The Bible is clear: We should be singing new songs to the Lord (Psalm 96:1 as one example of many).
What is less clear: How often should we sing new songs at our churches? I took a stab at answering this question with some practical suggestions over three years ago.
What is even less clear: How often should we sing our (or someone in our church’s) original songs? In Monday’s post I said “in extreme moderation“. Some people understood what I meant by that. Others thought that by “extreme moderation” I meant “we should never sing original songs”. And some others thought that by “extreme moderation” I meant “we shouldn’t sing anything other than the Psalms”. It looks like my statement could use some clearing up.
Yes, the Bible is clear that we should sing new songs to the Lord. It’s less clear about how often we should sing original songs on a Sunday morning. So where can we look for guidance?
1 Corinthians 14 is one of the foremost places in scripture where we are given instructions about principles that should guide our worship gatherings. Paul deals with some tricky issues like tongues and prophecy, and in so doing, he lays out some guidelines that can help govern us as we think about using original songs.
1. Make sure the church is being built up (1 Cor 14:3-4, 12, 26)
2. Make sure what’s going on is clear to the people in the room (1 Cor 14:7-11, 33)
3. Engage both the spirit and the mind (1 Cor 14:15)
4. Try to engage outsiders (1 Cor 14:16)
So, when choosing songs for any worship gathering, some of the questions going through a worship leader’s head should be:
1. Will these songs build up my church? (i.e. build them up into Jesus)
2. Will these songs be clear/singable/accessible?
3. Will these songs engage the minds and spirits of the people in the room?
4. Will outsiders find it too difficult to try to sing along with us?
These questions get us thinking pastorally about song selection. They guide us towards choosing songs that will serve our congregation. And they help us be objective about using our original songs. We can’t run away from these questions. We can’t run away from our responsibility to serve the people of God.
These questions point us towards balance and moderation.
– Using songs that have lasted for centuries (for a reason) and are known by Christians from all backgrounds and traditions, and even some non-Christians who may have heard them on random occasions
– Using songs from different sources, to ensure that we don’t only express things the same way, with the same wording, with the same kind of melodies and rhythms, but with a broadness and depth that using only one or two sources doesn’t get at.
– Using familiar songs that will build confidence and gain trust
– Using new songs that my church needs to learn so they can be built up even more
– Using too many original songs might make it hard for outsiders (from other churches, visitors, non-Christians) to sing along until they’ve been around for a while
– Using too many original songs might make Sunday mornings hard work for the average singer who finds lesser-known songs to require more energy to learn
– It’s harder to think objectively about whether a song is (1) the right fit, (2) melodically and lyrically excellent, and (3) singable, when you’re the one who wrote it.
– If your church is a part of the broader Body of Christ, one principle way you can demonstrate that is by singing songs written by its different members.
To be clear:
1. The Bible clearly encourages the singing and writing of new songs (and so we should).
2. Paul’s encouragement to the New Testament church was to sing all sorts of different songs (Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 5:19) (and so we should).
3. Paul advocates pursuing the Holy Spirit in our gatherings (and so we should).
4. Paul encourages the leaders of the gatherings to hold the building up of the body as the standard which governs what goes on during a gathering (and so we should).
5. Paul wants as many people engaged in what’s going on as possible (and so we should).
– Sing, sing, sing.
– Sing old songs, sing new songs, sing original songs.
– Sing songs that people can sing along to.
– Point to Jesus
Oh sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth!
Sing to the LORD, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
(Psalm 96:1-2 ESV)