Worship Music Song Selection?

How does the Worship Music Team at The Mission Church select songs for Sunday Worship?

(Note: This is a working document…I expect to update as needed.)

Recently the elders and our Worship Music Team have been talking about song selections. Particularly, we have been discussing what kind of songs we should add to our Sunday worship sets…and asking if there are any songs we should avoid adding, or even remove from regular use. Here are some of the thoughts that have informed our conversation:

Worship Music is a teaching ministry of the church.

Every time I prepare to preach, I go behind the stage, get on my knees, and pray that God would protect and guide my words, that I would only say things that are true, clear and helpful. In order to glorify God with the sermon, to genuinely strengthen believers who will hear the sermon, and to reach any lost person who ever hears that sermon, I must take great care not only with what I say…but how I say it.

We hold those same standards for the Worship Music ministry at our church.

Whenever we sing a song together, we are declaring something to be true about God, ourselves, or God’s plan for His creation. This is why we teach our kids to sing songs that declare true things…that are scripturally founded! I want my kids singing, “Jesus loves me this I know”, and “Amazing grace how sweet the sound,” simply because…well…those things are true.

No song gets approved for Sunday Worship unless it first passes these tests: “Is this song true in its entirety?” “Is this song clear about the truth it proclaims?” “Will this song help our church today to glorify God, strengthen believers, and reach the lost?”

But In order to sufficiently answer these questions…we believe that there is more to consider than merely the words of the individual song we are considering.

Imagine that a beloved pastor were to fall into a disqualifying sin (ex. adultery), but rather than step down from his position as a leader in his local church, he continued to preach every Sunday and lead the church as an Elder. Would that be a good thing? What if the content of the sermons were true, clear and helpful? Should he continue to preach and occupy the role of Pastor? No.

Why not? Because the New Testament demands that a man meet a certain level of qualifications in order to fulfill the role of “pastor”. It is irrelevant if his sermons are true…and he can delivery them clearly…or even if people are helped by them. God is not being honored by those sermons.

Would it be wise then, for members of that congregation to distribute that pastor’s sermon to other friends and family simply because the “message was good”, or “I found this uplifting/helpful?” I don’t think so. Especially when there are literally thousands of excellent sermons available to us online for free…easy to distribute…delivered by qualified pastors. We don’t have a deficit of true content that is clear and helpful…that is also preached by God-honoring servants.

The character of the one delivering the message really matters.

Now let’s imagine a different scenario: Imagine that a presumably qualified pastor develops a reputation as a man who preaches awesome sermons that are true, clear and helpful. He preaches a sermon series on “Grace” that serve his people well, and even writes a book as a summary of that series.

Five years later however, he apostatizes. He rejects the Christian faith, and becomes an atheist. Now he uses his energy writing books/articles/blogs that seek to tear down the Christian faith.

Even though his previously delivered sermons and books were true, clear, and helpful…would it be wise for Christians to promote his materials? No. Why not? Because we could be reasonably concerned that it could lead to great error for those who follow his work.

This is why, I think that a church that has a “resource center” of recommended books, should remove books from apostate writers, even if the book has been helpful for people in the past.

An endorsement of one work by that person could be very easily misunderstood as an endorsement of all future materials that person may produce.

Paul writes something similar regarding the “false brothers” in the Galatian church:

(Galatians 2:4–5) Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

When Paul dealt with these “false brother”, he did not accommodate them, he did not approve of previous truths they may have held. He did “not yield in submission even for a moment”. The NT demands no tolerance for those who lead the church astray.

Now…on to Music.

If you are still reading this—with the title of this blog in mind—it is likely that you are seeing where I am headed. So let’s consider how these principles work out concerning Worship Music (particularly regarding song selection):

At The Mission Church, we have great concerns that some of the most popular “Christian Music Groups” today, are leading their audience into destructive errors. This necessarily means that we have to determine which groups we should avoid. So…

How do we select which artists/groups to avoid?

The simple answer to this question is: “Those with whom we have reasonable concerns could negatively influence our church body in the future.”

Reasonable concern: Every generation has its influencers. Those who win an audience (by various means… both good and bad) and progressively produce ongoing content that leads their followers in how they think and act.

This is why we don’t have the same concern for dead artists (literally, passed away) as we do for living ones. Take St. Francis of Assisi, for example. He is a 13th century Catholic friar known for penning a poem that would eventually become our beloved hymn, “All Creatures of Our God and King”. Would we sing this song in church…even though it is written by a man with whom we have some profound doctrinal disagreements? Absolutely. Why?

Well—for starters—he is not producing any new content! I am not concerned that next year St. Francis of Assisi is going to write a new book entitled, “Why Homosexuality is Not a Sin”. We already have all of his collected works. His ministry is finished.

Additionally, the elders at our church find it hard to imagine one of our members rocking out to “All Creatures” at the gym, then consequently being lead to pray to the Virgin Mary for salvation. We just don’t think that is a reasonable concern. St. Francis is not a 21st century cultural influencer.

I am however, very concerned that many of the most popular “Christian Artists” today do have both the power of influence to mislead large numbers of Christians—and have demonstrated instability/compromise regarding some of the most critical doctrines of the Christian faith. They are actively producing more and more content that influences the way that Christians today think and act. For these reasons, I do not think that it is “alarmist” or “unreasonable” for us to be concerned about the impact of these groups. We will not endorse these groups, nor their message.

Private vs. Corporate Worship

It should be acknowledged that there is a difference between a person’s personal/private worship, and the kind of music we sing at a corporate Worship service.

There are many songs that I love to sing in the car/shower/gym (while I am alone) that I would not propose as songs for corporate worship…for reasons that have nothing to do with content. For example:

  • Songs that tend toward a “solo-signing” style (those that demand a singing voice with a very broad/skilled musical range).

  • Songs that are too fast (or slow). I know songs that are super fast, filled with amazing lyrics…that would be difficult to be meaningfully sung by a large group of believers together! Perhaps this might be illustrated as the difference between jogging alone, or jogging with a group: alone, you can go whatever pace is comfortable for you; in a group you need to go as slow as the slowest jogger in the group!

  • Songs in a language unknown by the group. When I was a youth pastor, I took my youth group on a Mission Trip to Mexico, where we spent a week with a bunch of Spanish-speaking believers. They taught us several wonderful songs in Spanish…that I still love and sing today! I would not recommend that our church of [primarily] english speakers try to sing those songs…because they would be unintelligible/indiscernible to most of our congregation!

So, I think that even for merely musical and practical reasons we may see at least two categories of God-honoring worship songs: Private and Corporate.

I expect many—if not most—believers know very little about the beliefs and practices of particular “Christian Artists”. Even those artists whose songs we love and sing. I also think that many Christians are discerning enough to determine whether or not the lyrics of a song are true or false. We simply hear a song on the radio, run it through the, “is this true, and do I like it” grid…then choose whether or not to add it to our playlist. So it should be clearly said:

I have no judgment on any Christian for adding a song to their “Private Worship Set” that is true, clear, and helpful.

But when we add a song to our Corporate Worship Set, we consider it an endorsement…not only on the words of that particular song, but also on the artist (and in some cases the movement with which that artist is associated). We take those kinds of endorsements very seriously…and want you to learn to love the songs that are written and performed by trustworthy brothers and sisters.

There is NO DEFICIT of God-honoring songs that are true, clear and helpful…that are also written by very trustworthy, stable Christians throughout history. We prefer to pick from that [very long] list than from the [relatively short] list of songs that may be popular now…but could have the potential to harm those whom we love.