What makes a good worship song? Today, there are many avenues to explore music written by Christian artists, whether it be Christian radio, YouTube, Spotify, iTunes, and so on. But not every song about the Christian faith makes a good corporate worship song. Over the years, I’ve had many folks offer song suggestions. While I deeply appreciate the suggestions, many are better suited for personal use than for a corporate worship service. Simply put, the goal of our worship time is to join together in corporate song and to declare the greatness of our God (Psalm 105:2; 34:3). So, it is important that we are doing it together, and that we are rightly magnifying the greatness of God. This means the focus is not on us as individuals, but rather the gathered community; and the primary work of that gathered community is to magnify the greatness of God. In doing that the Christian is blessed in being reminded of who God is, which we so easily forget, and the unbeliever in our midst is exposed to the greatness of the glory of God.
Bob Kauflin writes, “I want to help people remember that God is bigger than their problems and joys, greater than their sorrows and successes, more significant than their tests and triumphs.” Solid worship songs help to accomplish that. He goes on to caution us by saying:
If our songs aren’t specific about God’s nature, character, and acts, we’ll tend to associate worship with a style of music, a heightened emotional state, a type of architecture, a day of the week, a meeting, a reverent mood, a time of singing, or a sound. We’ll think of all the things that accompany worship rather than the One we’re worshiping. Worse, we’ll create our own views of God, portraying him as we like to think of him.
Music style, emotion, architecture, and all the other “helps” in our worship are important, they just must remain components of the primary goal of magnifying the greatness of God together (Psalm 34:3). There’s much more that could be said about all this. As we approach potential worship songs we have developed some questions to help us process whether they would help us achieve this goal:
- Are the lyrics theologically sound? What do they teach the singer about God? What do they teach the singer about how God views them? Are the lyrics so vague that they could be sung by Buddhists, Muslims, or Hindus? Do they represent God’s triune nature? Not every song must contain all the truths of the Nicene Creed, but does the song add accurate truths about God to our repertoire?
- How does the song fit with the narrative God is writing at Calvary Church right now? Songs are not randomly selected, or chosen to be an exact fit for each sermon. We approach songs seasonally, asking how they connect to the current themes God is highlighting to our community. The best way to know if they connect to our community, is to be part of it. Are you simply showing up on Sunday mornings, or have you connected to a serve team or life group? By doing so, you’ll be better equipped to think corporately, rather than individually.
- Where would you place the song in a service? Is it a good opening song calling people to worship? Does it focus on high praise declaring truths about God, or is it more of a response? Is it best used during communion to focus us on the Lord’s table and what that represents? This is a good time to consider the nature of the song’s language. Is it corporate (we/us) or personal (I/me)? Songs that are more personal in nature can often work as a response to a sermon, but we prefer to avoid them during our opening time.
- Is the song easy to learn and easy to sing? Unfortunately this is somewhat subjective, especially as our culture has moved more and more away from corporate singing. However, consider the context and ask yourself if it’s something that can be sung and learned fairly easily for the average person in that context.
- What is necessary musically for the song to work? Can it be played with just a guitar or keyboard, or does it need a full band? Can it be led by one person, or does it require a choir or a certain level of vocal/musical skill? Does the song lean more toward a performance piece than something that could be sung together corporately? A lot of song suggestions I get are amazing songs in and of themselves, however when stripped down and simplified, they loose the power of the performance that likely originally impacted the hearer. The best songs work in different contexts and musical situations.
- What emotions does it connect with? Emotions aren’t bad. We need not be afraid to do songs that speak to the variety of different emotions – look at the Psalms! However, even lament Psalms end in declaring who God is and what he is capable of doing.
- What is God speaking to you, personally, through the song? Obviously we want to focus on the corporate aspect, but there is something about a song that is connecting to you personally. Explore that and seek to understand what about the song is connecting with you.
Please remember, this isn’t the 10 commandments. These are guidelines to help us properly process the content of our corporate liturgy (literally, the work of the people), in order to be sure we are best achieving our goal of magnifying the greatness of God together.