In Search of the Faith We Should Sing
Essential in our mission at Christian Sound & Song is to encourage music directors, leaders of worship, pastors, composers, and other church leaders in their ministries. Seeking to accomplish this across Christian denominations requires considering the essentials of what Christ was and is about: forgiving and saving grace, unconditional love and redemption, his presence as risen Savior and Messiah, and reconciliation to God. As my former pastor once said so beautifully, "Whenever I'm unsure of what to preach about, I return to the amazing love of Jesus."
Knowing that music is an essential and important aspect of worship, we approach the subject of choosing what we should lead our congregations in singing with great humility and prayerful consideration.
Many valid musical forms successfully give glory to the Lord, and that argues against any simple, universal formula. If you will, there is no definitive set of dimensions by which we may tidily compartmentalize the faith words we might sing. You'll recognize many of the better-known compartments: "traditional, blended, or contemporary," "horizontal or vertical" (As Charlie Peacock has said, "God holds authority in all spheres and in all directions."), "plural or singular pronouns" (references to the worshiper/singer), "popular radio-played songs or worthy unknown or original songs." Different music leaders come down on different sides of these criteria, depending on their own body of experience and taste, but also depending on who is their preferred worship consultant, favorite Christian singer, or admired (or envied) church down the road.
In this issue [of Christian Sound & Song], Craig Gilbert shares useful thoughts about the importance of the words we sing in worship, and he further categorizes of worship lyrics as: scriptural, descriptive of God and his works, and human response to God. It's always good to be reminded that the words make a song Christian, no matter how beautiful or well-known the music. And Dr. Leslie Griffiths expounds eloquently [in "Charles Wesley: A Treasury of Theology in Song"] on the marvelously accessible theology contained in the unique rhymed verses penned by Charles Wesley more than two centuries ago.
To complicate matters, we live in a culture that has fostered an illusory "solution du jour" in most disciplines. And the medium of choice is now a message on a web page that is accessed anonymously and posted by some unidentifiable webmaster who likely has little idea of the page's meaning.
Meanwhile, the tastes and musical interests of the entire congregation — and the pastor — focus on the choices usually made by the music leader. This is a high privilege and responsibility, and we wish to encourage leaders with some simple, yet practical ways to approach this weekly challenge. Know that every person has favorite, even sacred songs to him or her. You will never be able to use them all; thus, you will never have everyone entirely pleased with your choices. But to the extent that you know the subject of your pastor's message, be in prayer and in the Word; and seek to offer compatible variety in styles and content — in any given service and from week to week. When all else seems to cloud the issue, you may find it useful to consider these questions:
- Does the song inform the worshiper — believer or seeker — about who God is and about what God has done and continues to do for us through Christ?
- Does the song help us to find collective strength and faith, with which we can face adversity and challenge?
- Does the song foster and lead us into a holy place and a time of thankful communion with Jesus?
- Does the song serve as a vessel to share our offering of worship that would be pleasing to God?
I admit that it's easy to ask these questions. They are not so easy to answer. But let's go boldly and thankfully before the Lord with our songs and not walk on eggs because a consultant, superstar, or radio station contends that we must sing a particular song.
Thomas LeFevre ([email protected]) is a UMC music director and worship leader and editor of Christian Sound & Song magazine. He has a contemporary gospel CD available at www.cdbaby.com/thomaslefevre. All proceeds benefit Red Cross Katrina relief.