Who Should Pick The Songs?

Brendan Prout

How can you determine what songs are best for your church?

Who ought to be selecting them?

Is it best that you do it by yourself, or by working with others in the worship ministry to select the songs for each week, so the songs selected are not all songs you personally select?

There are many Scriptures that speak to making wise plans by relying on others:

Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed. – Proverbs 15:22

Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. – Proverbs 11:14

For by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory. – Proverbs 24:6

There is obviously wisdom and safety found in the multitude of counsel. As it pertains to the crafting of the congregational worship experience, it can be beneficial in a variety of ways.

For one, having multiple sources of perspective collaborating together does tend to make it easier to examine possible problems with a particular song. Is it biblically true, and doctrinally accurate? Does it serve to illuminate the scripture being taught that weekend? Do its themes serve the season that the church body is in at the moment? Is it a familiar enough song? Is it accessible for the average person to be able to actually sing it? Is the melody simple enough to be memorable? Is it too technical of a song for the worship musicians to be able to give it proper service? Does it reflect traditions of the church that we desire to retain as part of our church makeup? Is it a new song that needs to be taught or reinforced through repetition? Is it a song intentionally included in high rotation? Is it obscure? Is it the best song choice, given the limited amount of time available in the weekend service devoted to worship music?

With leaders of different perspectives adding their individual voices to the conversation, different flavors are contributed which may not have been present had only one person been involved in the song selection process. Different genres of music might be represented in the mix that might otherwise be absent, and more creative approaches to the big picture of the flow of worship, not only for a particular weekend, but for coming weeks and months, can be brought to serve the needs of the church as a whole.

Bringing multiple leaders to reason together is a good exercise for the leaders themselves. Working out that sharing muscle, cooperating together, being co-laborers in Christ, and learning to play nicely in the same sandbox with the other kids, is a very good thing. Different opinions can be shared, and yet the leaders can work together for the common goal and achieve greater unity for the sake of God’s purposes in this body. It is also helpful for these leaders to see the long-term view, keeping in consideration the Bible verses which are coming down the pipeline, and forecasting together which song selections will best serve the body as those verses are taught. Agreeing together which new songs will be introduced, and which older songs will be refreshed and brought back to life.

The team approach is helpful for the growth and development of younger worship leaders, so they can see the example of more mature leaders working together and cooperating to craft worship for the church, learning to plan out in advance. In our church in particular, that would be especially beneficial.

The team approach is helpful for the one given the responsibility of oversight, because it provides safety, in that it takes away a possible area of contention that members of the body might have personally as a result of song selection that they didn’t agree with. When there is a group selecting the songs together in consensus, while one person may have to give the final approval or make a judgment call, the unity of the group in agreement provides strength and legitimacy to the selection. There is no one person to blame or to applaud. It doesn’t fall on just one person’s shoulders to catch the criticism for a set of songs poorly received, nor is that person at risk of getting an inappropriately prideful attitude for a set of songs received with gladness.

The team approach is helpful as well for the body in this regard – if there is not a single person to blame or to applaud, it takes away a distraction that the enemy could use as a foothold to drive a wedge of disunity into the body. It’s not as easy to attack or gossip about a group of people as it is to attack just one person; word gets around faster when more people are involved, so there is motivation to not be a gossip or slanderer in the first place. Plus, if there is a solid group of leaders working together for a common purpose, there’s a higher amount of regard and respect paid for their efforts, as compared to how people may perceive the efforts of just one working alone.

On a biblical note related to this question, there is not anything particularly wrong with the person given the responsibility of oversight of worship for the church body actually being the person to pick the songs for the church body, especially if he works in partnership with and submission to the lead pastor to ensure the songs serve the needs of the body, work in conjunction with the scripture being taught, and are approved by the lead pastor. It’s simply that working in isolation is not the most beneficial approach to leadership. It’s not only that a team approach has greater benefits, but that it also helps to prevent burnout and failure!

When you back up and look at the scenario from a different perspective, it seems rather silly that someone would take the teaching pastor to task on his own selection of the particular verses of scripture he was teaching on. He has been given oversight for that particular ministry and entrusted with that responsibility, so he should exercise oversight in that area. It is reasonable and prudent.

Similarly, it is reasonable and prudent for the leader given oversight of worship to exercise the actual oversight of worship, and select the songs being utilized in service. There is nothing wrong with that. Certainly any worship leader can approach God directly in prayer and contemplation and ask the Lord for wisdom in selecting songs. How much more so then, one given oversight by the church and entrusted with the responsibility?

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. – James 1:5

At my own church, for three years I made it a consistent weekly habit to review all song selections with my lead pastor and get his approval before sharing them with the team for that weekend. I normally find out the scripture verses he will be teaching on well in advance (sometimes up 8 to 10 weeks in advance) and begin studying those scriptures, researching worship songs that might be born from those verses and usable for the services, looking for themes in the passages that certain songs would support and reinforce.

Additionally, I do take into consideration the season the church is in: are people hurting or wrestling in particular areas as a whole? Are there certain songs that seem to be resounding with the majority of the church body, serving to lead them more effectively into worship than other songs? Are there songs that do not seem to be received well, which need to be dropped from the roster? Are there older songs that should be included to reflect the traditions of the church? Are there newer songs that people would want to sing, that they’ve been hearing on Christian radio or worship albums? Are there songs generated from within our own church body that would serve to usher the family into God’s presence?

I made it a habit to meet quarterly with all the worship leaders at CBC together as a council, to discuss worship in the various areas they are entrusted with, as well as worship for the church as a whole. I have made it a habit to meet with some worship leaders weekly, or multiple times a week, to discuss worship for the church. I’ve routinely asked for input from members of the worship ministry, other ministry leaders, and church members. Song selection had never truly been mine alone.

However, given the wisdom and safety and the benefits to the body as well as to the leaders, myself, and our lead pastor, it made sense to form a creative team that would collaborate solely on song selection and worship service flow. I approached several people to invite them to be part of a monthly brainstorming session, providing input and perspective in the process of selecting songs to be used in worship at our church. We started with the more mature worship leaders first, and it has thus far been tremendously positive for all involved! The meetings are encouraging and fun, and extremely productive – knocking out a month’s worth of song selections at a time! We’ll be inviting the developing worship leaders to participate down the line as well, so they can benefit from the process too, learning how to cooperate and collaborate together as they grow in their gifts.

So how are you selecting your songs? Do you include and empower others to participate in the process? If you don’t, I challenge you to examine closely your process, and see if the Lord might have a better way for you to accomplish this important task of selecting the songs. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised and blessed!!

Brendan Prout is a pastor at Community Bible Church in San Diego, CA, where he oversees worship and outreach. He has served in worship ministry leadership for over 20 years and focuses on training and raising others to do the work of ministry they are called to.

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