Singing is an important part of what any church does when they gather. Singing promotes unity, helps us memorize scripture, and reminds us of the many works of God. I’ve written about why we sing before, and you can check out parts 1, 2, and 3 at those links.
Let's talk about what we sing, and how I select songs for us to sing together.
What we sing matters greatly. There’s a serious Biblical responsibility that surrounds what we sing as a church, and great intentionality and prayerful leadership must accompany those decisions. Over and over in scripture we see a pattern: When worship goes right, everything goes right. But when it goes wrong, everything goes wrong.
The general idea I place over all the songs we sing over the course of a year is this: If there was no preaching in our church for a year, only singing, what truths about the character God would people have learned from the songs they sing? It’s more than simply picking songs. The why must drive the what. Why is one song better than another? Why do some songs you hear on Christian radio never get sung at church? Here’s my reasoning for selecting a song:
Is it Scriptural?
This may be obvious, but you’d be surprised. Can the song be proven in scripture? Was it inspired by scripture? Does it obviously line up with God’s word? Are the lyrics theologically accurate? The words are the first thing I look at with a new song, and most of the time I read the lyrics before I listen to the song. A great melody and top-notch instrumentation can take poor lyrics and lift them to the top of charts. Does the song clearly come from God’s word, and is it accurately conveying the message from the word? So many songs talk about how we feel, but my feelings are good at deceiving me. When it comes to the character of God and the person of Jesus, I want to be informed by the truth of His word, not my ever-changing feelings. The songs we sing must be clearly scriptural.
Is it Singable?
Not every voice in a church has the talent of Celine Dion, or Alison Krauss, or Andrea Bocelli, or whoever your favorite singer is. And that’s OK! You don’t have to sing like those people to praise God. But if we expect people to follow a complicated melody, intervals, or octave jumps like the professionals do with ease, we’re out of our minds. Music doesn’t have to be complicated to be good. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. When I listen to a song, I’m thinking about the average singer who doesn’t exactly like to hear themselves sing, especially in front of other people. Is the song too complicated? Will the melody leave people behind? Does the phrasing introduce complicated rhythms that require advanced abilities to sing? If so, we’re not singing it, or I’m simplifying it before we do. Songs must be singable.
Is It Clear?
This one is important. Do the songs we sing promote clarity or confusion about the character of God? Several popular, successful songs are not included in our rotation. Look, I love the artistry of music. But sometimes artistic lyrics spread confusion instead of confidence, even if they’re theologically correct. In a worship service, that’s a major problem. Whether in spoken or musical form, our message should never create confusion about God’s character. The songs we sing must be clear in theology.
Selecting the songs that we sing as a church is more than just building a playlist of hits or popular songs. It’s deliberate, intentional, planned, prayer-filled, thoughtful, purposeful, and careful. So when you attend any service that includes singing, pay attention to the words. Think about what you’re singing. Music and melodies are easy to switch out and modify, but the words we sing have a much longer and lasting impact than we may want to believe.