Right worship in light of Scripture is something that should concern every Christian – whether it be corporate, private, or familial. There are many aspects to public gatherings of “worship,” including the preaching and reading of Scripture, administration of sacraments, prayer, thanksgiving, etc. Musical worship is arguably one of the most important elements in contemporary evangelicalism but also one of the most confusing or misunderstood (myself included). I’m still working through many issues, but the general [disturbing] trend in evangelicalism seems to be moving increasingly toward an over-emotionalizing of worship, theologically shoddy and even radically individualistic lyrics, and even extra- or un-biblical principles.
It’s disturbing because the purpose of music in a corporate worship setting is so much more than merely engaging people or making people feel good. Rather, it is (among other reasons) a fellowship of believers gathering in the the presence of the Holy Triune Creator of the universe. Singing is a means of giving praise to and focusing on God (not the worshiper) and of teaching each other through song, “admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). It is through ascribing to the Lord the glory due His name (Psalm 96) that our hearts are then engaged , not the other way around. True worship must start with God, and what flows from that is teaching, encouraging, and admonishing others.
While I may prefer older psalms and hymns, I’m not a stringent “old songs only” person, and recognize that there are many solid “contemporary” songs and hymns. RUF hymns, Stuart Townsend, and Keith Getty come to mind. I definitely recognize that there are also some bad hymns out there, too. I a mere advocate of a careful, thoughtful, biblical approach to corporate worship as manifested in singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
As such, I found a couple helpful/interesting links. The first two are similar and somewhat tongue in cheek, but still bring up some important issues.
Top 10 Ways to Write Bad Worship Songs [ht: challies]. These are applicable to a greater audience than just worship song writers, including worship leaders and the church at large. I liked 6, 7, and 10, in addition to many of the comments. Remember these are ways to write bad worship songs.
6. Make sure the majority of your songs talk about what we do and feel rather than who God is and what he’s done. Why clutter up our songs with clear, specific, and compelling descriptions of God’s character and works? Why not just emote and talk about how passionate we are? Because an emotional fire that has no doctrinal fuel dies about pretty quickly or ends up trying to feed on itself.
7. Try to use as many Scriptural phrases as you can, and don’t worry about how they fit together...It sounds biblical, but no one quite understands what you’re saying. [This, combined with a lack of contextual concern in many new Scripture-based songs is a pet peeve of mine.]
10. Forget about Jesus and what he accomplished at the cross. Make it sound like we don’t need a mediator (1 Tim 2:5), like we can gain access into God’s presence on our own (Eph. 2:18, Heb. 10:9-22), and like our worship is acceptable just because we’re the ones offering it (1 Pet. 2:5). While every song doesn’t have to mention why the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ is so important, it should always be in our thoughts while we’re writing [or singing].
4. Say something in the lyrics that others have said many times before and better. Borrow lyric ideas…Reading through hymnals and chorus books will help you cull/steal ideas from other writers that you can dull down and repeat mindlessly.
7. Don’t just say one thing in a song…Wander from idea to idea. Start by singing about your past sinful life, then move to how wonderful nature is, then sing about the people of God, and end up at the second coming. If you can make it all sound like it could be either a) a worship song or b) a love song, even better.
9. Talk TO God sometimes and ABOUT God at other times. If you can squeeze them both into the same line, especially in the chorus, all the more mediocre.
The Service of Worship. Ligonier article that stresses the importance of having music/worship leaders who are devoted to the study of Scripture, theologically responsible, and have a mature understanding of the biblical model of worship. With these qualifications in mind, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t feel comfortable as a worship leader.
“Though not all church musicians have the benefit of formal seminary training, all must be serious students of the Word and prayer. This task, of course, is not limited to the church musician. Every believer is a part of the church’s music ministry, for the congregation is the church’s most important choir, members of the royal priesthood of all believers, redeemed and equipped by Christ to enter God’s courts to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).”
Another resource that I might be able to recommend in a bit is John Frame’s Worship in Spirit and Truth. I’m about halfway through it right now. Michael Horton’s (et al) frequent comments on worship in light of the gospel on the White Horse Inn and in Modern Reformation magazine are also helpful. Further, my dad’s sermon from 1998 on “Principles of Biblical Worship” (from his series that year on the second commandment) is also very helpful – E and I listened to it Sunday afternoon. I can make copies if you want!