Worship Leader Make-Over: Choosing New Songs Wisely

There was a time, not to long ago, when choosing a new song for corporate worship wasn’t that difficult.  There weren’t that many out there to choose from!  Christian Radio wasn’t much help.  If you walked into a Christian bookstore, you would find an 8′ x 4′ section dedicated to contemporary music.   You heard that new song at a friends church or a conference, and that was it.    Then, in the 80’s, Hosanna Integrity and the Vineyard began producing bi-monthly worship tapes.  They were very succesful and their success  helped catapult the fledgling contemporary christian music scene into what it has now become.

Finding new songs to choose from is no longer difficult.    They are everywhere.  Finding great new songs is a more tedious task.  If you are responsible for leading the corporate singing time of your congregation, you are well aware of this challenge.  So how do you go about choosing new songs for the congregation?  What process do you use to help weed out the mediocre or poorly written songs, or do you have a process?  What criteria should you use?

Allow me to share the number one thing I do to help me in this process.  Over the years it has helped me more than anything else I could share.  It is simply this:

Read the lyrics before you listen to the song

What?  

Really, just read the lyrics before you listen to the song.   We are musical creatures.   It seems to me  that a catchy progression often disguises a poorly written lyric.   We hear the music and think it is a great song.  Yet, we don’t pay attention to the words themselves.  Think of some of the secular songs you like.  Do you know the lyrics to these songs?  Probably not many of them.  How many of those songs do not make sense lyrically, yet are tremendously popular?  Lot’s of them! We like the music, and don’t often care about the words in secular songs.   But in a worship song, what we sing is the most important part of the song.  The words are what we sing to the Lord.   If they are in-coherent, don’t make sense,  are obscure, contain truth statements that are false, or any number of other things, they are not a great choice for corporate worship.   By reading the lyrics to the song before you hear it, you will not be influenced by its great music.

Now someone might object and say that a song could have great lyrics and poor music.  They would be right.  A great song will have both.  So reading the lyrics is the first part of the process.  The songs that pass that test, will get a hearing.  Those that don’t, won’t.   Sometimes the music is fine, it is just not a great arrangement for your congregation.  Often you can tweak the music to make it a better song.  But it is difficult to change the lyrics.

I will never forget the time I introduced a song that had OK lyrics and a great groove.  In hindsight, what I liked about the song was that it did have a great groove!  I totally loved how my guitar sounded on the song. (I publicly admit this and confess that this is not a good reason to choose a song!)    Musically it was very catchy.  I don’t remember what it was called, but the chorus went something like this:  “I am falling, I am falling in Love, I am falling in love with you.”  The reason I recall this, is because there were two kids in the youth group who were dating each other.  As they were singing the song, I could see clearly, they were singing it too each other, not the Lord.   I realized then, that who “I was falling in love with” was not stated.  Of course, Jesus was implied.  But it wasn’t stated.  Was it a bad song for corporate worship?  I don’t think it was a good one.  We cut it that week.

If you read the lyrics without listening to the music and they compel you to worship, it is likely you found a good song for corporate worship.  If the opposite happens, you probably don’t want to add the song to next months new song list.   Try it, and let me know how it works for you.

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About Jim

Not For Itching Ears is a blog dedicated to discussing the American Evangelical church. It is a place for people to share their thoughts on a host of issues relating to this subject. Jim is available to speak at weekend services, and retreats at no cost to churches in Florida. Contact us for more information.

Posted on March 12, 2011, in Christianity, Worship and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. … nothing to add, spot on, Jim!

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  2. Well put.
    Some of the songs out there when broken down to just lyrics do not worship Jesus at all. They are all about “me” or “I”.
    However ones in which we state a position or belief are good too, they edify – if we don’t believe what we sing, we shouldn’t sing.
    An example of that is “I believe in Jesus, I believe He is the Son of God, I believe He died again, I believe He rose for us all …”
    To sing, “I surrender all”, but have no real intention of doing that, is downright wrong.

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  3. I am new to this blogpost ,but I believe a thorough reading of the Psalms, which were mostly songs, have a lot of me and i references to them as well. Just sayin’. Read the psalms and then imagine the criticisms you would give them if they were sung.

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