Selecting Songs for Worship

tilt selective photograph of music notes

There are so many worship songs that are widely available and accessible to the church these days. This is good because God’s Word encourages and commands us to “sing a new song to the Lord” (see Psalm 96:1, 98:1, 144:9 and Isaiah 42:10). The challenge for worship leaders is which song to choose with so many great options available. Choosing which song to sing is kind of like going to a Mexican restaurant with 300 options on the menu and struggling to make a decision because it all looks so good! Here at CVC alone (within all the different ministries) we have used over 1000 different songs in the last 10 years. We also highly value the congregation’s ability to participate and sing along, and for that to happen, they need to know the song. So, we have decided to not introduce more than 1 new song on any given Sunday so that at least 3 of the songs will be ones that we have sung before and that our congregation should know.

There are 3 main criteria I use to filter songs for Sunday worship services:

1. Theologically grounded in the truth of God’s Word

2. Congregational – Is the song singable and memorable?

3. Style – Does the song fit within the overall genre of our CVC music culture?

Obviously, the most important of these three is the first criteria.  If we don’t get the first one right, we’ll be doing more damage than good in our spiritual growth and singular focus on what God desires from us in the area of worship – that we worship Him in Spirit and Truth (John 4:23).

Being Theologically Grounded in the Truth of God’s Word

The question is this. Do the song lyrics find their source in God’s infallible, inerrant, inspired, unadulterated Word? If worship song lyrics contradict God’s Word, or muddy the waters and are hard to interpret, then we should not be putting those lyrics in our hearts and minds. The following verses remind us how powerful God’s Word is:

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

  • John 6:63

“As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

  • Romans 10:15-17

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

  • Hebrews 4:12-13

“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 complete, equipped for every good work.”

  • 2 Timothy 3:16-17

We can all agree that the Truth of God’s Word and His Holy Spirit lead us to Worship Him rightly. But, what if song writers don’t live up to the truth they profess?

Let’s be honest, a lot of the current discussion around song selection is being fed by this question. Should we keep singing songs written by people and churches that don’t live up to God’s perfect standard? This isn’t a new dilemma, it’s something we’ve wrestled with since sin first entered our existence and has been passed down from generation to generation.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as ka propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

  • Romans 3:23-26

Yes, we are included within the category of those who fall short of God’s glory and standard. We must be very careful when taking a position of judgment over others.

A closer look at some of the hymn writers and church denominations of their age had similar issues to our modern day church. I find some great insight in God’s Word to help me navigate these issues.

Romans 3:3-4 puts it bluntly:

“What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?  By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar…”

The context of Romans 3 powerfully speaks to the differences between God and man. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We must be very careful to not become like the Pharisees and hypocrites by looking down on those who have fallen.

500 years ago, when Martin Luther helped spark the reformation, it was necessary to define authority within the church, especially since Luther had repudiated the authority of the Pope and other church officials. “What was left,” Luther wrote, “was the Holy Scriptures themselves.” The only inspired and authoritative Word of God. According to Luther the Word of God was the single source of doctrine and the only infallible guide to salvation. The Latin term he used, “Sola Scriptura,” has served to express this theological position ever since.

There is one who embodies perfect truth, Jesus Christ.  He is our example and one to be followed!

By singing songs written by imperfect people (myself included) who at times don’t have perfect theology/doctrine, we do not endorse everything the songwriter believes or does. We do endorse the truth within a song that is sourced from the Word of God. We endorse songs from God’s Word because it’s the only infallible source.

In Philippians 1:15-18 Paul says,

“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”

The principle Paul states here is to rejoice and agree with the truth. We can endorse the truth without endorsing the person that is proclaiming that truth. Paul is also the one who warns us the most about the dangers of false teachers and he encourages us to discern and know the truth. In Acts 17 we see that Paul and Silas commended the Bereans for examining their teachings against the Word of God to verify their teaching.  We are encouraged in God’s Word to not blindly follow leaders, but to test and examine teachings to see if they find their source in the truth of God’s Word.  Later in Acts 17 Paul addresses philosophers in Athens and uses the platform of their “unknown God” to proclaim the gospel to them. In doing so Paul is not endorsing worship of their “unknown God,” but he is seeking to make known to them the one true God so that they may worship Him.   

We will never be able to silence the lies that exist in this world (and that infiltrate the Church), however we can be girded with the belt of truth as we battle the father of lies (Ephesians 6:14). I would rather see that we shepherd our people on how to navigate these waters than to censor everyone we disagree with, because that is truly impossible.

Our job is to help equip others as stated in Ephesians 4:12-14:

“…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

As many of you know, looking for the counterfeit will not help us positively identify the truth. Instead, we must focus on knowing what is True and this will help us identify and weed out a counterfeit (belief, value, action).

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

  • Philippians 4:8

Let us declare through song what we know to be true about our God!