As a worship leader, there are a LOT of songs to choose from in the entire canon of music in Christendom. Here is a list of 10 THINGS I look at when deciding what to lead a congregation with. Good congregational songs will be:
1. Doctrinally Correct - Obviously we don't want to teach error or confuse the congregation.
2. God-centric - So many songs speak about me and my perspective. That's fine for a testimony "special" but when you do me-centered songs, you immediately alienate half of your congregation who aren't coming from that "place". However, everyone can equally sing about the character, attributes, and works of God.
3. Theologically “nutritious” - There are a lot of "empty Calorie" songs that aren't heretical, but say relatively little. Not all songs need to be a theology class and sometimes we need to express our love for God in simple terms of praise, but each song needs to enhance the message in the flow of a program.
4. Singable/Melodic - some songs are fun to listen to on the radio and sing along in the car or in a concert, but in a worship service, you have many different people from different backgrounds. Songs must be easy to learn. My simple test, is the melody should be recognizable when the tune is sung acapella.
5. Varying - Any one style or rhythm can be like Chinese water torture if that is all you sing. Variety opens up a greater pool of songs and keeps the listener's ears and minds fresh.
6. Playable - know your band. Some bands can play very complex music, some can only handle very simple arrangements.
7. Lasting - Choose songs you carry with you through life. Most top 40 Christian songs are written to have a lifespan of about a year...until the next album comes out. Songs that are timeless will help span generational gaps in your church and will be with you to draw upon when you go through life's ups and downs.
8. Contain both Praise and Lament - 2 Tim 3:16-17 tells us what scripture is good for and it's not all just positive teaching, but there is correction and reproof as well. As a congregation, there is a need for praise, but there is also a need for repentance. Some songs can be used to make this real in the hearts of our people.
9. Emotional - WAY too much music today is written to bring out emotion for emotion's sake. Emotion is ok. God made us emotional creatures and music can move us emotionally, but our emotions should stem from our thinking, not the other way around.
10. Part of what is going on with the sermon - The main worship leader of the church is the Senior pastor. Make your music enhances the message as both should be centered on the Word.
Remember, our music gives our people a vocabulary for their faith.
Bill Itzel has been a worship leader and singer/songwriter for 26 years based in Westminster, MD. This is a blog about congregational worship and the latest news in the The Itzel's ministry.