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What factors are important in “Church” music?

July 6, 2011

How do you do church music?

Kevin DeYoung points out 10 principles for church songs.  Part 1 is here.  Part 2 is here.  He goes into a greater extent of detail, but this is his list.  I’m sure they would be more if 10 wasn’t a wonderfully, round number.

  1. Love is indispensable to church singing that pleases God.
  2. Our singing is for God’s glory and the edification of the body of Christ.
  3. We ought to sing to the Lord new songs.
  4. Church singing should swim in its own history of church singing.
  5. Sing the Psalms.
  6. We should strive for excellence in the musicality and the poetry of the songs we sing.
  7. The main sound to be heard in the worship music is the sound of the congregation singing.
  8. The congregation should also be stretched from time to time to learn new songs and broaden its musical horizons.
  9. The texts of our songs should be matched with fitting musicality and instrumentation.
  10. All of our songs should employ manifestly biblical lyrics.

For the most part, would you agree with these 10?  What else would be added?  I know we can hash this out a little further.  And what ten would go in order of importance?  Church and music…never an easy balance…

  1. #2 – why we do what we do – is certainly the most important.

    Second only to that, though, is #10, for if the song does not have manifestly Biblical lyrics, then –

    – it doesn’t matter if we’re singing it with love
    – it doesn’t matter how if it’s new
    – it doesn’t matter if it’s old
    – it certainly isn’t a psalm
    – it doesn’t matter if it is musically excellent
    – it doesn’t matter whether the congregation or someone else is vocally dominant
    – it doesn’t matter if it’s stuck-in-a-rut or a broader horizon musically
    – and it doesn’t matter if has a tune and instrumentation that fits well.

    So those are, I think, easily the most important two.

    • I absolutely believe that #2 & #10 are essentially connected, and the most important…and in doing those two, #1 comes alive all the more.

  2. Those are all great. I can’t really think of anything to add actually.

    Of course I believe Christians can listen to music that may not have “manifestly biblical lyrics” (however that’s defined, and I think that phrase can potentially lead to rigid thinking when applied woodenly), but when it comes to music specifically designed for the church to sing, it must be clear and direct. No gray areas.

  3. southern brit permalink

    To perhaps expand on parts of #7 and # 8…when I think about congregational singing, this is one thing that always comes to my mind. I believe that people in the congregation, including myself, should really listen to the words we are singing, let them soak in, and believe what we are singing. I’m not saying every person should feel the same thing from every song. But how many times have you looked around the congregation, and people are just singing along, without even a hint of a smile, like they can’t wait for the next 2.5 minutes to be over. I know I’ve been guilty of it from time to time. We all are…but I’m referring to those that have made this the norm, week after week, service after service, and not the exception. Many times, folks just stand up and sing because, well, that’s what we do at church on Sunday morning. We just read the words from the screen or the book, and when the song is over, sit down and wait for the preacher to start. We don’t take the words to heart, therefore not fully giving God the glory he deserves. Just going through the motions. If you’re going to stand up and sing God’s praises, mean it! Know what you’re singing and sing it with everything you’ve got!

    For example…at my church, we recently began singing a song based on Psalm 3. The congregation barely responded the first several times we sang it. I seriously think It went right by them. Hello! Have you read Psalm 3?? “You, oh Lord, are a shield for me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.” Who can’t say Amen to that!? One of my favorites.

    Well, one Sunday morning, one of our more expressive church members, who apparently shares the same fondness for this verse as I do, took a few minutes to read the lyrics of the song to the congregation. The response was that of “amens” and “hallelujahs”, tears and exclamations of joy and thankfulness. Why the sudden change in their response? It’s the same words, in the same order. But this time, we actually HEARD them.

    I just think that many times we get lost in the music and the motions, and forget to listen to the message of the song we’re singing.

    • Thank you for that thoughtful and personal comment. It’s amazing to think upon the things we don’t hear, simply because we don’t listen.

  4. Regarding “singing a new song,” Kevin said in the original post, “What if the Church stopped a generation ago? No one would be singing ‘In Christ Alone’ this Sunday. What a pity.”

    Let me say right now that I greatly appreciate what Stuart Townend and the Gettys are doing, and they’re injecting some much-needed quality into the sea of mediocrity that is modern worship music. However, I do think it’s important to keep a little bit of perspective. Fact: They are not Charles Wesley or Isaac Watts. I saw a “Who’s your favorite hymn-writer” poll today, and lots of people were choosing Townend/the Gettys over Wesley, Watts, Crosby, etc. They’re gifted writers, but not strictly speaking “hymn-writers.” They themselves said in an interview that they don’t technically write “hymns,” though they are striving for a hymn-like feel. Regarding “In Christ Alone,” it’s a good song, but you can tell at a glance that it was written in the 20th/21st century. Stuart Townend wrote the lyric very quickly/excitedly, and it shows in the rhyme scheme/grammar. Plus, the melody doesn’t move around a lot and repeats itself a good deal. Am I saying it’s a bad song? By no means. I’ve performed it myself. It’s definitely one of the better modern anthems to come out of the church. But “When I Survey” it ain’t. There are better songs even within the Gettys’ own catalogue, even though they aren’t as well known.

    So yes, sing to the Lord a new song. But don’t expect it to blow the old song out of the water either.

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