Last year, in a group I’m part of, a number of worship leaders engaged in a heated but meaningful debate over whether in choosing congregational music, the issue of theology is relevant. This debate was sparked off by an article by Corrie Mitchell titled let’s stop singing these ten worship songs. The overall premise of the article is that worship leaders should be intentional about the choice of their congregational music, theologically speaking. While I did not agree entirely with the article, it got me reflecting on the why of worship. Music in church is not a filler, its purpose is to move believers and the church in general, from one point of growth to another. So in that regard, I agree with Corrie Mitchell.
Here are two reasons why I think a solid theology is important for all worship leaders.
- Music as a means of the gospel
Congregational music should be a conduit for the gospel of grace; a means through which God can bring healing, deliverance and salvation, ultimately leading to growth. Individuals come into church with all manner of issues. Our father God desires to address these issues in order to set us free. As those entrusted with the task of using song to present the gospel, it is important to understand why we believe what we believe, this conviction being the undergirding theme of our music message. The Apostle Paul gives his protégé Timothy sobering counsel: Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers (1st Timothy 4:16). As worship leaders, we have a mandate to remain faithful to scripture as this is the primary means through which God matures His servants (2nd Timothy 3:16-17). What I believe affects the songs I will choose for a worship service. I should therefore be acutely aware of my own theology and how it is affecting my choice of song. Secondly, I cannot expect the congregation to grow in a true knowledge of God, if the music I choose for the service has no basis in scripture. Therefore, it may be prudent of me to choose songs depending on the maturity of the congregation and the growth needs. For example, if I sense in my heart that the congregation is struggling with a certain issue, say sin-consciousness, I may choose songs that articulate and focus on the redemptive work of the cross, such that the congregation grows in their understanding of the free gift of righteousness. Ultimately then, our singing should result in Christian’s growing in their knowledge and love of God, for we cannot worship a God we mistrust and do not know.
- God speaks to us
God desires to speak to His children in times of prayer and worship. When singing to God, we need to be aware that as we offer up our hearts to Him, He longs to interact and engage with us. We therefore need to be open to Him as He responds to us in those times of waiting. In these moments of worship, we must be careful to weigh up or test against scripture, any thought that comes into our minds. The reason being that in hearing God, we are human and thus susceptible to our own lens of culture, background, judgements, experiences and temperaments. This means that we may sometimes relay a message from God inaccurately based on these influences. In addition, if I believe incorrectly about a matter, I am at risk of transmitting a broken image of who God is to other believer’s. Having a solid theological foundation concerning the heart and nature of our Father God means that I convey His heart rightly to His children during times of prayer and worship. It is therefore imperative for me to humble myself before God and my leaders as I sharpen my own theology.
As a songwriter and worship leader, God has challenged me to be more intentional about the words I write and sing because they have the power to bring life into hopeless situations (Proverbs 18:21). I can only sing what I believe, meaning that I must examine my core beliefs and theology to be an effective tool in the hands of God. I pray that every worship leader who reads this will begin to seek God about how He can use them to bring their congregation into greater levels of maturity. One beautiful portion of scripture speaks to this. Note, I have paraphrased it for emphasis. Ephesians 4:11-13:
“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, and worship leaders, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (addition mine).
A good way to ascertain what your church believes is to study your church’s songs. Begin to be intentional about your congregational music. If you could critically and honestly analyze the songs you did for corporate worship, what would your verdict be about your theology?