I’ve at times received well-intentioned
“suggestions” from folks who’ve enjoyed one song or another while visiting other churches (perhaps on vacation). While occasionally these are nice songs, I’ve often felt that many of the songs simply lack Biblical substance but are musically very catchy…How might you respond to members of a congregation (particularly small churches) who enthusiastically ask for you to play songs that you otherwise feel lacking in substance, or are perhaps even overly man-centered and poorly written?
If you think God cares about what we sing in the church, then you’ll eventually face this problem.
First, check your heart. I know this can sound redundant, but I have too much indwelling sin still hanging around to bypass a heart-check. I’m not the ultimate authority on worship songs, and shouldn’t view myself as the “pontiff of praise,” as one of my friends mockingly referred to me at a conference. I’ve often assumed that someone suggesting a song means they’re unsatisfied with the songs we’ve been doing. That’s sinful judgment. Whatever my response, I want to speak graciously, humbly, and clearly.
Second, thank them for taking the time to suggest a song to sing. It’s great when people in the congregation actually care enough to offer an opinion. They’ve apparently encountered God in some way while singing a song, and they want others to have the same opportunity.
Third, ask the person what they liked about the song. It may be that a particular line addressed a specific situation they’re going through. The song might have have given them words to express what was in their heart. It’s possible that they were unaware of a problematic line or a general lack of content. They also might have just enjoyed the sound of the band or the catchiness of the melody. We don’t know unless we ask.
If I haven’t heard the song, I’d get a copy and listen to it, and tell them I’d get back to them. It might be good to get some other opinions as well. Once I know the song, I’d commend what I can about it. Then I’d attempt to explain why I don’t think it would be a good choice for us (unless my thoughts had changed). I try not to say these kinds of things hesitantly or apologetically. I want to focus on goals we agree on. We both want to see God glorified, Jesus Christ exalted, and God’s people affected with his splendor and majesty. If I don’t think a particular song does that well, I need to explain why. I don’t want to simply dismiss a song because “I don’t like it.” There have been numerous songs I don’t particularly like that God has used to minister to people. However, just because a song is popular doesn’t mean it’s good or the best song for us to use (more thoughts on this).
Let me give you a real-life example, using the song Above All, by Paul Baloche and Lenny LeBlanc. Great song overall, but when asked to do it, I’ve said:
There are a number of things about this song I really like. The melody is enjoyable to sing and easy to remember. It does a great job emphasizing God’s sovereign rule over all, and focusing on the sacrifice of Christ. The poetic images are engaging and the harmonic progression is creative. But two parts bother me, both near the end of the song. The first is the line “you took the fall.” It seems like an understated way of describing what Jesus did. Not wrong, but not the best. The other problem is the line, “and thought of me above all.” I have no question that Jesus loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20). But he didn’t think of me “above all.” Jesus went to the cross to satisfy God’s righteous judgment against a sinful humanity. He thought of his Father’s holiness, justice, and glory above all. It may seem like a theological nuance, but it’s the difference between our faith being man-centered and God-centered. I don’t think that’s what the writers intended, but I think it could cause some confusion in people’s minds. Besides, I think we have other songs that better articulate Jesus died for because he loved us and for his Father’s glory. But, thanks for suggesting it, and please let me know if you have any other thoughts!
My point in using Above All isn’t to persuade you of my viewpoint, but to give you an idea of how I might think through this issue. Other elements that might cause me to shy away from using a song include choruses that don’t say much but are sung repeatedly, lack of clarity, lack of originality in music or lyric (the church shouldn’t have to sing dull songs), or content that seems scattered. At times, I’ve changed my mind on using a particular song (like Enough by Chris Tomlin), because it seemed appropriate to use it in a specific context.
I’m sure I’ll make some wrong decisions in choosing what songs we shouldn’t sing. But if my goal is always to sing songs that exalt God’s glory in Christ in people’s hearts and minds in the clearest and best ways, I don’t think I’ll ever have any regrets.