by Andy Hammond, Pastor of Worship & Media
One of the most important (and most humbling) tasks for our worship ministry leadership is choosing the songs that our church sings during our Sunday morning worship gatherings. Choosing songs for our services is kind of like choosing the food for your kids: your choices as a parent greatly impact the health of your children and set a pattern for their lives.
What we sing in corporate worship matters greatly. Singing plays a crucial role in the formation of our faith, the physical expression of that faith, and our witness to a watching world.
For that reason, we have tests for our songs to make sure they are the right fit for our people, like:
- Is it Scripturally sound?
- Is it Christ-centered or me-centered?
- How does it point to the Gospel?
- Is it driven by the voice of the people?
- Is it musically excellent and artistically honest?
Did you notice anything missing that you might expect? The following are not one of our tests:
- Is the song in the 1940 Broadman hymnal?
- Is the song on the latest Passion album?
- Does the worship pastor like it?
When it comes down to it, a worship service’s music shouldn’t be a jukebox of your worship pastor’s favorite songs, a platform to promote any particular style or songwriter, or a Lawrence Welk-style showcase of childhood nostalgia. Our songs need to put on display the beauty and majesty of Jesus Christ, and enable our people to respond through singing.
So yes, there are songs (albeit only a few) that we sing on Sundays that, for one reason or another, are not my personal preference. Here’s why I’m OK with that:
1.) The stakes are too high to worry about something as trivial my personal preference.
Do you want to know what the people of a church believe? Don’t just look at what is being preached—look at what is being sung. Choosing a church’s songs is having a say in what is taught (and should require pastoral oversight!). Songs have a way of affixing themselves to our hearts and causing us to remember whatever is taught. The question is, do we really know what our songs are teaching?
So what's at stake in our congregational singing? The very shaping of our church’s view of God, the clarity of the Gospel message, and the equipping of the church for spiritual warfare. With the oversight of His Word, we’re making declarations about truth and putting that truth in the mouths and hearts of a multigenerational church.
The fact that I may not prefer the way the writer overuses the subdominant chord really doesn’t even register.
2.) My job isn’t to create clones of myself, but to help unleash the voice of the people.
It all comes back down to a question of purpose: I’m not trying to make everyone like the same music as I do. On any given Sunday morning, our worship teams and I are trying to facilitate faith-filled congregational singing from our specific church at that place, at that time.
We’re trying to help the middle-aged dad who is self-conscious about his voice sing so his kids can see His love for Christ. We’re trying to give the teenager a soundtrack of singable truth for his life that counters the narrative of self-centeredness that the world offers. We’re trying to use the best music to stir affections for Christ in a large gathering of God’s people from different seasons and walks of life, that they might proclaim with one voice how great our God is.
If all that means we sing something I don’t necessarily prefer, so be it. In the words of Bob Kauflin, “If the people aren’t singing, you’re doing it wrong."
3.) The Gospel shines brightly in a church of diverse musical preferences.
People gather together because they are brought together by something they share in common. The question is, "What is that thing that brings them together?"
When there is no other apparent answer other than Jesus Christ, God is glorified and the unifying power of the Gospel is made manifest. Jesus is the glue that should hold us together, not common music interest.
When people with obviously different tastes in musical style gather and sing together, the unbeliever present looks on and says, "There is something special at work here." We know that it's the power of God through Christ’s work of calling a people for Himself.
4.) We grow when we sing something we don’t like.
Growth comes when we are stretched. Think about it: where would you be if you never did anything that made you uncomfortable or chafed against your personal preference? I, for one, would still not like green beans, Apple computers, or music from the Baroque period!
The truth is, there will be songs we sing in church that you probably won't like at first, and that's ok. (In fact, some of my favorite songs we sing now were not my favorite when we started singing them!) We need songs that we have to sing into as a church. It's good for us and helps us grow.
5.) We serve others when we sing something we don’t like.
Singing songs we don't like reminds us that corporate worship is not about me. Worship in the church gathering is not merely a "God-and-me" thing, it's a "God-and-us" thing. We aren't just worshipping God, we are encouraging one another in the faith as we "speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs" (Ephesians 5:19).
One Sunday, you may not like a particular song that we sing, but what do you think it would look like to the person who does like the song to see you with joy on your face, singing it anyway? It's putting the good of the church above your own personal comfort.
Sounds a lot like Jesus, doesn't it?
Keep singing, church.