Meaning and Significance in Worship Singing

On Sunday, September 16, 2001, I was serving as interim music minister in a church.  During my short tenure there I had been approached by persons on either side of a dispute over styles of music to be used in worship; one group wanting hymns and another wanting contemporary fare (sound familiar?).  The worship plan for that Sunday had been dramatically adjusted midweek after the events of September 11.  My worship planning was suddenly driven by the events of that Tuesday.  I was fully aware that there would be an overwhelming need for believers to be encouraged in our faith when we gathered for corporate worship, and there would be an equally intense opportunity to share faith with non-believers who might attend on the Sunday following that Tuesday that shook our basic way of living in America.  Adjusting my worship plan for that Sunday provided lasting conviction for me. You see, prior to the events of 9-1-1, I had planned for worship music that sought to appease and/or to not offend people on two sides of a self-absorbed battle over stylistic preferences.  Looking at the worship plan in light of what took place that week I wept.  My tears stemmed from the emotion of the need we all had to be reminded that God was still sovereign, and from an embarrassing sense that what I had planned as a worship service before the dramatic events of that Tuesday took place was a diplomatic effort of unworthiness.  I stared at a service designed to appease.  It turned my stomach.  I prayed for forgiveness, for wisdom and boldness as well as clear direction.  The anthem planned previously would work just fine, but all the congregational songs were changed to give a voice of faith expression to believers.  The songs were not songs about faith – they were clear expressions of faith in the eternal Almighty God, the One not shaken by events of that week.  They were songs that prayed faith in the God Who was with us and had been with us.  In fact, the song that still rings loud and strong in my memory from that Sunday was a scripture paraphrase from the pen of Isaac Watts; a hymn reportedly sung often during the days of the American Revolution, the Civil War, both world wars, and proved a familiar friend on that Sunday after all of us had been inundated repeatedly with imagines of jetliners being flown into towers with the sole purpose of killing thousands.

I do not think I’ll ever forget the sense of unity and anticipation that Sunday when that congregation stood to resound the paraphrase of Psalm 90:

O God, our help in ages past

                  Our hope for years to come

                  Our shelter from the stormy blast

                  And our eternal home

Every phrase resounded with import, and the people of God sang with such boldness I thought surely they would raise the roof of that sanctuary.

Under the shadow of Thy throne

                  Thy saints have dwelt secure

                  Sufficient is Thine arm alone

                  And our defense is sure


And on we sang.  The way I remember it we finished the great hymn to simply stand silently for a moment and then burst into applause.  I remember praying concern that our expressions would not be as a people united to fight an enemy of country as much as a people truly united in faith in the eternal God Who was, and is, and is to come.  Time would tell.

One of the many lessons from that Sunday etched in memory was how people truly motivated in and by faith in God at a point of genuine need care little about style wars.  Rather, their overriding desire is to pray and declare faith in the One they worship.  On those Sundays when that kind of singing takes place, songs of meaning also become songs of significance.  That is, songs selected and sung to mean or “re-mean” the intended expression of the lyrics themselves become songs of worship that also obtain significance marked by worship that takes place at a point in time (like the Sunday after 9-11) in which the song is also attached to the worship expression of that day and thus in subsequent singings may recall those moments, that time, and happenings of the worship of that day.  In addition it may strike cords of emotional attachment to a people (church), memory of loved ones who have gone on to glory, and a kind of spiritual nearness to God mediated by the Holy Spirit – all appropriate within the economy of the worship of God in Christ.


Song selection for corporate worship is almost always driven by a variety of factors.  The worship music leader whose pastor offers up sermon titles, text, and/or application intentions days, weeks, or even months ahead is considered by most to be blessed.  When the worship planner sits down in front of a computer or legal pad to begin sculpting a Sunday worship gathering, he/she likely considers several things no matter how much sermon information they may or may not be privy to.  Hopefully the worship leader has a sensitivity to the heart and direction of the senior pastor and to the church.  I would pray that every worship leader has a strong grasp of the Gospel of Christ and plans worship with a constant eye of reference to the centerpiece that is the Gospel.  Similarly, I would surely hope that worship planners are saturating their minds and spirits in the Word and plan worship informed by its truths.  I would hope and expect that all worship planners consider their context and ask some basic questions – who are the worshipers and where are they spiritually?  For some worship planners added factors such as recurring form and/or systematic planning may offer direction to help guide the plan that will become corporate worship expression on a given Sunday.

Included in the matrix of planning for worship is an understanding of the meaning of the songs that become candidates for selection for a given Sunday worship gathering.  The studied worship music leader has a repository of information stored in mind and on shelves upon which he/she can call, especially in settings where there remains a healthy respect for time-honored hymns as well as a careful exposure to new songs crafted for congregational worship.  Well-chosen songs of rich meaning are ripe to also become songs of particular significance as people gathered for corporate worship face their own points of need, fulfill their desire individually and corporately to express unified faith, and to boldly bear witness of that faith to non-believers.  After all, isn’t this a major part of what corporate Christian worship is all about?  Lord, help us to find refreshing meaning and significance in our worship singing as we pray to You, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come.


By faith secure,


Explore posts in the same categories: Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Shared Ministry, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leader Relationships, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship

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