How to Choose Music Wisely

by Steve Brown

 

These are the things that I think about when choosing contemporary music for use in worship.

Very Important Steps:

1.  The first step is to pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance.  You will be surprised how many ideas pop into your head if you do this rigorously.

2.  Seek your Pastor’s input.  At the very least, you need to review song lyrics for theological and doctrinal accuracy with him.  Over time, he may trust your judgment but unlike God’s forgiveness, this has to be earned.  Being in worship every Sunday as well as Bible class is a must.

3.  Our worship follows a theme each week.  We also follow a Lectionary series and each service includes four scripture readings (Old Testament, Psalm, Epistle & New Testament).  I choose our music to match some combination of the theme, readings, or the church season that we happen to be in.  If you do this for a while, you will even get the knack of finding a common thread to pursue through all the readings.

a.   We do not group our songs together as is a common practice in many contemporary services.  If this is your practice, then other guidelines might influence your song choices such as keys and tempos.  We are not hindered by such things.  We choose our songs based solely on God’s word being considered for that day.

4.  I usually start with both the scriptural index and the thematic indices in our songbooks.  This is the easiest way to select music that matches the worship theme.

5.  Another favorite trick of mine is to use my computer to quickly search through song lyrics.  I have one file, a WORD document, where I paste all my lyrics into.  Oftentimes I will search through this file for key words that match the worship theme.

6.  Just because it’s in your songbooks, or your personal library, does not mean that it’s sound doctrine.  All lyrics need to be reviewed.  Here’s what I look for:
     a.   Look for agreement with scriptural principles.  Look for biblical language and words.
     b.  Look for unique characteristics, attributes and deeds of God, and avoid generic songs.  For example, look for specific mentioning of Jesus by name, the Trinity, things that  God has done, etc.  Avoid generic wishy-washy lyrics.
     c.   Avoid “man-centered” songs.  Concentrate on Christ-centered songs but remember that we worship a Triune God as well.
     d.  Look for a mix of song types:
          i.  Songs that we sing to each other (Horizontal, edifying)
          ii.  Songs that we sing to God (Vertical, upward, prayer)
          iii.  Some songs are even God speaking to us (Vertical, downward)
          iv.  Songs about God’s transcendent nature (God our friend)  
          v.  Songs about God’s imminence (Holy God)
          vi.  Songs in the first person (I and me)
          vii.  Corporate songs (we and us)
          viii.  “Head Worship” (doctrine) vs “Heart Worship” (devotion, love, thankfulness)
          ix.  “Prostration” (awe) vs “Celebration” (joy)

1.  All of these song types are acceptable, but you might not want to have all of your music on one Sunday from one category.  My advice is to read through your lyrics and know what song types you have chosen.

1.    Here’s some other things to look for:
     a.   Look for lyrics that are edifying and instructive.
     b.  Look for lyrics that are profound and substantial.
     c.   Look for lyrics that are clear and understandable.
     d.  Look for lyrics that enhance your understanding of God.

2.  Once I’ve selected the song choices, the next step is to arrange them in the service.
     a.   I typically place the songs as close to the reading that they are derived from as possible.
     b.  I usually try to use the simplest song first.  Oftentimes its theme will be more of a “Call to Worship” than to specifically match the theme.
     c.   Sometimes, before the Pastor’s sermon, I will use an upbeat song and then after his sermon I will use a more reflective song to enhance his message.

More Subjective Steps:

1.  Repetition in your music is OK.  Read Psalm 136 or Rev 4:8 for biblical examples.

2.  I usually also look for a mix of tempos (fast, slow, and medium).  This is just for variety and isn’t necessary.  Ditto for ¾, 4/4 and 6/8 timings.

3.  Look for songs to set the mood that you are shooting for.  Upbeat songs are energetic while songs in a minor key are oftentimes more mournful or introspective.  Are you after joy, praise, thanksgiving, reflective, solemn, heart pounding, majestic, responsive, contrition, etc.?  All of these have a place in worship but they need to match the theme of the day.

4.  Look for songs that your congregation can handle.
     a.   Almost everyone can sing notes in the range of low C to high C (We call this “Sea to Shining Sea”)!  You can hit high D’s and E’s on occasion but don’t overdue it.      Especially for an opening song.
     b.  Avoid syncopated rhythms.
     c.   Avoid songs with large interval jumps (in pitch) on adjacent notes.
     d.  Look for memorable melodies.
     e.  Remember that good music that is difficult to sing can be left to your soloists.

 A few of the above items were taken from : “How to Evaluate Songs for Congregational Worship” by Scott Christensen

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