As a person who every once in a while gets to ponder and plan the music for a worship gathering, and as a musician with a broad appreciation for differing music genres, I’ve started a running list of the attributes I try to include in the songs of any worship set. It is by no means hard and fast, and it certainly is not exhaustive. But, I feel with the addition of each of these kinds of songs to a worship gathering, the spiritual richness goes deeper.
STORY – These are the songs that set the stage for the story of God in scripture and in our lives. They are the hymns that teach us about who God is and what he has done. They are the modern recollections of what we have experienced and how God showed up for us. These story songs are those that remind us of who we are and whose we are.
REPETITION – If the story song unfolds God’s cosmic drama, the repetition song helps us reflect on that drama in our own lives. I did not always appreciate singing a short, simple song over and over again…until I realized that much like an ancient chant, a song of repetition can become a musical meditation. Not having to worry about the words or notes in the next line of a new verse, allows me to stay in the place of one truth long enough for it to penetrate my soul.
POETRY – A song that paints a word picture of God’s goodness, or offers a metaphor of Christ’s power over sin, or that flows with a beautiful rhythm and rhyme is the song that adds insight to our spiritual understanding. It’s that song that helps us recognize a truth that has always been there; just undiscovered. A poetry song is the one I want to stop and read aloud without the music, just so everyone in the room can be nourished by the words.
PRAYER – Sometimes the words from our heart to God’s just flow better when we sing them. A prayer song can help us confess a struggle, lead us to commitment, give us the words of gratitude that we can’t find or encourage us to ask God for his help. In the lyrics of a prayer song, we just might find that the songwriter was expressing exactly what we feel and need to say at just that moment.
FUSION – Since I have roots in both classical and modern music genres, I love to see the old fused with the new. We can take an old hymn like How Great Thou Art and weave a few of it’s verses into Chris Tomlin’s How Great is Our God, or, use a Gregorian Chant during communion and then cut loose with an electric guitar for the celebration song after communion. My favorite worship song practice these days is when a powerful hymn gets a fresh arrangement with a band and then a simple, modern chorus is added to the old, strong words. Such a simple idea, but it connects the lives of people following Christ across many centuries.
The diversity these kinds of worship songs sustains and invigorates our connection to believers past and present, near and far. It seems to me that the deeper we go to connect with God and those who are sharing the faith journey with us, that the more beautiful is the sound of this music to our Father’s ears.