Worship Music Requires Balance
Every so often people will tell me that they heard an amazing worship song that we have to sing in church. Which is awesome. I love that people are excited about worshipping the Lord through song and want to share that with me. Plus, I'm always looking for new songs.
So, I thought it might be helpful to share some things I consider when choosing new songs for congregational worship. I evaluate them using four criteria: theology, content, context and accessibility.
All theology has practical implications. What we believe determines our actions. One of the core values of our worship ministry is that “we think rightly and feel deeply”. We use both mind and heart. I would not be doing my job if I did not check the theology of the songs we are singing on Sunday. If something is unclear, I would rather not do it and replace it with something that is clear. Even if it’s played on KLTY every five minutes. I am not saying that every song has to be a theological dissertation, but every song has to be sound theologically.
What is this song saying? Is the song talking to God or about God? Is it poetic or plain? Is it clear? Could a lyric be mistaken to mean something else? It is lyrically dense or simple? Is it too repetitive? Do the lyrics stand on their own or will they need some context or explanation? Where is the song’s focus?
I believe there must be a balance with all of these questions. I can’t just pick all dense, plain or non-repetitive songs. People would get bored and zone out. And I can’t pick all simple repetitive songs, either. There needs to be a healthy tension there.
How does this song fit our church culture? Does the style and genre serve a wide range of our congregants? What is going on in our church and community right now? Where are we in the Church calendar? Do we need more songs of either adoration, confession, assurance, thanksgiving, prayer and lament, or mission? Have we done a lot of new songs lately? How are we keeping guests in mind?
Answering these questions helps the songs connect to where our people are spiritually and emotionally as a local church.
Let me premise this with the fact that a lot of what is deemed “accessible" to our congregation is contextual and subjective. This one is often the most difficult for me because it is so subjective. But here’s what I wrestle with: Is this song relatively easy to sing? Will our older folks resonate with it? Will our younger folks resonate with it? Can our church be stretched to sing it without alienating everyone? Does it sound good?
Say I find a song with a genre that suits our church, with content that is rich and compelling, and with theology that is sound... but the key is way too high, the melody is unpredictable or boring, and the rhythm is extremely syncopated. That’s not helpful for anyone. This is congregational worship. That means we should sing TOGETHER! Again, I try to strike a balance for all our people.
Of course, with all of these filters, I pray that God gives me wisdom in the process. I'm still learning. There is no magic formula. Some songs that I think will work don't. And some songs I personally don't like, our church takes hold of.
My encouragement for all of us during our time together on Sundays is that we take advantage of corporate worship through song. Actively engage your mind, your heart and your voice. Join with your brothers and sisters in Christ to celebrate who God is and what he's done for us in Christ.
Looking forward to worshipping with you Sunday. - Matt Bowen