When selecting songs for Sunday worship, here are seven questions I try to keep in mind. Does the congregational worship music I select . . .
- glorify God?
- edify the body?
- teach Christian doctrine?
- place emphasis on content?
- promote unity in the Church of the past and present?
- promote excellent art?
- favor the voices of the congregation?
I believe these questions are rooted in Scripture, but, I admit, some are more obvious than others. Let’s take a look.
Glorify God and Edify the Body
We’ll cover the first two together. These are pretty simple and straightforward but immensely vital. In the very few New Testament verses we have about music, we see a clear command to glorify God (“to the Lord” and “thankfulness in your hearts to God”) and build one another up (“addressing one another” and “one another”).
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,Ephesians 5:18-19
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
We must seek balance in these two areas. Some services err to the side of performance in an attempt to be faithful to the command to “address one another,” while others err on the “audience of One” extreme and go about their congregational worship as if there is no congregation present. A balanced worship service will worship God and minister to the body at the same time.
Teach Christian Doctrine and Place Emphasis on Content
Again, let’s cover the the next two questions at the same time.
The song service should not just have worship as its goal. Church music is just as much discipleship ministry as it is worship ministry. Paul told the Colossians to be “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Col. 3:16).
But what should we be teaching by means of music? Paul answers this! “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16).
Promote Unity in the Church of the Past and Present
It is unfortunate that in some churches the only songs that are sung are newly written songs; on the other hand, in some churches only old songs are sung. I believe the church is best served when we sing songs from all generations. The body of Christ does not consist only of those who are living; the body is composed of those who are living and those who have come before us. I should value the fellowship of Martin Luther as much as I do my pastor.
We see this very thing around the throne of God in John’s vision:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”Revelation 7:9-12
The eternal voice of the saints around the throne will have no hint of partiality. Let us join now in their song!
Promote Excellent Art
Whether you like it or not, art always communicates. That’s the point of art! And in your church, the form of your music, the content of your music, and the level of excellence in your music will communicate your view of God. Let’s be clear—by excellence, I’m not recommending elaborate, embellished, or intricate music. Excellence can be achieved with just a cappella voices.
In Scripture, Paul declares that we should be seeking excellent things:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.Philippians 4:8-9
If we’ve been commanded to seek excellent things, and we’ve been commanded to use music to worship God, then it only makes sense that we use excellent music in our worship.
Favor the Voices of the Congregation
I must admit that this is a secondary practice. For this reason, I have placed it at the end of this list. I ask this question when I am selecting songs for worship for two reasons:
- Instrumentalists shouldn’t overpower the voices of the congregation—when this happens, content is no longer primary.
- The singer(s) on stage should not overpower the voices of the congregation—this encroaches on the unity of the church, promoting a spectator atmosphere.
I’ve been in services when it didn’t really matter if I was present or not. The atmosphere did not encourage active participation in the service; I was a mere spectator. Whether it resembles a rock concert, a classical music hall, or a honky-tonk, a performer-focused setting for congregational worship on the Lord’s Day does not agree with the ethos of New Testament worship.
I hope these questions are helpful. If there is something you would add, feel free to leave in the comments or reach out to me by email.