Touch, Worship

Choosing songs for worship


As a powerful form of art, it is important that choosing music is handled with proper care and understanding. For the Methodist Church, singing hymns is a tradition that it must continue to nurture. It is a heritage worth keeping.

Does choosing songs for worship depend on the congregation and the worship style, be they “traditional” (hymns) or “contemporary” (praise and worship)?

Beyond worship styles are more critical issues to consider: First, what is the function of the music in worship? Is it used to gather people? Is it a song of illumination? Is it a song of response to the Gospel reading or to the sermon? Or is it a song to send the congregation out?

Second, are the words appropriate? What is a good text? This is the primary question. Does the text speak of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit? Does it speak about God’s nature, his beauty and the truth? Is it biblically based? Is it a reflection of one’s encounter with the living God? Does it speak of the church’s mission? Does it speak of the Kingdom of God? What about social concerns? What is the Christology involved? Does it speak of Jesus gentle meek and mild? What about triumphant Jesus, Jesus the suffering servant, the confrontational Jesus, Jesus the Saviour of the oppressed?

While the qualities mentioned above cannot be embodied in one hymn or song or chorus, we are encouraged to use music that is theologically sound. What about the language? Is the text crafted with poetry? What about the use of figurative language? It is apt that the music be in a language we understand so that it builds our knowledge and understanding of the God we worship.

What about the music that accompanies the text? It should not overpower the text. Some musical components to consider are: 1. The range of the melody – it should be one that the congregation can manage; 2. The rhythm – it must be simple and consistent; 3. The melody – it should be memorable and easy to sing corporately; 4. The harmony – it ought to provide good support to the melody. Overall, the marriage of the text and music is crucial so that the function may be served. These are important factors to take into the account so that the message of the text can be cogently interpreted.

The choice of text and music forms the repertoire of the congregation. Part of being theologically sound is the ability to appreciate the various gifts that God has given us. Received from God, these gifts come with a responsibility to recognise and cultivate.

1 In the context of choosing music, the many gifts encompass the different genres of music available. Worship leaders may want to expand their resources so that the congregation’s repertoire is more varied. It is a repertoire that is not limited by the current worship style or personal preferences but one that embraces diverse expressions of the Christian faith.

The March and April 2011 issues of this column featured Dr Michael Hawn, a well-known church musician in the US. He was in Singapore last January as a Visiting Professor to the Master in Theological Studies (Church Music/Worship and Liturgy), a joint programme of the Methodist School of Music and Trinity Theological College. During his lectures and in his articles, he encouraged us to sing songs that are “beyond the culture of our origin”.

I believe that if we are to participate in the dynamics of creation, part of the process of creativity is being able to embrace songs from other people’s cultures without prejudice to the people from whom we “borrow” the songs. It lends us a view and generous experience of the vastness of God’s power and beauty in this world. This is an “opportunity to connect with other cultures and hear unheard voices”.2

Our identities will be more pronounced when we see ourselves in the midst of other cultures. Hopefully, we come to understand ours better and appreciate the beauty of other cultures as well.3 In the process, we try to see Christ in others and hope that others can see Christ in us.

Choosing music is a task that involves discernment. The process cannot be done in isolation. It is a collaborative work. The songs we sing help nurture our faith. “Even more, this call for singing faith is directed at giving a theological shape to the living of a particular way of life.”4 The leaders involved in the music ministry will have to understand these concepts and take accountability because they play a role in the faith formation of the congregation.

1 Roland Chia, “Artistic makings and Meanings: Contours of a theology of the Arts,” in Sights and Sounds: A Christian Response to the Creative Arts and Media, ed. Robert M. Solomon and Lim K Tham, (Singapore: Armour Publishing Pte Ltd, 2006), 4-7.
2 Michael Hawn, Reverse Mission: Global Singing for Local Congregations, in Music in Christian Worship, ed. Charlotte Kroeker (Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2005), 189.
3 Mary Oyer, “Using Music from other Cultures,” in Music in Christian Worship, ed. Charlotte Kroeker (Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2005), 104-108.
4 Don Saliers, Music and eology (Abingdon Press: Nashville, 2007), 34.

Judith Mosomos is a Lecturer in Church Music at the Methodist School of Music.



MCS gives $560,000 to Japan quake survivors

THE METHODIST CHURCH IN SINGAPORE (MCS) has given $560,000 to the survivors of the recent earthquake and tsunami in north-eastern Japan. This amount was collected from our local churches in response to the disaster.

In a brief letter to Mr Lim Theam Poh, Director, Operations and Head International Services of the Singapore Red Cross Society, Bishop Dr Robert Solomon said: “Kindly channel the funds to the Singapore Red Cross Japan Disaster Fund 2011 to help the survivors of this tragedy and keep us informed of the relief and reconstruction work that is being done there.

“The Methodist Church in Singapore will continue to remember the victims of the earthquake and tsunami, and pray that God’s love, comfort and strength will touch them and encourage them.”