A Canon of Songs: Theology Incognito?

It wasn’t that long ago that the canon of songs for many churches was the hymnal; actually, the hymns used from that hymnal. Rarely, if ever, were songs used unless they were in the hymnal. Times have changed! Now every worship leader has a canon of songs, whether the list is formal or not, and the list is constantly changing. When you evaluate the content and themes of that list of songs, especially the ones sung most frequently, you would have the song theology: what the songs teach or reveal about God and man. In most cases you could call it “theology incognito”; theology because something is being taught about God and man, and incognito because that theology is off the radar.

One of the most powerful aspects of using music in worship is repetition. Preachers can’t get away with repeating sermons every week, but song leaders can, and do, repeat songs on a regular basis. We all know repetition aids remembering and ultimately retention. What songs should be repeated? Just favorites? Is that a really good idea for the long haul?

A strategic approach to song selection begins by answering two questions:

  1. What worship and faith topics should songs address every week independent of the sermon topic?
  2. What worship and faith topics do you want the people to know well?

Just as a balanced and healthy diet requires consistently choose food from certain groups in optimal amounts, choosing worship songs could benefit from a similar approach. Most Americans today don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables and consume too much junk food and sweets. I would submit there are songs that are the spiritual equivalent of junk food and sweets, as well as fruits and vegetables too! To create a balanced and healthy diet of worship songs requires strategic thinking, organizing, and planning. Being strategic requires discipline and work; I would be the first to agree that it’s more fun learning and introducing the latest “hot” songs from my favorite sources. Ultimately, as worship leader, I am responsible for the songs I choose and the impact they have on the faith of those who sing them, year in and year out. It is my intention to take that responsibility seriously.

I defined song categories that addressed the worship and faith topics that I believed should be addressed every week to answer those two questions . Then I went through all my songs and put them in one of the categories. Some songs fit in more than one category, but to keep it simple I only put a song in one category. What I discovered was that some of my song categories had more than enough songs and others had very little, if any, coverage. Then the challenge began: finding songs I wanted to sing in categories I believed are important. It is proving to be difficult and I have been working at it for some time now. I have discovered that the latest “hot” songs gravitate to the same few already overpopulated categories. I’ve had to move from the “blockbuster” approach to song selection to the “long tail” to find or create such songs.

Food for thought
  • What is your theology based on the songs you choose?
  • How comprehensive and balanced is it with respect to the entire counsel of God as revealed in His Word?
  • What worship and faith topics do you think need to be covered weekly?

Next I will introduce the song categories I am currently using and spend some more time talking about each. I'm off to worship team practice.


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