A leader in music and worship must have an extensive grid by which he or she sifts the songs that they will introduce to their congregation. Just as a mature chef must know and understand the ingredients in a particular recipe before serving, or a builder must know the structural integrity of every element that will build the mighty structure, so too must the worship leader have a clear understanding of the structural element of the songs that they will use to lead their people in worship. So what elements are important when choosing music for corporate worship? Let’s look at 3 questions you should ask yourself before leading a song in worship and for example, we’ll use the newer song “King of Kings” by Hillsong for an example.
1. Is the lyrical content of this song 100% theologically correct?
People have learned spiritual and historic truths through musical melodies for thousands of years. We, as worship leaders, have the divine responsibility and weight to make sure our people are learning truth from the songs we sing. There are times, many times in fact, that I have chosen not to do a song because a particular lyric was questionable. God help us when we choose a song that actually hinders the body from fully understanding true doctrine. This is a big deal to Almighty God. Jesus says in Mark 9:42, “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.” Whoa! This is no small matter to the Lord.
Now, to all my songwriters out there, there is a difference between artistic license and falling short on biblical principles or fact. For instance, in “King of Kings,” let’s look at the first verse:
In the darkness we were waiting
Without hope without light
Till from heaven You came running
There was mercy in Your eyes
To fulfill the law and prophets
To a virgin came the Word
From a throne of endless glory
To a cradle in the dirt
Take a look at that third line, “till from heaven you came running”… Are we actually saying Jesus literally threw on his tennis-sandals and started running towards us? (I can’t help but have a Forest Gump visual in my mind here!) Of course not. We are declaring that Jesus came with urgency and with a passion to save and redeem us.
As I look through the rest of this lyric, there’s such power in singing the gospel story.
To reveal the kingdom coming
And to reconcile the lost
To redeem the whole creation
You did not despise the cross
For even in Your suffering
You saw to the other side
Knowing this was our salvation
Jesus for our sake You died
And the morning that You rose
All of heaven held its breath
Till that stone was moved for good
For the Lamb had conquered death
And the dead rose from their tombs
And the angels stood in awe
For the souls of all who’d come
To the Father are restored
And the Church of Christ was born
Then the Spirit lit the flame
Now this gospel truth of old
Shall not kneel shall not faint
By His blood and in His Name
In His freedom I am free
For the love of Jesus Christ
Who has resurrected me
When’s the last time you sang “and the dead rose from their tombs” in a worship song? But it happened! Matthew 27:52 says “the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.”
We must keep in mind what spiritual and biblical truths we are teaching our people through each song. So, as you choose songs, remember, a song that is 99% truth, is 100% wrong to sing in your congregation.
2. Are the melodies corporately accessible?
When we think about the melody of a certain song, we must also consider whether it is “musically” right for our particular congregation… and I just stop right there for a minute and say, just because a song might be “musically” right in this area for one culture, it might NOT be musically accessible for another…and that’s ok! You might have a medium age that’s much higher or lower than other churches, or you may have a culture used to singing a certain style, or ethnic diversity certainly plays in this as well, along with other factors. The goal here is it needs to be sing-able for the masses.
Now let’s look at King of Kings: of all 3 of my questions, this is the one where this particular might come up short in some churches. Although the chorus is extremely simple (except for that major 7th leap in “majesty” which is pretty easy for people once they hear it and serves as one of the musical “hooks” of song), the verses are a bit “wordy” with some difficult rhythms. It has taken a bit longer for my congregation to get these verses but because the lyrical content is so strong, I knew it was worth the investment. However, if the chorus was not so simple, and helped anchor the song, I probably would not have taught this modern hymn to my congregation.
I had an elderly gentleman come up to me one time and tell me that although he loves the new music that we’re singing, there was one particular song that was just too fast for him and he just couldn’t keep up. He wanted me to know, not out of a heart of frustration, but that I wouldn’t see him being silent and think there was something spiritual going on, but rather, it was simply a physical limitation. I’ll never forget that day because the Lord reminded me that I need to not only be about engaging people’s spiritual hearts but also their physical mouths.
3. Is the music moving and memorable?
Here’s a bit of a tricky one at times. Sometimes, when you ask 10 people about what type of music is moving to them, you’ll get about 11 or 12 difference answers. Therefore, this is where you as the leader have to seek the Lord in spirit and have a sense of what moves the masses. Yes, there will always be people who refuse to be moved by music that are not in their narrow taste of genre, but for the most part, people are moved to something together and we must artistically take their spirit, and yes, even emotions to this place.
There have been times when a song doesn’t necessarily move me personally, but then I see the same song completely connect to a group of worshippers. It’s in these times I have 2 choices… I can throw it away as nothing, or see it as an opportunity to analyze. I have found that in these circumstances, I come away as a better Pastor, songwriter, and “connector of people” when I dig deep and seek to understand beyond my personal preferences. If you only lead the songs that personally move you, I challenge you to think bigger and deeper.
The music we sing needs to also be memorable. Studies are showing that people in America are attending church less and less frequently. We don’t have the luxury of learning a song over a long period of time.
Each song slot in your set is valuable space and time that you must spend it wisely. Just like the songwriter in me, I want people to be “humming” or singing my tune after the first listen through, and the songs in our worship set need to have this same ability.
In King of Kings, the music is extremely moving as it partners with the lyrics to drive and create “anticipation” that resolve in the pinnacle moments of the song. I was also singing the chorus after the first time I heard it.
Praise the Father
Praise the Son
Praise the Spirit three in one
God of glory, Majesty
Praise forever to the King of Kings
God gave our minds the ability to remember a song so we can meditate on the truth of the song. Oh yes, there are many secular songs that I could sing word-for-word but unfortunately, those songs are not helping my inner man connect with the Lord. But then there are songs, new and old, that connect my spirit with the truth of who God is and all of what He has done. Those songs can be transformational to the church.
King of Kings
Words and Music by Jason Ingram, Brooke Ligertwood & Scott Ligertwood
© 2019 Hillsong Music Publishing CCLI: 7127647