One of the most important jobs worship leaders have is curating songs for their congregations. And this is not just so that songs will match sermons nicely or people will find our music catchy. There are much bigger goals. One huge goal all worship leaders should keep in front of them is the formation of biblical and robustly Christian faith—a spirituality that is shaped by Christ and His story. This is what the church does!
The opposite is what we might call a “shallow faith.” At best, it’s weak and impotent; at worst, it’s sub-Christian, non-Christian, or anti-Christian.
Congregational worship songs are powerful tools to keep us out of shallow faith, because they contain theology and because they generate theology, too. Christians have realized this for a long time. The ancient church used a Latin phrase to express this: Lex orandi lex credendi, which means, roughly, what and how you pray (and sing) is what and how you believe.
What might faithful curation of worship songs, the kind that generates deeply lived-out and robustly Christian theology, look like for churches and worship leaders today?
Below are some aspects of shallow faith that seem particularly dangerous for Christians in the contemporary Western world, with thoughts about how faithful curation of songs can help lead people away from it.
1. An overly individualistic faith is a shallow faith.
We, especially in the West, need to be led, again and again, toward the corporate scope of Christ’s work. It is too easy for us to read all the plural “you” pronouns in the New Testament epistles as singular. Too easy for people to think Christian spirituality means me-and-Jesus instead of us-and-Jesus. Too easy for our churches to talk about forgiveness and healing and justice only as individual matters, rather than as God’s kingdom coming to communities–and the whole world, across space and time. Worship leaders can give us songs to sing about God’s healing of the whole fallen world, the Spirit’s presence within us, and the kingdom of righteousness that comes to peoples and communities, not just to individual people.
2. Minimizing the Holy Spirit is part of a shallow faith.
We confess a triune God, but often it feels like our faith is unitarian or binitarian, not trinitarian. Our hymnody can exacerbate this, or it can help fight it. Have you looked for songs about the Holy Spirit and found songs which talk only about the inner comfort the Spirit gives? What about songs that sing of the Spirit’s empowerment of us for mission, the way the Spirit comes upon “all flesh”, the way he re-presents Jesus, and so much more the Bible says about the Spirit? Our churches need a bigger hymnody about the Holy Spirit.
3. A faith that makes our ultimate hope something besides Jesus’ return is a shallow faith.
Christians need to be careful that the “blessed hope” in Jesus’ return (Titus 2:13) is not replaced by hope in a post-mortem afterlife or a rapture or an expectation that our city or country is itself the kingdom of God here and now. To keep us from shallow faith, worship leaders can pick songs that sing of Jesus’ return and how much we long for that day. For Sunday services—and weddings and funerals and more—they can pick songs that joyfully declare that we long for Christ to come, we are waiting for a wedding yet to come, and we, alongside believers who have died, have our truest hope in Jesus’ return, when God will make all things new.