Preparing music for worship is a task that requires diligence and study. Church musicians should, of course, take the time needed to practice and rehearse the music itself. But simply knowing the music well is not sufficient to make wise and helpful choices in selecting music for worship. There is more to consider. In previous posts I mentioned the necessity of those who would lead God’s people in singing and praise to study Scripture and study doctrine. Both are essential if we are to worship God in spirit and in truth. But there is one other area of study to which worship leaders must give attention. To lead well, you must know your church.
Churches are not all the same. Some of the differences are sadly due to the fact that many churches have lost sight of the gospel and are no longer shaped by the transforming power of God’s Word. But there are other, inevitable, legitimate differences among sound, biblical churches. Though churches have the same Lord, and read the same Bible, and may even hold to the same confession of faith, they don’t all look the same, and they don’t all sound the same.
Each church is a unique combination of gifts, experiences and expectations. Each is a spiritual house built from unique living stones (1 Peter 2:5). Each is filled with individual and corporate testimonies of God’s grace and power. Each is providentially and strategically placed by God in history and geography for the sake of His Kingdom. And each adds a unique voice to the tapestry of praise that God is weaving around the world and through history to His glory.
And so, as leaders, we must be students and stewards of the precious stones that God has fashioned together as the church. So do study music, study the Bible, study doctrine; but also study the church.
Invest yourself in the church.
Take time to nurture your musicians. Learn their gifts and strengths. Encourage them, mentor them and challenge them. Help them grow, not just in their abilities to sing and play and lead music, but spiritually in grace and truth.
Take time to nurture your congregation. Even if you have additional groups of instrumentalists or singers to help lead or provide music for worship, the congregation is your first and primary choir. So make them a priority. Feed your church family music that will help them hold on to Scripture and be grounded in truth. Sing music that is accessible to them, music that invites their participation. Sing music that is worthwhile and memorable. Give the congregation your attention. Listen to them as they sing. What do they sing well? What do they not sing well? When you arrange music for your service, don’t just arrange for the musicians; think of the church family. Sing with the people, not at them. Use the musical gifts God has given your church family to serve the church. Help them lift their voice; don’t drown it out.
And take time to nurture the children of your church. They are the future. Teach them the Bible and sound doctrine. Teach them the music of the church. Encourage their interest and participation in the music of the church. Point them to Christ. Commend God’s works to them (Psalm 145:4) that they may grow up to give Him praise (Psalm 102:18). Pray that God would save them and raise them up to do greater things than we have done in our generation.
When selecting music for worship, know the Word, know theology, but also know your church. Here, in closing, is a simple grid of questions I ask when considering music for our services at Grace Baptist Church:
- Is it true? Are the words well-written? Are they biblical and doctrinally sound?
- Is it singable? Is the tune well-composed? Is it memorable and does it serve well to help us emotionally express and interpret the words?
- Is it us? Is this something we can sing and affirm together here at Grace? Can we sing it well? Can we play it well? Does it fit our voice as a church family and serve as an authentic and heart-felt expression of our praise to God?
To read more of my thoughts on what shapes the voice of a church in worship, read Music and the Church: Finding Our Voice in Worship in the Founders Journal.