Picking Songs

Here is a blog post from Aaron Slaten about Picking songs for Mission Athens Music.

Picking songs is a huge and underrated way that we pastor people as worship leaders.

I see two main ways to pick songs:

1) Song Focused. This is probably the more common way for churches to pick songs. The questions asked are:

  • Will people sing this song?
  • Will it move people?
  • Will I sound ok singing this song?
  • Am I creating emotion that will make people feel something? 
  • Am I starting high energy and going down and then ending back with high energy?

2) Christ focused. I think this is the better way to pick songs. The questions asked are: 

  • Does the song make much of Jesus?
  • Does the song continue the story we are telling in the gathering? Your gathering should be telling the Gospel story so your songs can generally and specifically tell the story. If the sermon focuses on the holiness of the Lord, you want to pick songs that talk about God being holy and expound on what holy means both literally and functionally.  I wrote about how we structure our gathering here: Our gatheings at Christ Community
  • Are the songs lyrically solid? (I will explain that a bit more in a minute.)
  • Can this song be a prayer? Is it a sincere feeling of most people in this gathering? 
  • Is this a song that the congregation I am leading will be able to follow and sing? This is important to know - all songs will not work in all churches. For instance, not all churches would, could or should pull off Highway to Hell by ACDC or Glamorous by Fergie.(I am not recommending either of these songs, I am merely saying you may not be able/should try and play them like others will.)  Also, a church that typically sings songs that follow a predictable/steady melody would not be able to follow songs who’s melody jumps around. This goes back to having a clear vision of what you want to accomplish through corporate singing. You have to know your people - not your preference but your people.

To be clear, I don’t think guys that pick songs the first way are bad leaders. I think they tend to either be trained that way or have found themselves disconnected from the story of the Gospel and connected with worship of their music. (gosh that sounds mean) If you have a song focused guy (like I was and often want to default back to) or you are a song focused guy, here are two questions that might help them/you view what you do as pastoring people with your songs rather than just leading songs for people. 

Question #1: What moves people? Christ love and kindness. 

2 Corinthians 5:14-15: Christ’s Love compels us. Romans 2:4: God’s kindness leads us to repentance.

Question # 2: What emotion are you trying to create? First, any emotion we want to be created is created by the Spirit. Second, we are hoping to see Repentance and Faith happen. 

Mark 1:15: The Kingdom is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel. Mark 5:34: Your faith has made you well. Acts 20:21:  Repentance towards God and faith in Jesus Christ.

Believing that Christ’s love compels us to live a life of constant repentance and faith, we must choose songs that encourage people towards this end. So we pastor people through our songs. 

One last thought on picking songs - We are not pastoring people well if we allow them to sing songs that tell no truth in them. This goes back to choosing songs with solid lyrics. We cannot sing songs that if sung in a pub would be thought of as a song about a guy’s girlfriend. The reason why is because when we are allowing ourselves to talk purely about our own emotions and feelings we are more likely to do two things: 

  1. remove the focus from the cross 
  2. sing things that we don’t mean or want to mean

Repeating the lyrics, “And I’m madly in love with you” twenty times does nothing for a non-believer in your gathering. Can you see the difference in singing, “The love of Christ is rich and free; Fixed on His own eternally; Nor earth, nor hell, can it remove; Long as He lives, His own He’ll love.” These lyrics communicate the perfect love of Christ and not the imperfect and fickle love of man