Thursday, March 31, 2011

A (brief) Philosophy of Worship Music

Before coming to LSTC I spent a lot of time leading “contemporary” or “modern” worship, and in doing so developed a set of guidelines for worship music. This was mostly in response to “contemporary” services I experienced that seemed to abandon/neglect all theological principle for the sake of good music or emotional experience. Although I think this could be applied to more traditional forms of worship as well, as these are not immuned to bad theology either.

As with any guidelines, I’m certain there are valid exceptions, so I present this in humility, as simply a suggestion. The basic principle is that our music should be lyrically grounded somewhere, and I propose three possible groundings: (1) in scripture. The dominant theme in the song uses images, metaphors, stories, or language taken directly from scripture. (2) in the worship service. The song helps move the liturgy/worship forward, whether in confession/absolution, is a ‘hymn of the day’ that enhances the proclaimed Word, moves us into Holy Communion, or enlivens another part of the liturgy. Or (3) in the church year. A song is grounded in the theme of the present season, whether Lent, Advent/Christmas, or a specific festival like All Saints or Pentecost.

In my experience, worship that is not grounded lyrically in one of these three ways is often ethereal emotional experience, with very little that identifies it as specifically Christian. And although this principle alone does not guard completely against bad theology, it can help. Thoughts?

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