The Gravity of Song Selection
Song selection is the most important part of the worship leader’s role. It is the driving mechanism behind either the Spiritual shepherding of the congregation’s souls through music or the furtherance of weak, poor, or destructive teachings seeping into the church through the extremely powerful medium: music.
by Ben Ditzel
Tom Grassi of Kindred Community Church in Anaheim Hills, California has put together ‘The 5 C’s of Song Selection’; a chart with which to measure each song before it makes it into either the week’s mix or even the church’s song library. Tom shared these points at the Hymns of Grace Conference in Santa Clarita in March 2023. I spoke with multiple leaders from around the country during the conference about song selection. Each leader I spoke with who had a system of song selection painted a picture similar to this chart and The Worship through Song table. If the song can fit through the 5 C’s without compromise, it should then proceed to the final grounds of, ‘Is this the best song (out of all those that has past these tests) for this place in this sermon?’ All of this is to be done in prayer, study of the lyrics sans the melody, study of the melody alone for sing-ability & congregational appropriateness, and preparation of materials to ensure all that is needed is, in fact, available. Let’s briefly review each point.
Content: The theology of the lyric; is it doctrinally sound?
Does it teach clear truths? Example: Does the song speak in ways that are doctrinally untrue?
The confusing phrase ‘Oh, and we are the hope on earth!’ is, at best, misleading. Does the song selection we are considering employ ambiguity or vague terminology such as,
‘Come sweep me up in Your love again
And my soul will dance
On the wings of forever’
‘Oh, it's love so undeniable
I, I can hardly speak
Peace so unexplainable
I, I can hardly think
As You call me deeper still
As You call me deeper still
As You call me deeper still into love, love, love…’?
Or does it impress clear grounded truths like,
‘When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end to all my sin!’?
Is the song strong in its conveyance of these truths? Example: Does it simply repeat Christian truths without detail that quickly lose their meaning through repetition such as: ‘You are good, You are good, and Your love endures’ or does it teach theologically rich descriptions such as ‘See the true and better Adam, Come to save the hell-bound man, Christ the great and sure fulfillment, Of the law; in Him we stand’?
Context: The accessibility of the song; does it work across generations?
This one can be tricky, especially when the church is very diverse in age or background. The key for the congregation to remember is the music is not about the people but rather is done solely to bring glory to God. We are unable to worship God on our own. Worship through song is a gift that God has given us and, only when we are given this gift, are we able to respond in song to Him. For the song selection process, it is important to attempt to bridge the gaps in style that invariably come – but never at the expense of truth and content. This is why methods such as livening up a traditional hymn with a new arrangement or lessening the complexity of contemporary choruses in newer songs can truly help bring the whole congregation together in meaningful and edifying worship through song.
Creativity: The style of the song; does it play to the strengths of the musicians and vocalists?
The arrangement matters. For instance, a church with a large choir would easily be able to sing all the parts of Handel’s Messiah and the congregation of that church could come in at whatever part of the choral melody they felt comfortable in. This would not work as well for a worship team that is 2-5 people in size and does not have a full orchestra or vocal range. Understanding, not only the capabilities, but the comfort zones of the entire team is key in selecting just the right song for the team and time of musical worship.
Another part of this revolves around the individual members of the team.
Leaders: Know your team members’ strengths and weaknesses and schedule them in accordance with their strengths. Don’t try to use the worship service itself to train them in something new.
Team members: Don’t use the worship service to platform your new skills or aspirations. Play or sing in the role where you can serve in an undistracting way.
Remember: If you & your talents are forgotten by the end of the day but the songs you played or sung are remembered, that is counted as successful in the grand scope of worship music ministry.
Collateral: The availability of the song’s resources; are there multiple sources and support products available?
There are several songs out there that are filled with rich truth and would be excellent for offering to the Lord corporately but are not on the list right now simply because the only release of the song has been done in a solo style which is often not suitable for congregational singing. Further, there are no audio examples of the song being sung in a church setting nor are there chord charts and other materials that are needed to be successful in the introduction of the song.
Correlation: The connections to the song; what are the fiduciary and publishing / church attachments to the song?
Fiduciary: Like it or not, CCLI is the construct under which the modern church finds itself. As such, we must consider what ministries and churches we are supporting when we sing certain songs. A percentage of our CCLI monetary dues go directly to the church, artist, or organization that produces and holds the ownership to the songs we sing. Therefore, if we sing a song (even with reasonable or non-heretical theology) from a source that teaches heresy, we are financially supporting a heretical ministry. This is a profoundly serious consideration, and it plays a distinct role in song selection, particularly in congregational settings but also in the songs you play at home with your paid streaming service or CD purchases.
Publishing / Church Attachments: Who is the ministry, artist, or group that produces a song? Are they affiliated with ministries or churches that teach false doctrine? Is the independent artist discerning or do they form alliances with false teachers & ministries? Does the song, artist, or the group it stems from teach or endorse ecumenism (a destructive poison to the believer, a corruption to Biblical understanding of the Gospel, and often a fatal blow to the churches it gains a foothold in)?
Many ask, ‘How could it be unwise to sing certain songs from questionable or unhealthy sources if those certain songs have no error in them?’ The brief answer is two-fold.
First, by singing a song that was originally penned by a ministry, artist, or group that is doctrinally deficient or teaches damaging theology, we open doors for trust to be placed in dangerous places. How? Leaders in the church are shepherds of the flock and are responsible for guiding them in the truth. (Matthew 18:6, Acts 20:28) By singing their music and therefore endorsing a group, church, or artist, we can give others a sense of security and safety in the other music and the teachings of those groups which are spreading false doctrines through books, music, messages, and other mediums. Remember, leaders keep watch over the souls of the church ‘as those who will give an account’ (Hebrews 13:17 LSB). This is nothing to take lightly.
Second, when we sing a song from a troublesome source, we are opening ourselves up to subliminal lies about our Savior. I don’t know many who pretend to be so strong in their theological understanding that they believe they could never fall victim to even a small untruth spoken briefly in song. It can be very challenging to analyze every aspect of every song. Attempting to do this from sources that are already known to be teaching heresy and are, often, intent on misleading the body of Christ is foolish and not indicative of a trustworthy shepherd. We are blessed, in the English-speaking world, to have multiple reliable sources from which we may find both old and new music. In recent years, several movements have arisen to provide us with refreshed and modern hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs so that there is no necessity for the Bible believing church to be pulling from movements that spread heresy, teach a false understanding of Christ, and even practice the occult.
All of these must be considerations and safeguards that songs are filtered through before being added into the library of a faithful church committed to the sanctification and edification of the congregation far over the desire to perform a favorite new or nostalgic tune.