The first thing we as elders can do through congregational singing in church is that we can teach the flock songs. I just heard someone say the other day, that “the songbook of one generation will be the statement of faith for the next generation.” I thought that was so well put. The songbook of one generation will be the statement of faith for the next generation. Our children are learning who God is from what we sing much more than the messages, but our adults are as well. Our songs teach us about who God is, about how we are to relate to him, what our world is, and who we are. Colossians 3:16 says, we are teaching and admonishing one another. Ephesians 5:19 says, we are addressing one another. We actually remember much more from our songs in our sermons. I know that’s sad news for those of us who preach, but it’s true. A songwriter will have much greater sway over your congregation than then your message if they’re in contrast.
The songbook of one generation will be the statement of faith for the next generation.
So, songs teach two ways. First, they teach objectively about God, ourselves, and our world. This means that like the Psalms, our songs should be filled with the Word of God, the worthiness of God or the character of God, and the works of God. I was just in Psalm 111, and I saw this. It’s right there: “I will give thanks, Lord, with my whole heart and the company upright in a congregation. Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. Full of splendour and majesty is His work and His righteousness endures forever.” That’s the character of God, the worthiness he has caused his wondrous works to be remembered, the reference to his works again. “The Lord is gracious and merciful.” That’s the Lord’s worthiness. “He provides food for those who fear him.” That is his work. “He remembers his covenant forever.” That’s his word. And then, later on, it says, “his precepts are trustworthy, they are established forever and ever.” So you see, in just eight verses in Psalm 111, we have the Psalmist, praising God for His word, his worthiness and his works.
Our songs should do that as well. It means that just finding songs that people like to sing is not a high enough standard if we want to please God with the songs we’re using. Choosing songs that we like, choosing songs that are easy to sing, choosing songs that are familiar, none of those are bad qualities. They’re just not the qualities that God uses to determine what we should sing to him.
Here’s a good question to ask: If people only had the songs you sing as the way they knew God, how well would they know the Lord? Would they know that Jesus Christ lived a perfect life and died a substitutionary death and rose from the dead for our justification? And through that we are adopted into God’s family? Would they know that God is Trinity: Father, Son, and Spirit? Would they know that their identity is in the finished work of Christ, as God’s people, not our culture or ethnicity, or nationality? Would they know what God’s Word says, from the songs we sing? That’s what we need to evaluate over time. And each week, we can ask those questions.
The kinds of songs we sing every week are telling people this is how you should relate to God.
So songs teach objective truths about God. Songs also teach us subjectively, how to relate to God. The kinds of songs we sing every week are telling people this is how you should relate to God. So, if we sing shallow, repetitive, up-tempo songs all the time, we will be teaching people that God is shallow, that it’s easy to relate to him, and that he wants us to be happy all the time. No, none of those things are true. But that’s what our songs are teaching. Singing doctrinally thick songs, say God only wants us to relate to us if we’re smart. Singing emotionally driven songs say that God’s more interested in our emotions than our minds. But emotionally dry songs teach people that God really isn’t interested in what we feel and desire. Oh, but he is. He’s very interested in what we desire. God speaks to our desires constantly in the New Testament. And he speaks to idols constantly in the Old Testament, they’re the same thing. He’s speaking to the same thing. Songs should teach us, in a time of bowing and in a time of celebrating. There’s a time for repentance and sorrow over our sin, a time for rejoicing, a time for reflection, and a time for proclamation. So in all those ways, our songs are teaching our people every time we gather. So, we have to think, are my songs teaching people the right things?
This article is an excerpt of a transcript of a talk by Bob Kauflin called “Pastoring Through Song,” which he gave in June 2022. You can watch the whole talk here.