Biblical Content in Worship by Grace Hennig

From Grace Hennig

Biblical Content in Worship

Worship is the most significant activity of the local church from week to week, from which the church renews its purpose, life, and mission. Worship in the Christian Church has great potential for creating unity. But what happens when worship style preferences differ among God’s people?

While these conversations may center on a matter of preference or taste, an all-important question remains at the core: Will God’s Word be used richly or sparingly in our worship?

As a musician and music teacher, you answer that question through:

1) Choices you make when picking music for your students.

2) Choices you make as a church organist, choir director, or member of a worship committee.

3) Your view of your church’s purpose and mission together with the other members of your congregation.

Will God’s Word be used richly or sparingly in our worship?

It may seem like an obvious question, but it comes down to this. For all the progress Americans in the 21 century have made, one thing is evident. We are leaving God’s Word behind. Time spent with the Bible has dwindled. Americans know less about the Bible than ever. However, could God’s Word even be crowded out of worship?

Many contemporary service formats replace psalms, hymns and biblical songs and other biblical content with other songs, mostly of the CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) variety (see graphic next page). Because the worship may be more like a concert, and the participation of the people minimal, the people’s actual use of the Word in worship is limited.

Are biblical songs and psalms relevant? Consider this. At certain places in the Bible God revealed his love and his plan of salvation in special, memorable ways. Often he used his heavenly messengers to carry this out. Many of these revelations and reactions to them became the biblical songs that we know: “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace according to your Word. For my eyes have seen your salvation!” “Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth!” “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” These responses found their way from the Bible into our worship music long ago and remained there. While not a prescription for how we will include the Word in worship, such songs afford a natural and easy way to include the Word in worship.

There is practically an inexhaustible resource of biblical songs from which to choose: Moses’ Song, Hannah’s Song, Isaiah’s vision (Isaiah 6), Mary’s Song, Simeon’s Song, the Angel’s Song (Gloria), the Palm Sunday Song, the Song to the Lamb (Revelation). Then there is the entire book of Psalms, known as the “hymnbook of the Bible.” Psalms were originally set to music, which shows they were intended to be used among groups of people. Many of these scripture songs and psalms have been set to a variety of styles of music.

Some of these songs of the Bible you may already use consistently in your church. Others may be new—like the Song of Moses. Why not add it to the congregation’s repertoire? Biblical songs focus on the revelation of God’s plan of salvation—in a word, Christ. What great songs to learn and sing! When are we going to learn these songs if they are not used? When are we going to teach them to our children?

There are other questions to ask about worship, of course. Questions which evaluate contemporary music for biblical content, questions regarding instruments, blending ancient and modern practices, service orders, use of images, hospitality, outreach questions…the list goes on. If our primary concern, however, is the place of the Word of God and how it’s used in worship, we’ve started in the right place.

There is no accounting for taste in many areas in life. But we who hold the Word in high regard can surrender our own preferences in a united purpose to use the Bible richly—not sparingly—in worship. As we speak and sing together, teach and use the Word, we fulfill our commitment to pass it on to the next generation.

From Grace Hennig

Traditional and contemporary worship music side by side

Contemporary worship music


Music is appealing to many
                                                          Loses appeal quickly; disposable
High priority placed on doing music well
                                                          Possible unbalanced emphasis on effect
Introduces variety 
                                                          Music is unfamiliar and not worship-like for some
Texts are simple
                                                          Texts can be generic; doctrinally weak
Personal, emotional connection to a song
                                                          Texts may center more on the individual than Christ
Engaging; powerful vocal display
                                                          Soloistic; hard to sing along for some
Refrain is memorable and singable
                                                          Melody more important than text

Traditional worship music

Simple and beautiful tunes endure over time
                                                          Tunes that are not engaging can hide a good text
Easy for people to do with simple accompaniment
                                                          Too much organ for some
Music comes from the people, not a soloist or team
                                                          When group singing is poor—can feel awkward
Old favorites are sung often
                                                          Not enough variety
Texts can be poetic, beautiful, strong, biblical
                                                          Some may lack patience for learning “thicker” texts
Continuity from week to week
                                                          Worship can become rote or unengaging
Congregation can sing unaccompanied, in parts
                                                          Not enough people know how to read music

