Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dear Worship Leaders: Lead Better Songs

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A few days ago, I was listening to some music on Spotify. I love Spotify because I can call up almost anything that has ever been released to the public. This particular time I was listening to some country music that I enjoyed in high school and early college. Oh alright! It was Little Texas. I think they were a great band that had a few great songs, but they were plagued with too many mediocre songs (and interpersonal problems). This post is not about Little Texas, though.

I couldn't help but notice that I remembered every word to every song. I don't walk around in my daily life trying to remember words to Little Texas songs, but here they were like I had just listened to the songs yesterday. Not only could I remember every word, I remembered every guitar lick and motif.

This got me thinking about leading congregational worship singing.

If our minds can remember songs so well, we must be leading our congregations in songs that are worth remembering. We should be leading our congregations in songs that:
  1. Accurately reflect the nature and character of God. There are some popular songs that reflect God in a way that He is not reflected in Scripture. The Church doesn't need kitsch. The church needs an accurate description of God's nature and character. The Church needs songs that present God as the Everlasting Creator, Sustainer. He is a good Father, with whom there is no shadow caused by unfaithfulness. He is always faithful and we can trust Him in all things because He works all things for our good and His glory.
  2. Accurately present the Gospel. Colossians 3:16 says to let the word of Christ dwell within us. This "word of Christ" is the Gospel. It is the "message of the Messiah". We must sing songs that clearly convey the best news ever. The Gospel doesn't need our cleverness. The Gospel does not need to be shrouded in novelty. It needs to be communicated clearly through the songs we sing.
  3. Help people memorize Scripture. It's no big mystery why songs are easier to memorize than poems. It's the music! Music helps us memorize words. Let's make sure we are leading our church to memorize words that are worth memorizing. Let's sing songs that help our congregations memorize Scripture.
  4. Are universally applicable. Many of the artist songs on Christian radio that have infiltrated the repertoire of many congregations are not appropriate for congregational singing. Many of them are personal testimony songs and that is fine if one person is singing and all the others are just listening. If the words of a congregational song are not true for everyone, then that is not a congregational song. If not everyone (speaking in terms of believers in Christ) can identify with the words to a song, then what you have is a solo testimony song and not a song that should be sung by the congregation.
Not all songs must be straight from Scripture. Hymns are generally based on Scripture, but take more license in the communicating of doctrine. Spiritual songs are generally not from Scripture, but are OK for congregational use as long as they don't contradict Scripture and they're universally true.

It should also be noted that just because a song is not appropriate for congregational singing does not mean that it's not appropriate for a worship meeting. There are many songs that are well-suited for times of reflection or encouragement, solos, offertories, and the like.

I won't cite specific examples. I don't want anyone to think I'm picking on them. But let's get a conversation going about songs for congregational singing. What have you heard in church that leaves you scratching your head? Your turn. Go!

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  1. Oh, that's an easy one - "Where I Belong" by Building 429. It talks more in the first person than it does about God. Fine song for listening, awful song for congregational singing.

    Posting anonymously because on the off-chance that the person that picked it reads this, I don't want him or her to think I'm picking on him or her. I'm not, I swear!

    1. I like B429, but I agree with you that their tunes are not for congregational singing. Same goes for many songs by MercyMe and Casting Crowns.

    2. Thanks for reading and for your comments. A lot of artist tunes are mistakenly used in congregational singing? Just because a song has a good message does not make it singable by a congregation.

  2. Any song that focuses on me, rather than Him. Too many to count/name, sadly. Worship songs are to be just that---songs that worship the One, True God, not songs that make this sinner feel better. And, yes, I know that songs of worship will make me feel better,but not because they are about me, and you know what I mean, right?

    1. I know what you mean. A good congregational song focuses our attention on God and we are edified in the process. Thanks for your comment.

  3. What a great article Toby! Here's something that goes along with what you're talking about; I love Jesus but I'm not IN LOVE with Jesus. "In love" is a romantic colloquialism that really doesn't have anything to do with our relationship with any aspect of The Trinity. Terms that are too "lingo-ish" can take us out of worship.

    1. Excellent point, Darrin! Thanks for reading and for your comment.


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