Singing is important. We have a singing God (Zeph. 3:17), a singing Savior (Heb. 2:12), and according to the book of Revelation, we’re going to be singing for all eternity (Rev. 5:12). Over four hundred times the Bible refers to singing and includes 50 different commands to sing. Needless to say, singing is important!
So, if singing is important, then what we sing is important too.
I (along with the other Pastors on staff) do not take lightly the responsibility of putting words on the lips of God’s people. Here are four considerations that our team gives to the songs we sing in gathered worship at CBC.
Biblical Content & Faithfulness
Since Scripture is our primary means of knowing who God is, what He has done, and how He is to be worshiped, our worship gatherings should be governed by and saturated with his Word. Thus, biblical content and faithfulness is the primary lens through which we view and evaluate the songs we sing in gathered worship. We want biblically faithful songs, that allow the word of Christ to dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16).
That doesn’t mean that every song we sing will exclusively include direct passages of Scripture. While many of the songs in our song bank do extensively quote Scripture, others simply reflect biblical themes. At the end of the day, if the lyrical content cannot be held up against the Word of God, we want to find a more helpful song.
In addition to reflecting biblical truth, we also want our songs to reflect biblical proportions. The Bible emphasizes some things more than others–namely, the redemptive work of God. Consequently, we want our worship sets (that is, the group of songs we sing each week) to do the same. This is why we sing the gospel story, A LOT! At CBC, we’re going to major on the same themes the Word of God majors on.
A Balance of Timeless & Timely
The rate at which new songs are being made available to the church today is astonishing. Literally, every week someone releases a new album of worship songs! New songs can be good–even needed, but just because we have new songs available to us doesn’t mean we forget the songs of the past. Thus, a second consideration for the songs we sing in our gathering seeks to balance timeless songs and timely songs.
Timeless songs are songs that have been (and likely will continue to be) widely sung by the Church. These songs have a quality of longevity and durability to their relevance. Timeless songs remind us that we’re a part of broader Church history. Timeless songs include some of the rich, old hymns like “All Creatures of Our God and King,” “Amazing Grace,” and “It Is Well with my Soul.” However, timeless songs are not limited to archaic hymns with antiquated language! New hymns like “In Christ Alone” and “His Mercy is More,” as well as modern worship songs like “How Great is Our God” and “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)” are also examples of timeless songs. Not only do we want to, but we also need to include timeless songs in our rotation.
Timely songs are songs that are helpful for some time, but eventually, are archived and replaced by other songs. I like to think of timely songs in three categories: season, series, and circumstance. Some songs are timely for a season (maybe a few months, maybe a few years). Often, these songs are replaced by songs that say something similar in a fresh way. Other songs are timely for a particular sermon series. We’ll sing a song that highlights key themes of the text we’re studying in that series (i.e. “You Are Our God” during our Judges series). Finally, some songs are timely for a particular circumstance. These songs are sung to help us in that specific moment in time (i.e. “Sovereign Over Us” or “Forever Reign” amid tragedy). Timely songs may have a shelf life, but that doesn’t mean they’re thrown out as useless. Rather, it means the frequency with which we use them will decrease over time. Like timeless songs, timely songs have a needed place in our rotation. We aim to bring a balance of the two that is helpful in our culture and context.
Congregational worship is done by the people, with the people for God’s glory and our good. Thus, if the congregation can’t sing along, then it’s probably not the most helpful song to include. A third consideration of the songs we sing in gathered worship is congregational accessibility. “Does this song have a melody that is memorable?” “Is the range of that song comfortable to the majority of our body?” “Can our people easily follow the rhythm and meter of this tune?” These are a few of the questions we ask when considering the accessibility of a song for our people. We don’t sing in gathered worship to entertain, we sing in gathered worship to engage with God and with one another. For that to happen, we must sing songs that are accessible to our people!
Discipling the Whole Believer
While songs certainly are a conduit for the believer to bring glory, honor, and praise to God, they are also instruments of edification and sanctification for the Christian. The Apostle Paul tells us to teach and admonish one another in all wisdom by singing. (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16). Songs teach! In other words, songs are tools for discipleship.
When it comes to considering the songs we sing in our corporate gathering, it’s important to choose songs that comprehensively shape us as worshipers of God. We want to sing songs about the character and nature of God (i.e. his holiness, faithfulness, justice, immutability, omnipotence, etc.). We want to sing songs to/about the fullness of the Godhead (Father, Spirit, Son). We want to sing songs about our response to who God is and what he has done. We want to sing songs about our responsibility to steward and share the gospel. The list could go on and on, but suffice it to say that the songs we consume in our gathering should disciple us wholistically.
What we sing matters and should never be considered flippantly or thoughtlessly! We won’t consider songs based on preference, popularity, or how pretty we sound singing a particular song. We want biblically faithful songs from the past and the present that are accessible to our people for their spiritual growth as worshipers of God.