Each and every week people flock in and out of the doors of church buildings throughout the United States and around the world. Many have heard the Gospel proclaimed accurately, many have heard compelling stories or corny illustrations, and sadly many haven’t heard (or remembered) anything at all.
How many times have you left your respective sanctuary or church building and been unable to voice the main point or passage of the sermon in which you just sat under? I would dare to say that it happens more than we believe. I believe that on a typical Sunday if we were to give a survey asking church goers what passages were used or exposited from their pulpits I think we would be shocked at the results. I also believe if we were to give the same survey but instead asked which songs were sung from the stage the results would be much improved. I’m in no way saying this as a jab to our preaching or expositing of Scripture today… I am actually saying this to bring to light how important our song choices are on a weekly basis.
We live in an entertainment driven culture, so sermons or teaching just aren’t stimulating enough to keep some people connected. I found it interesting that researchers have discovered that the brain releases dopamine, a chemical related to attention and focus, when people watch TV or play video games because that “entertainment” is giving the them a “stimulus surge.” In a culture filled with this “surging” it is easy to see and understand why we have collectively become desensitized to things like sermons, lectures, meetings, etc. This lack of focus without “surging stimulation” can be seen first-hand in our sanctuaries and classrooms.
Interestingly enough, the brain also releases dopamine when stimulated with music!
I have said all of that to make my next point clear… our music is important. The songs that we sing will likely be remembered when all else is forgotten, and because of that we must work to make wise choices regarding what we sing and play in our limited time each week. Our music shapes the Gospel for our congregations on a weekly basis whether we want it to or not.
You may be thinking… Geez! How do I even begin to select music that is going to shape the Gospel for someone? Do not fret… below I have provided some helpful thinking points for when you are surfing the web, CCLI, or flipping through sheet music making your selections.
Are we singing for ourselves or for God? Revelation vs. Response.
Unfortunately, to have an “enjoyable experience” has become the leading motivation for much of what we do, and that includes our worship experiences. The idea or expectations of an “entertainment experience” have leaked over into what we do on Sundays and Wednesdays… especially in the modern American church. Our cultural context has somehow managed to define our worship services. Our worship has become more about ourselves rather than about pleasing and glorifying God. We have become horizontally focused rather than vertically focused. Our songs should portray Scriptural truths about God and provide focus on Him and what He has done… not necessarily on what we are going to do for Him. A response to Christ is absolutely important and should be included somewhere in our selections… but it shouldn’t be our primary focus. Our worship is about what we are going to do for Christ… it is about what He has done for us. The Gospel and who Christ is should be apparent in our songs. The Bible tells us that worship is not just to engage the audience, but to have them change as a result of it. We should work to reveal the Gospel through what we sing on Sundays and allow the congregations to decide their response to that revelation for themselves.
Me vs. We & I vs. Us
Our congregational worship takes place together when we gather together… our individual worship should be continuously happening throughout the week. If we hold that to be true then why do we still continue to place the emphasis on the “I” or “me” our corporate worship? Too many of the songs that we sing place emphasis on ourselves and our individual work instead of on Christ and His work through the church. Our songs should be inclusive both in words and meaning, we should sing songs that place emphasis on the church, or bride of Christ, as a whole instead of elevating the personal aspect. We aren’t isolated, we as believers should be dependent on Christ as well as each other and the charge that was given to follow and be disciples of Christ was given both individually and to the body as a whole. Let us sing songs that challenge us to walk beside each other in our pursuit of Christ and His glory here on earth. Let’s replace the “I” and “me” with “us” and “we” and watch the repercussions take place when people live out the words they sing.
Lyrical Content. Are our songs rich and true?
Do we pay attention to what we are singing? Do we pay attention to what we are telling our congregations to sing? Too often we trade a good groove or ear pleasing guitar lick or vocal melody for lyrical content and what we get is a ear pleasing song with no depth at all. If our congregations are only going to remember portions of our service, in which the preaching may not be part, then we need to be leading them in songs that are rich in content. Our songs should proclaim the Gospel, the saving message of Christ, and challenge us to live lives that honor and glorify Him. In a typical service I will personally try to include songs about our need for Christ and His sufficiency to meet that need, songs focusing on the cross and the price that was paid on our behalf, songs about what we as the church are to do now (our response), and songs about the freedom and joy we have in Christ. Now obviously all of these don’t have to be included in each and every service and things can be added and subtracted where there is a need. Most importantly, we just need to keep in mind that our songs inclusive in a way that they are clear in meaning to a first time church goer and illustrate the Gospel correctly and at the same time they should develop in meaning for the seasoned believer.
Hopefully with these things in mind and knowing that what we are communicating through our song choices we can be deliberate in picking songs that tell the Gospel story and challenge people to change accordingly. What we do is important. Let’s act like it.
So, what are you song selections communicating week in and week out?