Between comments about the guitar being too loud and words being misspelled on the screen, I occasionally get questions like, “Where did you find that song?”, “Where can I get the music for that hymn?”, “Why don’t we ever sing song?”, and “Why don’t you keep your blog site updated anymore?” The last question will not be answered here. But for those that might benefit from a “behind the scenes” look into worship music selection, here is my disclosure of the music resources I often draw upon for our congregational worship music and the criteria I use for judging which music to employ and which music to exclude. I will examine the criteria in this post and give the resources in the next.
The search for quality worship songs is both enjoyable and exhausting. Large doses of diligence and discernment are required to listen through the overabundance of new music out there that falls into the nebulous genre of “Christian worship music” and find those few nuggets of lyrical gold that are well-suited for congregational singing in our context. With the advances in technology (especially the Internet), the amount of Christian music out there can be overwhelming. So how do we begin to sort the musical wheat from the chaff? What do we look for when evaluating potential congregational worship songs? The answer is pretty obvious: lyrics and music.
The lyrics need to be: (1) Biblically sound. We want to sing words that make us think God’s unchanging thoughts. The words of the song must be theologically accurate. We remember what we sing (for better or worse), so we want to sing truth. (2) Godward. Worship is not just an activity for us; it is a service to Another–to God. So we want there to be a distinct God-centeredness in the songs we sing. Even if they are songs of confession, the general tenor of the lyrics must direct our thoughts toward the Divine. (3) Artistically fresh. Words should not be boring or dull, but communicate age-old and unchanging truth in fresh and thought-provoking ways. Songs are poems set to music. We intuitively know there is a difference between good poetry and bad poetry. So just because the words rhyme and are true does not make them well-suited for worship. They must be excellently written.
The music is evaluated by: (1) Singability. The melody should be logical and simple for the congregation to follow. Some songs are great for personal listening, but not suited for congregational singing because of the complexity or irregularity of the melody. (2) Appropriateness. The tune should fit the text. Words of jubilation should not be sung in a minor dirge. And songs of contrition should not be sung to the tune, “Ode to Joy.” (3) Compatibility. The style of our worship music must cross the cultural and generational gaps in our congregation. We want diversity of musical “style” that ministers to the entire flock.
While we may occasionally find great worship songs from a broad range of the more popular sources, there are a few lesser-known ministries that more consistently provide worship music for the church that falls within these parameters. In my next post, I will provide information for and links to three of the main resources we use at BBC for finding worship music.