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What Kinds of Songs Should the Church Sing?

One significant question that churches face today is what kinds of songs they should sing when they are gathered together for worship.

There are a wide range of opinions about this topic, and many of these opinions have just as much to do with personal preferences as they do with biblical convictions.

For our church, the most important consideration is whether the lyrics are biblically faithful and theologically substantive. This is because we believe that true joy is rooted in God and the wondrous grace God has shown toward us.

All too often, many Christians confuse joy with emotional euphoria. This euphoria can, to a large degree, be manufactured through the various elements of a concert-like atmosphere that are found in many churches today.

However, perhaps it’s worth considering that a similar sense of emotional euphoria is experienced in secular concerts that have nothing to do with Jesus. These concerts might even have elements that explicitly undermine Christian teaching. Shouldn’t this make us hesitant about identifying this euphoria as the joy that should be a part of Christian worship?

In reality, true joy is something much deeper than the fleeting emotions that many Christians seek to “whip up” or manufacture through various human methods. Stage lights and fog machines can’t produce the rich joy that God intends for his people.

Instead, this joy requires a right understanding of biblical truths and grows out of being reminded of those truths in a powerful way.

We can see this modeled in various psalms:

  • “I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me” (Psalm 13:6).
  • “For this I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations, and sing to your name. Great salvation he brings to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his offspring forever” (Psalm 18:49-50).
  • “But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress” (Psalm 59:16).
  • “I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 89:1).

Notice that, in all of these instances, the joyful worship of the psalmists doesn’t arise out of a theological vacuum but rather is a response to specific truths about who God is and what he’s done.

Worship is similar to fire, and fire needs fuel in order to burn. Without substantive biblical truth, there is no fuel for the fire of worship.

Therefore, our church’s main concern as we select the songs we’ll sing in our worship gatherings is the degree to which those songs contain substantive biblical truths about God. That’s what fuels our joy in the Lord and the natural expression of that joy in worship!

Stated another way, biblical joy rises up within us only as we comprehend substantive biblical truths. This joy then manifests itself in genuine worship. This means that we can only worship God with joy to the extent that we’ve been reminded of who he is and what he’s done.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the only thing we care about is the theological richness of a song’s lyrics. There are several other factors that are important to consider, such as whether a song is:

  • Understandable—We want to make sure a song’s lyrics are clear and understandable. If a song is too dense or contains to much outdated language to be understood by a significant portion of the congregation, it is best to forego singing it. In order to have edifying value, the lyrics of a song have to be readily understandable.
  • Accessible—There are some songs that have amazing lyrics but are difficult for the average person to learn and/or sing. This hinders them from participating in worship. Such songs might be very suitable for a time of personal worship but are probably not the best choices for worship gatherings.
  • Memorable—The best songs are ones that we easily remember and that stick in our minds so that we find ourselves singing them at various points throughout the week. This multiplies the edifying effect of a song exponentially.

However, even these practical considerations ultimately come back to the idea of people encountering substantive biblical truths in a powerful way.

God desires that his people worship him with genuine joy that’s fueled by the wonderous truths he’s revealed in Scripture. We should select songs that inspire such worship.