This month, I have enjoyed some extra time to think and reflect on many things. I just graduated from Southwestern Baptist Seminary with a degree in church music and am in transition between music ministry positions, so I have naturally spent many hours pondering worship music, my calling, my preferences, and my philosophy. Really, I reflect on these things all the time.
Although I relish studying and discussing the nuances of theology and worship, I desire to explain some of my most fundamental beliefs about church music in this blog. In doing so, my hope is that those who know me from places like Grace Baptist Church in Fort Worth will find these words in agreement with my practices as a worship leader and in everyday life. I also hope that my new church family at First Baptist Church in Farmersville, TX, will be encouraged and come to know a little bit more about what I believe.
Most of those who know me know that I don't have a worship music style preference. I don't take a side in any contemporary vs. traditional debates because I actually prefer using both. Furthermore, I believe Christians shouldn't be known by the style of music they sing, but by what they sing about. Christians should sing about the gospel. I'll talk more about this later, but whether a church sings more songs by Isaac Watts or Chris Tomlin doesn't matter, as long as they're singing the best songs which most clearly proclaim and celebrate the gospel. Our selection of worship songs should take into serious consideration the principles that worship is a response to the gospel, is a reminder of the gospel, and is a proclamation of the gospel.
First of all, worship is a response to the gospel. In Romans 12:1, Paul says, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (ESV). He is teaching that our sacrifice of worship is a response to God's mercy. We worship and we live for Christ because of his mercy and through his mercy. We do not initiate this sacrifice. Christ initiated our worship by his sacrifice, and when we sing, we respond out of an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
Secondly, worship should be a reminder of the gospel. The author of Hebrews exhorts us not to "neglect meeting together" (Heb 10:25, ESV), but to encourage one another to love and good deeds. Therefore, everything about corporate worship, from the structure and flow of the service, to the songs selected, to the preaching, should inspire us to live according to the gospel. As for song selection, Paul says in Colossians 3:16 to "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God" (NASB). The most highly recommended worship songs according to the Bible are those which are filled with Scripture, and consequently, brimming with the gospel.
By the way, the gospel isn't just for non-believers. Believers need to be reminded of the gospel daily. Many believers don't remind themselves of the gospel as much as they should, and as a result, worship on Sunday morning may be one of the few times during the week they are reminded of the glorious grace of the gospel. Two of my favorite writers, Bob Kauflin (author of Worship Matters) and Bryan Chapell (author of Christ-Centered Worship) both assert that we should sing about the gospel to remind ourselves and each other of its significance.
Finally, worship should be a proclamation of the gospel. Hebrews 13:15 says, "Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess to His name" (NASB). Different translations use different words for the action of our lips, including "confess," "profess," "acknowledge," and "give thanks." The point, however, is the same. When we worship Christ, we are proclaiming to each other and to the world that Christ is our Lord and Savior.
These types of principles are what guide my selection of worship songs more than anything else. I greatly prefer songs which declare the attributes and acts of God, tell the gospel story, confess our need for Christ, and praise God in response to his marvelous grace and forgiveness. There are other criteria for selecting songs as well, but I think the text is the most important. So that is why I can love a hymn such as "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," (Isaac Watts) as much as I love the worship song, "Christ is Risen" (Matt Maher). There are a thousand lesser things to sing about in this world, but I want my church to sing about the gospel.