As a worship leader who is continually seeking a Biblical perspective on worship music, I now have a firm basis/format/guideline for the music that I sing in worship. It has not always been so in my leading that I had a clear set of procedures for choosing music for worship. There are things that I used to do, songs I used to sing, and creative measures I would strive to perfect that now I would not dare do. Over the past 8 or 9 years that I have been leading in worship, in one capacity or another, I have had a dramatic change of style and/or motive, if you will, for leading worship…and that change is the reason why when I lead in worship, we sing the songs we sing. Because it’s not about you, me, or our musical tastes!
It took years for me to understand that I am not the worship leader. I am a lead worshipper.
The Bible says in John 4:23-24, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
When we come to worship the Father we are to come and worship Him in spirit and truth. The music that we sing is to be a new song. Not the kind of songs the world sings. We are to sing about God and praise Him for who He is. We are to sing songs about Redemption. We are to sing songs about the coming Kingdom. We are to sing songs based on the Word of God.
Bob Kauflin, of Sovereign Grace Ministries and Sovereign Grace Music, states in his book Worship Matters, that the definition of a worship leader is as follows:
A faithful worship leader
magnifies the greatness of God in Jesus Christ
through the power of the Holy Spirit
by skillfully combining God’s Word with music,
thereby motivating the gathered church
to proclaim the gospel,
to cherish God’s presence,
and to live for God’s glory.
As I have come to understand more and more about leading worship I have come to the conclusion that the songs we sing are to be didactic (or teaching), God-glorifying, and church-edifying. The great hymns of the faith from before the 1900’s were filled with doctrine and theology that taught the church about God and were songs about who God is. Today you must be careful the songs which you choose to sing in worship. Many modern or “contemporary” songs that many churches or worship leaders are singing are very shallow in doctrine and theology.
Colossians 3:16 states, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (italics and emphasis added)
We are to be taught and admonished by the word of Christ which is, in one way, done through the songs we are to sing: psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
In an effort to understand in a clearer way I have found the following illustration to be helpful (now this is not a perfect illustration, but it is helpful). When I am putting a song-list together for a worship service, I think about three parts of building a house. They are stated in order of importance. The foundation, the structure itself, and the aesthetic characteristics (i.e. paint on the house)
I. The Foundation
– the foundation of any house is the most important part of the actual building of the house. If the structure is placed on a faulty foundation the structure will never stand amidst the storms. When building a worship song list, the most important factor is the foundation, which is the Word of God. If the song list is not based on the Word of God, then it is not true God-worship (spirit and truth). The foundation takes the longest time to establish. You have to level out the ground, make it strong, and pour the concrete. The time you spend on the song list should begin in the word of God and you should spend the most time here.
II. The Structure itself
– once the foundation is set the structure is put up quickly. After the concrete is set, you see walls and the structure form quickly. If you begin in the word of God, song selection is much easier and quicker. For songs are quickly removed or added based on their lyrical integrity to the scripture. If a song is not based on truth from the word of God, then we should not sing it. For, remember, we are teaching and admonishing the church with our songs, and we are to be glorifying the Awesome Creator God of the universe.
Now, here you may stop and think, “I have never started with these two parts. What about the music? What about style?”
My answer to that is part three…
III. The Aesthetic Characteristics
– when you build a house you don’t go buy paint first. You buy the concrete for the foundation. This is the same idea with your song list for worship. If your list is built on musical style, like genre or instrumentation, then you might be worshipping the WRONG thing. Be careful you aren’t worshipping the music, but you are worshipping the God who gave us music! When you build a house, remember it doesn’t stand or fall based on the color of the paint on the walls. It stands or falls based on the foundation it rests on. A worship song can be played on the guitar, the piano, with string instruments, organs, cymbals, or drums; just like a house can be painted any color.
The style of the song isn’t the first on the list, because it isn’t the most important. A house can be painted many different colors, just like a worship song can glorify God with many different “styles” of music.
Now, there will be those who ask, “Why do you even mention style, then?”
My answer to that is… there are some colors of paint that DON’T LOOK GOOD ON ANY HOUSE. We must still be discerning on the style of music we use to make sure that it goes to support the lyrics and the worship. Music that is not distracting from the lyrics, overbearing on the lyrics, or confusing (i.e. music to a dirge [funeral song] when we are singing of the birth of Christ).
I say all this because I feel many worship leaders have strayed from true worship, or have never learned what true worship is. This is to be encouraging and eye-opening to the reasons why we sing in church and why certain songs are chosen to be sung when more “popular” songs are left out.
The word of God is to be the foundation of the songs we sing. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Tim 3:16-17
–Bob Kauflin Worship Matters
–David Peterson Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship
–John MacArthur The Solid Rock: What The Bible Says About Contemporary Worship Music
–Sovereign Grace Ministries
-Sovereign Grace Music
Also check out the links at the right side of this page under the category of “Music” and “Worship Support.”