As a pastor one of the concerns I have surrounds what songs we sing in church and why we sing those songs in our churches. Most of the things we say about the songs we sing are founded in style. The songs we like or dislike is most often an issue of personal style. The problem with this way of approaching the songs we sing is we make the wrong things the major things. The songs we sing in church and in kids church can to often be based on the style preferences of the Sr. Pastor or Worship Pastor. There is nothing wrong with style but if what we sing and why we sing doesn’t transcend our own personal sense of style we limit the very purpose singing songs in church is intended to have.
I would like to offer this disclaimer. I have written very few worship songs. I do however pastor at a local church. I have been in the same church for 20 years and have seen the results of people and movements who based their lives on preference over substance. Given that here are my 4 questions that every worship song needs to answer.
1. Is it God directed – This is not a preference thing for me. If the song you are sing is more about you than the God who made you it’s not worship. It’s something else but not worship. The songs we need sing need to be filled with wording about who God is and what he has done. Is there songs of lament and petition in the bible? Yes. Those songs are based on an understanding of that everything begins and ends with God. It’s about what he’s doing more than how I’m feeling.
2. Is it Biblically founded – What shocks and saddens me as I get older is many songs seem to be written that are not founded firmly in scripture but in personal experience. I’m not saying we have to sing scripture (although that’s not a bad thing to do) I’m saying if the songs you are writing don’t find their origin in scripture it may not be worship. The enduring hymns that have stood the test of centuries all share this in common they are theologically rich and Bible-saturated. When writing songs for kids and adults please start with scripture and move out resist the urge to write a song then force the bible upon it.
3. Is what I am writing come from how I’m living – If our worship is not coming from a place of personal communion it will not be life-giving to others. We write songs about what we know. My fear is that in the information age much of our knowledge of God can be second hand. This does not last. If you wrote a love letter to someone you know through someone else your letter would be severely limited and one dimensional. There would be no nuance and no mystery. Worship in any form is and must be deeply personal. Here is where everything connects because our personal experience with God must be filtered through the truth of God’s word. Every good song written about God has both theological truth and experience throughout. All of which is held firm by the anchor of truth that is God’s word.
4. Are the lyrics simple to sing – Lastly and most practically. The words must be simple. Amazing Grace arguably the single greatest hymn ever written has only a handful of words in the song that contain more than one syllable. We need to write songs that people can sing that are simplistically complex. By that, I mean theologically deep yet incredibly simple. I was in a worship service recently and the song that they were singing was so completely complex that you had to focus on the screens the entire time so you didn’t sound like a drunk person singing Michael Bolton at Karaoke night. The point of worship is not how good was the song or how talented the writer but rather How much does it Glorify God and how easy will it be for people to understand and sing it in a manner that they are edified and God is glorified.
a closing word
I stayed away from examples on purpose because I don’t want to alienate anyone and because I don’t want anyone to feel stylistically justified. There are Hymns that are awful and there are modern songs that are utterly ridiculous. My hope is that we chose the songs we sing differently and ultimately we begin to write songs differently.