Common Lutheran Service

Pre-service music
Opening Hymn
*Gloria in Excelsis
Prayer of the day
The Word
*Scripture reading (OT)
*Scripture reading (NT)
*Gospel and responses
Nicene Creed
Hymn of the Day
*Create in Me
Prayer of the Church
*Lord’s Prayer
Service of Holy Communion
Proper Prefaces
*Words of Institution
*Agnus Dei
Distribution Hymns
*Song of Simeon
*Benediction and
Closing Hymn

(*) = Elements of worship which use words from the Bible
In bold print are the portions that rely on participation of the people

Contemporary Worship

Pre-service music
2-3 upbeat songs
1 slower song
*Opening prayer/reading
Worship time
More upbeat songs
1 slower song
Offering—songs during
(Possibly communion)
Song to close worship portion
*Sermon (35-45 minutes)
Exit (music or no music)

Starting a worship team

1. Establish an adequate budget.
2. Secure copyright permissions.
3. Decide what services the team will participate in.
4. Is adequate sound equipment available?
5. Recruit musicians – have them fill out an application.
6. How many teams?
7. How often will they sing per month?
8. Rehearsal time, frequency.
9. What practice aids will be provided outside of rehearsal?
10. Who will be the sound technician?
11. How will problems with equipment and personnel be handled?
12. Will you work with a worship arts committee for power point?
13. Regular meeting time with pastors for questions, help, etc.
14. What instruments will be used?
15. Live music vs. pre-recorded music.
16. How will your musicians be cared for?
17. Who is working on worship hospitality?
18. How will the worship team leader work with the worship board or committee and the church’s music committee? Does one need to be established?
19. How many hours will the worship team leader work per week?
20. Will this person be compensated for his/her work?
21. Decide on how to use the bulletin and/or screens.
22. Who mentors the team coordinator? To whom does he/she answer?
23. How flexible should the team be stylistically?
24. What is the long-term vision of how the worship team will be used in worship?
25. What music-writing software will be used to put special music in the bulletin?


From Grace Hennig

Adding variety to worship with contemporary music

Our congregation has three worship teams; each sings in one or more service per month.

We have five services every weekend.
Big Band – full instrumental and vocal ensemble
Small Team – three vocalists and piano; an “unplugged” sound
Quartet – 4 vocalists (SATB) and piano; All singers capable of reading music and singing solos. Each worship date we try to sing at least one song without any accompaniment.

A fitting place to use contemporary music is before worship.
Worship teams can sing 2-3 songs to help center minds and hearts on the upcoming activity of the people in worship.
The worship teams occasionally participate in the opening hymn,
but not always, especially if we’ve already done a couple of songs for pre-service music.

One of my favorite places to include music is during the psalm.
We have done a psalm with our Big Band, with a soloist and piano with congregational refrain, and,one of my favorites, 4-part a capella on the psalm tone with our quartet. Sometimes a vocalist will read a portion of the psalm before it is sung, with piano accompaniment in the background.

When possible we also try to participate in the singing of the hymn of the day. Sometimes, it is a full instrumental accompaniment, sometimes just the vocalists singing a stanza with the piano in parts.

One of the most natural places to use contemporary music is during the offering. Here one of the more popular Christian songs may be sung by one of our very capable soloists. The solo will be closely related to sermon’s theme. It gives members a chance to reflect on the thoughts of
the sermon. It is a more passive part of the service (other than the giving of one’s offering which is an act of worship). A more soloistic piece where the people are just listening seems to fit well.

The worship teams have participated in different settings of these biblical songs: Kyrie (Extended kyrie during Advent and Lent); Glory to God; Agnus Dei; Create in Me (Psalm 51); Magnificat, and the Song of Simeon.

Finally, if we are celebrating holy communion, the worship team will participate in singing the first hymn of distribution. Christian Worship: Supplement has many fine, new communion hymns from which to choose. (If you don’t own the Supplement for your choirs or worship teams, I highly recommend it! It’s a great resource!)

Look before leaping—

Before beginning work with contemporary music and worship teams any
worship conflict (war?) should be mostly settled. Then…

1. Know your assembly’s heart
What is natural? (Is your congregation extroverted or introverted?)
What will be transplanted?

