I’ve been serving in my church’s worship team regularly for the past few months. We have five services each weekend, so I can’t help but think about the songs I’m playing on stage. I’ve found myself wondering how we on the worship team might best serve those in the congregation, not only with our performance, but more importantly with the selection of songs.
This morning I came across a stellar blog post that helps me better understand the significance of song selection. If you’re involved on your worship team, I’d strongly encourage you to take some time to read it. In How to Evaluate Songs for Congregational Worship Phil Simpson provides 19 comprehensive criteria that song leaders should consider as they select music for their church’s services. Let me highlight the ones that resonated most with me:
1. Are the words man-centered or God-centered? Do they exalt and extol the wonders of the Triune God, or do simply talk about one’s experience?
2. Similarly, are the songs about God, or about worship? Do they speak more about what I will do (“I will worship, I will praise You, I will lift my hands”), or do they speak about who God is (God, you are…)? Tim Challies calls the former ‘songs of procrastination‘ — focusing on acts of worship that we intend to do, but telling us nothing of the God to Whom the worship is due.
3. [A]re the words to the song cohesive? Do they go somewhere, and do they tie together related ideas? Or, are they instead a string of unrelated “glory phrases”?
5. Are the songs instructive? Do they teach us something about God’s character, His actions, or His plan of Redemption? According to Colossians 3:16, we are to “Let the word of Christ dwell in (us) richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in (our) hearts to the Lord”. So, songs to be sung to the Lord, AND instructive to one another? But aren’t these two aims contradictory? Should a song be sung to one another, or to the Lord? According to this verse, it’s not “either/or”, but “both/and”! The words of a song should inform our understanding of Who God is and what He’s done; the awareness of the truths learned should not lead us to cold contemplation, but should result in warm, heartfelt worship.
6. Are the songs cross-centered? Many of our songs should reflect the goal of God’s redemptive plan for all of history. This should never cease as a reason for us to sing and worship. In fact, Revelation 5 tells us that, in heaven, even then, we will not get over the cross. It’s not, “the cross was in the past; what do you have for me now?”; rather, the substitutionary death of our Savior for our sins should be the theme of our worship now, just as it will be for all of eternity: “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation’ ” (see also v. 12). Even in eternity, we will not get over the cross!
7. Do the songs exalt the character and actions of God?
18. It may be a good idea to select songs on a weekly basis which underscore truths related to the sermon, or to a certain theme (a particular attribute of God, for example), rather than a loose association of multiple songs (although the latter can be done, and still have the result of good, God-honoring worship service, since a broad spectrum of God’s excellencies have been paraded before the people to admire in aggregate).
I could go on and excerpt Phil’s entire post, but instead I’ll just encourage you to click over there and read the full thing.
I look forward to the day when we sing fewer songs in the church that culminate with “me above all” or that procrastinate our engagement with the Lord. I look forward to the day when we sing more about the Lord than about our feelings or our “acts of worship.” I look forward to singing more songs that explore the rich truths of our faith in a fresh and relevant way, that draw my focus to the terrible and wonderful and efficacious cross of Christ, that expand my appreciation for the One who founded all of creation and who is exalted as Lord of all.