The clear purpose of ‘worship music’ is to worship through the assistance of music. However, with all the different styles of ‘worship music’ and the millions of Christian songs that have become available to the church it is important to ask what is good and bad worship music?
Now, we could argue that the music we listen to isn’t important because we are instructed to worship in spirit and truth and we can do that to anything, but I believe the worship music you listen to plays an important role in your Christian walk.
Whether we think of it or not, the music we listen to teaches us. For example, when we want kids to learn the alphabet, we usually encourage them to learn the alphabet song simply because singing is an easy way to learn and remember content.
Marketers use the same tactic with catchy little songs they hope people will remember and even sing, so those same people are more likely to buy the product they are promoting. Don’t believe me… remember the Vegemite song, “Happy Little Vegemites”?
Who is being worshipped?
The biggest difference between good and bad worship music is… who is being worshipped? I’m not speaking here about the gods of other religions, but unfortunately, I ask this question in the context of Christian music.
Simply, who is the focus of the song? Who is being exalted? Who is the recipient of the song?
Sadly, it has become much too common for ‘worship songs’ to focus inward, not upward. By this I mean, the focus of the song is on you. Sure, there may be some reference to Christ or God, but if the words are more about ‘what God can do for you’ or even how devoted you are to God, the focus is no longer on the Lord and what He has done or who He is.
Of much more importance, the focus should be on the one and only Lord and Saviour; the creator of the heavens and earth and all that is in them; the all-knowing, all-wise, ever present, perfectly holy Triune God of the Bible.
When the words of a song exalt the Lord for what He has done and who He is, God becomes the pleased and blessed recipient of our words, and therefore, He is exalted and glorified as He rightly deserves.
For this reason, sometimes I will change the lyrics of a song as I’m singing from an impersonal reference of “God” to “you,” because it is to the Lord I am singing.
Therefore, a good worship song focuses our attention on God, bad worship songs focus our attention on ourselves.
What are the mechanics of a worship song?
I’m certainly not a musician and there are so many elements that make up a song, but it is important to think through the basic elements of a song and the purpose of them.
One important element that needs to be considered is the ability of non-musical people to participate. Some songs just shouldn’t be part of congregational worship because the notes are too high for people to reach, which means it either sounds like a chorus of cats fighting or people don’t feel welcome to sing. Such beautiful songs should be reserved for special features if a church wants to include these.
Another element to consider is the beat and the volume. Does the song provide a God-honouring atmosphere that aligns with the content of the lyrics and the purpose of worship, or is a greater priority placed on how loud the band is or how catchy the tune?
Put together, the lyrics and the tune provide a powerful combination, again that’s why songs are used so effectively in marketing and teaching. However, when singing a worship song, is the combination raising emotions within a person that primarily provides an emotional experience or is the combination filled with rich and deep theology that elevates God to His rightful place in our hearts and minds with our words?
As Jesus said in John chapter 4, verse 24, we are to worship in Spirit and truth and therefore it is necessary our worship includes theology, meaning that it declares and teaches the truth of God’s Word. Without theology there is no worship and without the right theology it is false worship.
Therefore, a good worship song includes elements that are best suited for an atmosphere that will provide us with the privilege to join with others to exalt God with words of truth from Scripture.
It is not my desire to target or name any songs, styles or singers I would not recommend, however, I would urge you to consider who and what the focus of the worship music is and what the lyrics are teaching you. I would also clarify that not all Christian music would categorize itself as ‘worship music’ and as such should not be used in a worship setting.
However, I would like to highlight some good examples of worship groups and would encourage you to listen to these and pay attention to the theology and the focus of their music. Please understand this is a general endorsement from what I’ve heard, not a complete agreement with all their songs. The first group comes from Sydney and is called CityAlight. I would also recommend Sovereign Grace and Keith and Kristyn Getty on a short list of good worship groups.
Let me end with the words from Psalm 34, verse 3, “O magnify the LORD with me, And let us exalt His name together.”
Genevieve Wilson is Canadian. a happily married home-schooling mum of 3, whose passion is to see people come to know Jesus. She is a seminary wife to her amazing husband.