By Steven Shaw
Why we sing to God:
I have been a music leader at church for over 15 years, but have only had the right mind and heart for it over the last 7 years. My passion is to help others see the importance of proper worship to Christ through music.
Music is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. And I take musical worship very seriously. Ever since I was given the wonderful honor of leading at my church, I’ve taken the task with fear and praise of God. I think of the song choices as a sermon. I carefully pick each song, each week, to match what the sermon topic is about. To leave all of us with biblical truths we can sing all week/all our lives. I’m not leading to perform. I am there to lead you into an expression of praise to our God in heaven as well as edification for one other through our expression. I want you to know and memorize scripture truths through music. I write, rewrite and sing nothing but bible centered songs, and the best way to remember these truths is through song. As a music leader for the church, I have a responsibility to deliver God’s message through music. Not focusing so much on “our” experience, but giving people the Bible truths to sing all week. Musical worship should be an emotional outpouring as well, but that is not how or why we come to God in praise.
Singing in the church:
When we all come together to sing to God we are following after 1000’s of years of fellow believers. In the Old Testament, God’s people came where God set His name and they brought sacrifices. They came to give praise and show their dependence on a God that is good to them. We need to come together each week with even more praise and worship because of the promises we have through Christ. Not being swept away by an emotional experience, but a wholehearted love, respect, fear and trembling before a loving and merciful God. We don’t come to God bringing physical offerings but we lay down our lives at the foot of the Cross and say thank you. We are now the place where God has set His name. Our lives are the sacrifice we offer. Therefore, everything we do is an offering of worship. Hopefully, your worship experience is not just on a Sunday morning and not just by singing. Our entire life is worship of Christ. The songs we sing at church proclaim the attributes, character, and ways of the God who saved us.
-Mark Dever and Paul Alexander give this advice to pastors:
“As the main teaching pastor, it is your responsibility to shepherd the congregation into the green pastures of God-centered, gospel-centered songs, and away from the arid plains of theological emptiness, meditations on human experience, and emotional frenzy.” If our songs are never set above lack of thought, human experience, and emotions, we have fallen short of our goal. God must be the center of our worship; therefore God must be the center of our songs.
Songs for the Non-believers and suffering believers:
Sometimes we can give the wrong message (specifically to guests or non-believers) at a church service, either through the songs or the sermon, that following Jesus is always warm and fuzzy. God’s main purpose is not to make us feel happy. If people walk away thinking that way, then when they go through a difficult time of life, or “storm,” their faith will suffer because it was based on shallow truths. They will cry out, “I thought Jesus loved me?” and may turn away from Him because they lack categories for suffering or attack. Providing good, theologically rich and accurate music allows people to go through that same storm and be able to sing out words like “When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within, upward I look and see Him there who made an end to all my sin”. That makes all the difference. That is the kind of words that help you trust God’s power to work through you in all circumstances. Singing how the Bible actually reveals God, not modern society. Giving people a real view of God and His glorious attributes through music is a huge responsibility for the music leaders.
Not all “Christian” songs should be sung in church: If our lives are supposed to be truly and completely reliant on Christ, then why should our church “worship” be any less? There are plenty of great songs that are wonderful for a believer to sing in the car or at home and may facilitate a great, worshipful experience, but that doesn’t mean the song is right for the church body. It is like a pastor getting up to deliver his sermon and all he says over and over again is: “God is so great, wonderful and strong. I love Him so much. He is so good. His name is powerful. He is awesome”. Now each of those statements is true, but you are not teaching anyone anything, really. Those that know all that to be true can say, “Amen!” and may get excited by those words. However, what about the rest of the people who don’t know God on that level? They need to know why God is all those things. Why and how He is merciful and gracious. Why Jesus is enough even in the times of suffering. What has He done for us? When those things are taught, then God’s awesomeness is more fully understood and our wretchedness is in proper perspective. We have no power, righteousness, goodness, holiness, humbleness, or anything apart from Christ. We are to be fully following after, clinging to the cross and seeking Jesus every day. Dying to ourselves is a moment-by-moment thing. Music that only says, “Jesus is my boyfriend” doesn’t help us do that. It hinders our awe, by making God’s glory so small. That’s always a dangerous thing.
Worship through singing is congregational:
Songs are sermons. They don’t work like a pastor teaching the Bible, but they proclaim biblical truths. Our songs teach and shape the way people view God, Christ, each other, and how we are to live in light of the gospel. We have a wonderful God who has done multiple amazing things for us, who call Him Lord. We have promises and unlimited reasons to worship our great Father for eternity.
When Isaac Watts published Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, (Which he wrote about 1000 in his day) his goal was not to sing Scripture line by line but to create poetic and emotional renditions of Scripture that allow a church to sing the truths of Scripture. In his day he got the church in an uproar about his writings. He didn’t just sing the psalms as they did. He changed them to put what Christ has done in the mix and the focus. That was the focus of God, and so should be our focus in music. Striving for perfection in all things including our song.
One way to ensure our singing is biblical is to go through our songs to see if we are singing what the bible says. Doesn’t have to be word for word, but it must contain His word. Our songs should be held up to the light of God’s word to ensure we are singing the glories of its truths.
The New Testament shows us how singing is a communal activity. The glory God enjoys and the blessings we receive from it is His plan.
