Worship Leadership Series (part five): The Two Types of Worship Songs

If you’ve been reading this series up to this point, then you can probably anticipate what the primary responsibility of the worship leader is. Since worship music will always be bad theology’s back-door, then unquestionably and confidently the worship leader’s top job is song selection.

This is a big job and not quite as easy as it sounds. For this reason, I will outline my method in several forthcoming posts some practical guidelines for song selection.

I am assuming, of course, that the 5 criteria of choosing a worship leader are followed and can be assumed.

Since worship music is largely considered the fastest growing segment of music sales, there’s a lot of it out there. And there’s a lot of tripe out there.

Personal vs. Corporate Worship Songs

jesus.gifThere are two basic types of contemporary worship music: personal and corporate. The worship songs of the personal variety are the personal expressions to God in prayer of an individual worshiper. They are often sappy songs where the star-crossed lover/songwriter just got hit by Cupid’s arrow and the first thing he saw was an effeminate Jesus sweetly beckoning him to come and fall in love with him.

We, the voyeuristic audience, are invited to listen in as the singer deals with his or her personal issues relating to faith, doubt, perfume, etc. The key to identifying these songs is this: does this song contain sentiments that are true of all worshipers, all the time? If not, its probably not going to edify the congregation.

Take David Crowder’s Intoxicating, for example.

Intoxicating You are to me
Illuminating You are to see
Truly breathtaking You are to breathe
Sending my head spinning You are, You see

And I’ve lost my mind, I’m sure to find
Need to apologize for my
Lack of inhibition, for my belligerent condition
But with You this near I’m dizzy

Inebriating You are to me
Completely captivating You are yo see
Sending my world spinning You are, You see

Ummmm, right. Are we singing about Jesus or crack?

These may be great to listen to in the car or in one’s own time with God, but are not appropriate for the gathered body. Another personal song is You Give Me Life by Jason Morant.

There was a time not long ago when I was too weak to move on
A broken heart my hope was gone
Then I looked up into Your eyes I was overwhelmed with love
You took me up into Your arms
And now I see Your wonder

Jason may be “too weak to move on” where all his “hope was gone” but can we expect an entire gathered congregation to feel the same way? Talk about a melodramatic worship gathering….

These are extreme examples, but hopefully illustrative. I could just as easily imagine myself bringing home roses, lighting candles around the house, and singing this to my wife. Or to a therapist.

Another example is Surrender, written by Marc James. My wife first alerted me to this after I had led it once. She told me that she couldn’t always sing this song because it isn’t always true of her (or anyone, for that matter). Thus, it could actually demean the concept of total surrender by having a group of Christians sing it who may not actually mean it.

I’m giving you all my heart, and all that is within
I lay it all down for the sake of you my King
I’m giving you my dreams; I’m laying down my rights
I’m giving up my pride for the promise of new life
And I surrender all to you, all to you

This song would be great to listen to in personal devotion time; but it just doesn’t work in corporate gatherings.

Corporate worship songs express timeless sentiments about Christ or Christians that are readily agreed upon by the body and are not subject to emotional whims. Here are several examples that are in regular rotation at my church.

It Was Your Grace by Mark Altrogge. This song is on the Valley of Vision CD and is one of my top five all time worship albums. For what its worth, this song absolutely rocks.

It was Your grace that drew me to the cross
It was Your grace that gave me faith
It was Your grace that reconciled me to Yourself
Though I had sinned in every way
You disarmed me of everything that I would lean on
So I would lean on You
And You stripped me of everything I would depend on
So I’d depend on You

In You alone my strength is found
In You alone my hope abounds
In You alone my strength is found
My life is bound up in You

Notice that these lines are packed with theological depth and express truth that points the Christian to where to go for hope, strength and life. This is not a spiritual to do list (go to Christ for strength, then for hope, etc) but rather a prescription for how to live.

One more, probably more familiar to you. How Great is Our God by Chris Tomlin. I like Tomlin; he is a good songwriter with always accessible and generally good content.

Age to age He stands
And time is in His hands
Beginning and the end
Beginning and the end

The Godhead Three in One
Father Spirit Son
The Lion and the Lamb
The Lion and the Lamb

Name above all names
Worthy of our praise
My heart will sing
How great is our God

Some songs may not fit neatly into these categories. They may seem personal but express truths that are so universally important and vital that they still work. A great example of this is Blessed be Your Name by Matt Redman (who was reflected on the book of Job and his loss when he wrote it). Not everyone experiences deep loss and grief at once, but we all experience it and the most appropriate response is universal: God is still good and his name is still blessed.

Blessed be Your name when the sun’s shining down on me,
When the world’s all as it should be, blessed be Your name.
Blessed be Your name on the road marked with suffering,
Though there’s pain in the offering, blessed be Your name.

Ev’ry blessing You pour out I’ll turn back to praise.
When the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say,
Blessed be the name of the Lord, blessed be Your name.
Blessed be the name of the Lord, blessed be Your glorious name.

The goal is to sing songs that reflect balance. They should not be too doctrinaire and aloof nor personal Valentines to Jesus. Corporate expressions of truth about God and love and devotion to Him work best.

  1. Great post – I totally agree about the tone and content being important when you’re looking at corporate worship. It’s incredibly hard to sing those romantic ones in church. I’ve never heard of David Crowder’s “Intoxicating” – I’m sorry, but I just snickered. Now my kids are asking me what’s so funny.

  2. Michael,
    Thanks for giving me two more labels. When ever anybody asks me why we sing the songs we sing, I generally describe songs as speaking objective truth or subjective truth. Now I have two more labels to use to describe this dichotomy.
    grace and peace,

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