Lips + Heart: How to Evaluate Worship Songs Part 1

Since becoming a Christian in 1997, I have been curious about the way in which pastors select music for worship services.  To be honest, I do not remember any of the songs we sang in our worship services prior to my conversion. At my first post-conversion worship service I paid close attention to the words, music, style, tone, and trajectory of each song. Mainly, I was curious about one question:

“Why are we singing this song right now?”

In my 10 years of local church ministry experience I have come to believe that question to be one of the more important questions that a pastoral staff can address when planning worship services that include musical worship.  I have been shocked to learn that not every worship pastor, worship leader, song leader, preacher, or Christian church member asks this question before opening their mouths to sing.

In my estimation, this is a Biblical “no-no.”  Jesus chided the Pharisees for this very reason, quoting Isaiah 29:14 to make his point, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;” (Matthew 15:8 ESV).  So how then should pastoral evaluate worship songs for their use in worship services?  Here are a few tests that I use for evaluation:

  • The Bible Test – Does this song find its origins in scripture? How close is it to scripture?  Are you singing Bible directly?  Or are these lyrics something that came out of the pages of a Christian’s journal?
  • The Hymnody Test – Does this song teach us theology towards the goal of worshipping God? Is there a bigger God-honoring purpose to it?  Or, is the song just trying to make us feel good about being a Christian?
  • The Internal Consistency Test – Does this song make sense? Does it stay consistent in it’s theme? Does it contradict itself?  Is it non-sensical?
  • The Hook Test– What hooks you most about this song? Is it the words?  Is it an emotion? Is it the music?  Is it the words or the music that drives the emotion? Does emotion move the singer to worship God or does emotion have another aim?
  • The Dave Matthews Band Test – Is this song classic?  Is it transferable across a variety of musical arrangements? Can this song be played on a single instrument and not lose any of it’s punch? Or is this song enslaved to it’s particular arrangement?  Will it only work with a major production? (Dave Matthews does this particularly well in his musical stylings and thus becomes the symbol for this particular test).
  • The Recognition Test – Could we recognize this song and repeat it after one hearing? Or, would it take us several weeks to figure out it’s meter? Or, would we struggle to repeat this song due to complexity of meter or some other artistic device?



About Doug Hankins

Although not a Christian in his youth, Doug came to believe in Jesus during his teenage years. When not playing sports or pastoring Doug is probably spending time with his wife, reading a good book, or drinking some hot tea. Doug's first book Dawson Trotman: In His Own Words is available wherever books are sold. You can follow Doug on twitter.
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