-Colossians 3:12-17 Teaching and admonishing. We sing to each other to build each other up, teach one another, strengthen and encourage one another. It can be an emotional outpouring of praise for what God has done, but it is what God has done for us all, not just “me”. We can get so self-centered when it comes to the music in church. Music is emotional, exciting and powerful. That is the good and the bad about it. It is all too easy to get caught up in the experience of music and not the worship in music. How often have you been critical of a song or sound on your Sunday morning service? How often do you get upset that the band isn’t playing the songs you know and shut off because so? I know I have a major critical side when it comes to other worship music. I mean, I’m writing a blog about my criticalness. But this is a real problem that needs to be addressed. It’s something I pray about for myself all the time. But how beautiful would it be if we could be in a place that if the music on a Sunday isn’t our favorite, we could dwell on the biblical truths being sung, and be praying for the others around us to be blessed and sanctified by the music being lead? Taking the focus off of us and on to what God cares about.
Christians are a singing people. Muslims don’t gather to sing. Neither do Hindus, Buddhists, or Rastafarians. Christians do. Also, while not everyone preaches, or leads in prayer, or publicly reads Scripture, we all sing.
Whether our corporate worship is subject to the regulative principle or simply the principle of conscience, the exercise of singing ought to be seriously considered in light of Scripture. And Psalm 96 offers some crucial perspectives regarding the nature of a right song and its effects. Originally written for the covenant people of God for the entry of the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem (see 1 Chr. 16), this Psalm offers us much regarding the practice of singing today.
Psalm 96 Worship in the Splendor of Holiness:
96. Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!
God is at the center of a proper Christian song. When God calls his people to sing, it is a specific type of song. As we just read in verse 1, it says “sing to the Lord”. When we gather together to sing his name, the glory of God is our aim. Proclaiming his truth in melody. We are to sing to him, about him, and for him. The world sings about created things that will perish. We sing of the eternal. And to the eternal.
2 Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. 3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! 4 For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. 5 For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens. 6 Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
Our Songs Should Be Biblical:
The songs of the church should be built on, shaped by, and saturated with the word of God. Singing is a unique way to let the word of Christ dwell richly in us (Col. 3:16).
In Psalm 96:2, we are to bless his name. Apart from God’s grace of revelation, we would not know his name. Our singing and all our lives of worship must be biblically sound in order to carry out these kinds of commands. The songs we sing in the church should be intentionally biblical.
A Congregational Song Should Point to the Gospel:
Every song without exception should be fully gospel-centered. We should “tell of his salvation” (v. 2). If we teach sound doctrine we should sing sound doctrine. We are memorizing the gospel and even scripture in good worship songs.
Our songs focus:
By Matt Boswell
• We sing to God as the holy creator of all things, who is worthy of worship.
• We sing of man and our sinful nature, our alienation from God, and our need of forgiveness.
• We sing of Christ who is fully God and fully man, who lived a sinless life and died on the cross to bear the wrath of God.
• We sing a response. In these songs of consecration and repentance, faith and praise, we joyfully respond to the good news of Jesus.
7 Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! 8 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to His name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! 9 Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!
A Congregational Song Should Be Congregational:
Christian singing is congregational at its core.
Our song of redemption is not meant for one, but for many. As our faith is dependent on God’s revelation by grace to the individual, the praise and worship we sing to him are meant to be sung by the gathered church. We aren’t up here highlighting our talents, we are leading you in lifting up the name of our Creator and Savior. It’s our response to him of what wonders he has performed for us and through us.
One pastor quotes This choir of the redeemed lift a collective voice of praise as a testimony that we have been reconciled to God and to one another. Singing together in worship is a mark of unity within a church. The song of the redeemed is to be sung by young and old, rich and poor, strong and weak.
Verse 7 reminds us that families of peoples will ascribe praise to God: peoples from every tribe, tongue, and nation on the earth.
10. Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.” 11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; 12 let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy 13 before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness.
A Congregational Song Should be Evangelistic:
We are singing to God about God, but we are also singing to our neighbor. God-centered worship is a proclamation of Christ. Christians and non-Christians are listening. The words of our songs should and could save lives.
Spurgeon called this Psalm the “Missionary Psalm,”.
In verses 10 to 13, God-centered singing is a call to the believer as well as to the nonbeliever. God-centeredness and evangelism are one. The worship of God is the aim of evangelism.
We sing of the love and wrath of God in one song. We declare his holiness and the effects of our sin. Christ is the king who will come to judge the world in his righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness. We say “The Lord reigns!” in hope that everyone will repent of their sin and trust in Christ.
I hope to help those who seek to make God’s glory known in a bigger way through their music. I don’t claim to have it all figured out. However, I am convicted on this topic: It’s time to place substance back in our musical worship, and change our hearts when it comes to corporate worship music. We don’t sing just because that’s how churches always do it, we don’t sing to warm up the preacher to preach. Singing is a holy practice. We sing because God has commanded us to, for our good and His glory.
Churches sing because their new hearts can’t help but echo the Word which has given them life. Whether those songs were written in the sixteenth century or today, they should echo Scripture. If there is any place where God’s Word should literally reverberate, it should reverberate in the church’s songs. Remember, Scripture alone gives life. Therefore, a church’s songs should contain nothing more than the words, paraphrases, or ideas of Scripture.
Pick up Bob Kauflin’s “Worship Matters” and learn how and why we properly worship God.
Please don’t let my word be the final word on this. Pick up the bible, read Gospel-saturated books by good authors, read commentaries on the Bible, pick up Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology” and learn from a man’s lifetime of study and meditation on the Word of God. Most of all, trust in Jesus Christ and know what He has given us is whole, perfect and is for our good and his glory. Love you all!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.