a. The priority of words over music

Music in church must serve the proclamation and application of Scriptural truth.  It is not simply for entertainment or to create a mood.  Just before Paul talks about addressing one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs in Ephesians 5:19, he says, ‘Do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is’ (v. 17).  Earlier in the same letter, he writes of the renewal of the mind that should be taking place in the lives of Christians (4:23).  Everything that happens when we gather together should contribute to that process (cf. Rom. 12:2).  What we sing must be consistent with God’s word and reflect its teaching.  But the music matters too.

If hymn tunes are not well chosen, or if the musical accompaniment is inappropriate, the process of edification may be hindered.  Members of the congregation may be so confused or annoyed by the music that they cannot participate meaningfully in the singing.  Those responsible for choosing the music must have regard for the sense and intention of the words.  They must also take account of the musical tastes, experience and skill of the congregation in view.  Questions such as these must be asked: ‘Is this tune pitched too high at certain points?’, ‘Are the intervals in the melody line too difficult?’ or ‘Does the rhythm vary in a way that unskilled people will not easily follow?’.

b. Balancing the old and the new

The aim in any congregation should be to develop a musical tradition that is appropriate to the group concerned.  Of course, many churches have very different congregations meeting at different times in the same building.  Each will have particular musical preferences and needs.

However, there are two dangers to be avoided here.  Firstly, we can develop only a narrow musical  tradition, not encouraging people in a particular congregation to broaden their musical horizons.  Secondly, we can also become faddists, accepting any current popular musical movement as the ultimate answer.

If we become the victims of any particular musical trend we will soon be out of date.  If we simply respond to the latest fads we will provide people with nothing of permanent value and contribute to the spread of secularism, with its insistence that only ‘now’ matters.  In particular, contemporary Christians need to be put in touch with the contributions and insights of former generations of believers.  There is a rich treasury of hymns from across the centuries that can minister to our needs today and provide what is lacking in modern songs or choruses.  Of course, the reverse is also true: some modern music expresses biblical truth that is hardly emphasized in older material.

c. Using songs wisely

Good Christian songs can function in three ways:  God may address us as we sing about the gospel and its implications; we may address one another as we sing about the comforts and challenges of the gospel; and we may respond to God with repentance, faith, or praise.  Some songs are more obviously directed to God and others to one another, but both types can function to remind us of gospel truths, while enabling us to respond to God.

Those who plan church services must consider carefully the function of songs at particular stages in the meeting.  Ask yourself these questions:

· Does a song teach us about the purpose of our gathering and form an introduction to the meeting?

· Is a song meant to teach us something about God and have a creedal function in the service?

· Should it be a response to the Bible readings or sermon or should it come beforehand as a challenge to listen carefully?

· Is it an invitation to prayer, an expression of repentance, or a song of thanksgiving?

Don’t resort to the ‘hymn sandwich’, using a song merely as a filling between two other items in the service!  Songs should make a significant contribution to the content and flow of a service.

d. Copyright

Permission to reproduce copyright hymns must always be obtained from the copyright owner, from the person or body administering the copyright, or through a copyright licence scheme such as Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI).

We are grateful for the permission granted by Emu Music to reproduce their song lyrics on this website.  For online purchases of songs and sheet music, please see Emu Music.  Churches must have a current CCLI licence to reproduce these lyrics in service sheets, overheards and via a data projector.