I have the privilege of serving in the music ministry of the local church I attend. Specifically, I lead a small group of players and singers that lead our congregation in hymns and songs for worship. So, I’m always on the hunt for songs that will help our congregation prepare to hear the Word preached and respond to it. That’s my short-term goal as I choose songs from week to week.
It’s not a difficult job since we keep things musically and logistically uncomplicated. For example, I evaluate our efforts by asking two simple questions:
Am I choosing good songs?
Is the congregation singing?
So, you may ask, how do I define a good song? A good song must honor God by being true to what the Scripture reveals about Him. It must also encourage worship that is consistent with what pleases Him – adoration, praise, confession, the sacrifice of our lives, for example. For God is not only the object of our worship, but the real worship leader. A good song elicits worship as He prescribes it, rather than a response from our own imaginations. I try to stay within those parameters.
Second, a good song is singable. Understanding that it may take several occasions for the congregation to become familiar with a new selection, a song with staying power must accommodate a wide range of musical skills. That’s why I stay away from songs that have a “bridge” or “middle eight,” as some call it. That’s the contrasting part of the song that you often hear in popular music and usually happens between the second and third verses.
Remember the part in The Beatles’ “Yesterday” that goes like this:
Why’d she have to go?
I don’t know, she wouldn’t say.
I said something wrong,
Now I long for yesterday.
That’s a bridge. Refrains, yes. Choruses, yes. Bridges, no.
Another aspect of making a song singable is finding a starting pitch (or key) that makes it accessible for most voices. That’s something that is often overlooked. I know because I’ve been the overlooker.
I also have a long-term goal for our congregation singing. That goal is to build a collection of songs that last a lifetime. At the recent marriage of the daughter of a longtime church family, the young bride chose five songs, three of which she first heard as a little girl when our congregation sang them. Hopefully, her own children will sing them one day.
With those things in mind, here are three good songs we have added to our list in the past couple of years. I invite you to read the lyrics and give them a listen. Perhaps they will edify your church family as they have ours.
1) “Come, People of the Risen King” – Written by Keith and Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend, this is a wonderful hymn of praise that calls the worldwide church of Christ to rejoice in the riches of God’s grace and His unchangeable character. Hear the song and read the lyrics here.
2) “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken” – The lyrics of this hymn were written in 1833 by Henry Lyte, a Scot. There are six verses to this moving hymn of consecration to Christ. Here it is performed by Indelible Grace, a loose knit group of musicians around Nashville that – as far as I know – started the movement of finding great lost hymns and putting them to new melodies.
3) “We Will Feast in the House of Zion” – A new song from Sandra McCracken’s record, Psalms. The song draws of biblical themes including the abundant riches of Christ in the midst of struggles, and the restoration of all things in Him. Hear it here.