Music is an important part of corporate worship. In the Old Testament, Moses and the Israelites used music to celebrate God’s deliverance at the Red Sea (Exod 15:1-8). The Book of Psalms contains texts set to music used in corporate worship, though we do not know precisely how the Psalms were sung.
In the New Testament, Jesus and His disciples sang a hymn before they left the Upper Room for the Mount of Olives (Matt 26:30), and the Book of Revelation describes the multitudes who worship God the Father and Christ the Lamb in song (Rev 5:9-10; 14:3).
In light of the importance of music in corporate worship, below I share principles for those who lead music.
(1) The music should be appropriate for most worshippers.
Music used in corporate worship should be musically accessible for most worshippers. The music should not be so difficult that the majority of worshippers struggle to sing it. Don’t use music that is pitched in an extremely high key or that is too complex.
(2) The lyrics should be faithful to Scripture’s teaching.
Several hundred years ago some Christians argued that only music set to the biblical text was appropriate for worship (e.g., Psalms). I am not suggesting that music used in worship must be based on the biblical text only. However, I think that a song’s lyrics should be faithful to Scripture—and certainly not contrary to it.
(3) Over time, music should be theologically comprehensive.
Over the course of a period of time (e.g., six months) the corporate music should express a variety of biblical themes (e.g., sovereignty of God, personal holiness, judgment) rather than the same themes. Those who lead in corporate worship, then, must take care that the music they select does not present the same themes over and over. Try and develop among those you lead a more comprehensive theology.
(4) Recognize the power and influence of music.
Music is important as it has a profound influence on people. It sets the mood. It prepares one’s heart for worship. Don’t make light of the importance of music for corporate worship. Give time and attention to it.
(5) Music should be one good thing but not the main focus of the service.
Those who lead in worship should seek to make the music one good thing but not the main thing in a worship service. Corporate worship should thus include many elements: preaching, prayer, singing and fellowship, among other features.
(6) Don’t make yourself the focus of the corporate worship service.
Those who lead music in corporate worship must seek to take the people into the presence of the Triune God. Don’t make yourself the focus of the corporate worship service. Practically speaking, this means that you refrain from talking too much or telling too many personal stories.
(7) If you lead music, seek to improve your knowledge of Scripture and theology.
If you do not grow in your knowledge of Scripture and theology, your music leadership will become biblically and theologically weak. Or worse, it will contradict Scripture and its teaching. You cannot afford to let this happen as you may lead many people in worship each week.
(8) If you lead music, seek to improve your knowledge of church history.
Growing in your knowledge of church history will keep you from falling into the music fads of the day.
(9) View the music of the worship service as a teaching tool.
Remember that as you lead in worship, you are teaching others about important topics such as sin, love, salvation, forgiveness and how to live the Christian life. You teach through your music leadership.
(10) Those who lead music must understand their personality and personal preferences and seek to lead outside of them.
Whether you realize it not, the music you select for worship is often influenced by your personality and personal preferences. Because some people are outgoing and gregarious, they are inclined to choose music that is upbeat and high energy. In contrast, others are reflective and serious, and they are inclined to select music that matches these traits. Bottom line: know your personality and preferences and seek to lead outside them. Not everyone is wired like you or worships like you.