How to Judge a Worship Song

by Aug 14, 2009

When you hear a new worship song at church or sample a worship song on iTunes, how do you decide whether you like it or not? Does it need to be a certain style? Does the tune need to be catchy, with a nice beat behind it? Do the lyrics need to be simple, or do you like them more complex?

In the latest issue of Touchstone, Donald Williams looks at songs that have stood the test of time (we’re talking centuries) and gives us five things they have in common:

1. Biblical Truth

  • “One of the healthy trends in contemporary Christian music is the revival of the ancient practice of singing Scripture. Unfortunately, this revival is sometimes limited to the mantric repetition of short and simple phrases rather than encompassing a fuller train of biblical thought through longer passages, as was more typically the earlier practice.”

2. Theological Profundity

  • “[In the past] even simple laymen did not turn their minds off in worship but praised a majestically transcendent Trinitarian God with a graciously incarnated Son who had saved them by grace through faith. The best texts not only lifted them above themselves in worship but also helped them interpret their own religious experiences in biblically sound ways.”

3. Poetic Richness

  • “Little touches that make a text more intellectually suggestive or emotionally powerful without making it unnecessarily difficult tend to show up in hymns that have survived the test of time. How many praise and worship texts would be worth reading simply as devotional poetry without the music?”

4. Musical Beauty

  • “Musical beauty might be in the eye of the beholder… Nevertheless, there are certain contours, structures, and cadences that make for a singable melody and certain harmonic felicities that can make that melody more memorable or even haunting. Think of the way “Be Thou My Vision” rises and falls like an ocean wave or a sine curve.”

5. Fitness

  • “A good fit between the words and their musical setting is essential to great worship music… the most egregious violation of this principle may be A.B. Simpson’s ‘A Missionary Cry’: A hundred thousand souls a day / are marching one by one away. / They’re passing to their doom. / They’re passing to their doom. If ever there was content demanding a minor key and a mournful, dirge-like tempo, this is it. But this song is set to a completely inappropriate snappy marching tune, as if we were happy about the damnation of the unsaved!”