2. Plan
What are liturgical parameters? (Ordo? Seasonal? Lectionary? Holy
Communion?) Who are the worship leaders? (Ordained pastor? Team
leader? Laity?) What are the spatial options/limitations? (Dedicated
space? Setup/break-down?)

3. Determine your sound/style
There are many—not just radio songs:
Recycled/re-imagined traditional
Catholic Rock

From, Little Drummer Boy Meets Clueless Organist: Worship Bands for
Those Who Didn’t Expect to Lead One. Erik Floan (Seattle); ALCM 2009
Conference, Milwaukee


Confessional Lutherans will be careful evaluating and selecting texts.

Obvious problems in some of the resources include the following:
• a tendency toward revivalism and decision theology;
• inadequate teaching regarding the sacraments;
• overemphasis on social concerns or economic justice
(a political message instead of law/gospel); and
• language that doesn’t adequately reflect biblical imagery for God


Augsburg Fortress Publishers, Minneapolis, MN, 800-328-4648,
Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO, 800-325-3040,
GIA Publications, Inc., Chicago, IL, 800-GIA-1358,
Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL, 800-323-1049,
Oregon Catholic Press, Portland, OR, 800-LITURGY,
The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 800-858-5450,
World Library Publications, Franklin Park, IL, 800-566-6150,
Choristers Guild, 2834 Kingsley Rd., Garland, TX, 972-271-1521,
Word Publishing, 888-324-WORD,


(These websites can be useful in addition to the music publishers websites.) – worship website has an incredible amount of musical resources, worship essays and articles, etc. – website for Jay Beech’s music. – Fernando Ortega – hymn of the day arrangements for choir or solo, psalm settings, other liturgical material. – Indelible Grace – downloadable hymn arrangements, psalms. – Keith and Kristin Getty site – sign up and receive a download of the latest music. – hymn arranger. – downloadable hymn arrangements with annual membership – Hymns for Praise and Worship ($$$) – Michael Schmid, liturgical arrangements, hymn arrangements. – information on which CCM songs are at the top of the charts. – keep up to date on Christian radio songs. – Concordia Seminary, Fort Wayne – an institute on Lutheran theology and music. – download refrains from GIA music

From Grace Hennig

Service music: adding variety to biblical songs,hymns and psalms

Settings of the Liturgy

CompleteNew Service Settings – NPH
Christian Worship: Supplement – NPH
Jesus, the Compassion of God (David Haas, GIA)
Do This in Memory of Me (David Haas, GIA)
The Chicago Folk Setting (Kjos music)
Everyone Who Is Thirsty, Come! (Jay Beech, AFP)
PsalmsCelebration Series (GIA) – volumes 1, 2 & 3 are still their “best sellers.”
Sharing the Road (Bruxvoort-Colligan, AFP)
Psalm Songs (Ogden & Smith, ed., AFP) vol. 1, 2, &3
Psalms for Worship (readings) (Parker,
Indelible Grace – a couple piano and many guitar settings (Kevin Twit and Mac Purdy)
Many individual octavo settings from GIA – In addition to Haas and Haugen, Paul Tate, Chris deSilva
Everyone Who Is Thirsty, Come! (Jay Beech, AFP)
HymnsLet It Rip! at the Piano: Congregational Song Accompaniments (ed. Norma Aamodt-Nelson, AFP)
Let It Rip!at the Piano: Congregational Song Accompaniments, Volume 2(ed. Norma Aamodt-Nelson, AFP) – Don Chapman
These are simple, interesting hymn arrangements which can be done with solo piano or with a couple of other instru-
Hymns for Praise and Worship – (Word Publishing)
Getty Music – some solid hymns in a modern folk sound.
Other hymnals: Lutheran Service Book (CPH), Evangelical Worship (AFP), Celebration Hymnal (Hope)

Confessional Lutherans will be careful evaluating and selecting texts.

Obvious problems in some of the resources include the following:
• a tendency toward revivalism and decision theology;
• inadequate teaching regarding the sacraments;
• overemphasis on social concerns or economic justice
(a political message instead of law/gospel); and
• language that doesn’t adequately reflect biblical imagery for God.


Used by permission from Grace Hennig



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