Sermons and Articles | Ken Puls
Selecting Music for Worship
Part 1: Know the Word
Leading God's people in song is a great joy. It is a rewarding responsibility to sing and play psalms and hymns and spiritual songs in praise to God. But like other aspects of worship—reading and preaching God's Word, lifting up prayers in behalf of the congregation—with the joy comes labor. It takes time to plan and prepare music for worship. This is especially evident given the reality that the task of worship is ongoing. Week by week, music must be selected, ordered and rehearsed. There is always a service coming.
So what is the best way to plan music for worship? How can worship leaders, given the task each week to select music for the services, make the best use of their time and efforts? How can they avoid the ruts of simply resorting to favorites or choosing what's trendy? How can they guard against weariness and wearing out over time?
There is no simple solution to finding the right songs for the right service, but there are some vital ways that worship leaders can prepare themselves to be ready for the task. Those who give direction to the music of the church must learn to be students, and not just students of the music itself—giving attention to tunes, lyrics and arrangements. In the next several posts, I will explore three areas of study that every worship leader should seek to master:
My first encouragement to those who lead music in the church is know the Word. This of course applies to all worship leaders—to those who read and preach God's Word, to those who lift up prayers in behalf of the congregation, as well as to those who lead in singing God's praise. We must immerse ourselves in Scripture. The first and best way to prepare for the task of selecting music for worship is to be regularly and diligently in God's Word. In John 4 Jesus taught on the essence of true worship:
If we are to worship God rightly, we need to preach, sing and pray the truths of the Bible and we need the life-giving work of God's Spirit quickening our spirits that we might understand, embrace and apply those truths to our lives. So as we plan for worship, our two greatest priorities should be to 1) saturate our services with the Word of God, and 2) pray earnestly for the power of God's Spirit to illumine His truth that we might walk in its light.
Paul echoes this emphasis of spirit and truth when he teaches the church about music. In Ephesians 5 he exhorts the church to:
In a parallel passage in Colossians 3 he says:
It is essential that our music be rooted in the truth of God's Word and in the work of His Spirit. As we preview the lyrics of songs, we should look for quotes, allusions and connections to God's Word. If we are to sing in a way that lets the word of Christ dwell in us richly, we need to:
Consider, for example, the hymn How Firm a Foundation. One of the reasons this hymn has endured the test of time is its faithfulness to Scripture. The opening verse speaks of the value of resting our faith in God's "excellent Word." The remaining verses then rehearse several promises from the Bible. Read through the lyrics and see how many passages come to mind.
How Firm a Foundation
1. How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
2. In every condition—in sickness, in health,
3. "Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed
4. "When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
5. "When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
6. "E'en down to old age all my people shall prove
7. "The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
"How FIrm a Foundation" ©Public Domain
(Click here to see the lyrics of hymn with the passages of Scripture listed)
We want to select and sing music in the church that will let God's Word dwell in us richly. We want songs that are biblically sound, song that will teach and edify, not amuse and entertain. We want to recognize and cast aside songs that are in error or are lacking in truth. We want to identify and keep songs that will help us interpret, verbalize and respond to truth, songs that will serve and undergird the preaching and teaching ministry of the church.
But in order to recognize such music, and find fitting places for that music in the life of the church, we need to know the Word of God. So commit yourself to being a student of God's Word. Be in the Bible every day. Read it, study it, memorize it. Take notes as you read. Look for connections between the lyrics of your church's songs and the verses of Scripture. Note where those connections are lacking. Highlight where those connections are strong. As a worship leader and musician, aim to be well-rehearsed, not just in the music you plan to sing, but in the Scriptures you intend to teach, proclaim and celebrate. Know the Word!
©2013 Ken Puls