How We Pick Songs
We often get questions about the songs we sing together as a church family on Sundays. I thought it would be beneficial to write a bit about the process we have for choosing our songs. Singing together is a life-giving time for the church, but how do we decide what to sing? Let's get right to it!
We use three primary lenses for picking songs for use in gathered worship:
1. GOSPEL NARRATIVE
Each of our Sunday gatherings walk through a gospel arc of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. For example, we begin our gatherings looking at the creation aspects of the gospel; that God has made all things and rules over all things.
Because we intentionally place every liturgical element in light of what part of the gathering and gospel narrative it falls, it's important to have songs that fit each of the four categories. Songs can speak to God's creative and supreme power over all things, expose our brokenness and need for healing, Jesus' work in our lives redeeming us, or our promise of heaven and a world remade without sin or pain. Confession songs are great, but if this was the only thing we sang together, you can see how our worship diet would be imbalanced!
2. SERMON CONTENT
We plan our teaching series out more than a year, which is a great help for our artists and musicians to know what's coming. I often examine and look for themes in the upcoming book of the Bible we will be walking through, and then check to see if we have adequate coverage of those themes in our current music catalog. For example, we are currently in Daniel so we looked at songs about being steadfast in the face of adversity, fighting against idols, and God's faithfulness towards his people.
3. BALANCING SOURCES
The final consideration (at least of what I'll cover here) is in balancing the source of the songs between the historical church, the global church, and the local church. To put it another way, we sing songs from the church that has gone before us (hymns), we sing songs that God's people are singing many other places today (modern choruses), and we sing songs written by Doxa artists for Doxa (originals). It's important to note that only modern songs that pass our criteria make the cut, namely that it's theologically clear and says something the gathered church should be saying.
We have around 45 active songs in our catalog at this moment. Currently our break-down looks like this:
HYMNS: 40% Ex: "Stricken Smitten, Be Thou My Vision"
MODERN CHORUSES: 50% Ex: "Saved Secure, Only King Forever"
ORIGINALS: 10% Ex: "My Soul Knows, Double-Minded"
There's nothing magical or even scriptural about the above numbers, it just happens to be where we are now. It's certainly a moving target and things change every quarter when I retire 3-5 songs and add 3-5 new ones.
LET'S KEEP THE MAIN THING, THE MAIN THING
Jesus is not a product to be purchased. He is not an order to be customized. It's hard for us to transition from a world that tries to convince us that we are the center of the universe with endless options and consumeristic choices to make, into a room with God's kids where we aren't at the center. This is especially true for our music. Music in most spheres is the epitome of individual tastes and endless customization. Never before has such a massive repertoire of music been available for our consumption and moment-specific playlists.
But worship is different. While different denominations and church tribes accentuate different aspects of gathered worship, Jesus remains the same unchanging God-man. While our whims, culturural waves, thoughts, and emotions continues to undulate, Jesus remains constant in his worthiness. Simply put, corporate worship is not about you or me or what song moves us most. It never has been. It's fundamentally and unchangingly about Jesus. Let us never elevate our own stylistic and personal leanings over what really matters when we gather.
The most important things in our gathered worship include singing what is true and clear, reflecting our creative God by saying unchanging truths in fresh ways, and ultimately making our time together about him, not our abilities, and certainly not our preferences. If Christ's call to us is to come and die (to self and imposing our ways on the world around us), I'd hope that something as small as our musical tastes could be in the "open hand".
If you come Sundays with a mindset to receive and participate, know that it not only benefits you, but those around you in the gathering. Alternatively, if you find yourself assessing the music with arms crossed on Sundays, I would invite you to lay down your critical spirit and instead be a receiver of grace. I'm confident that kind of humility and neediness is what Jesus wants from our musical worship. I'd be willing to bet you'll find our times singing together and our music catalog more life-giving too.
Donald Zimmerman is the Director of Communication, Arts, Music, and Liturgy, or as the staff affectionately refer to him, "the CAML". He has his own blog over at ZimmermanBand.com and has lead at Doxa since it started in 2015. He previously helped plant a multi-site church in Reno, NV called Living Stones and toured the country in an improv comedy group. He, his wife Kelly, and their two kids live in Woodinville.