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Repost: Selecting Songs for Corporate Worship

Since this was originally posted last March, I’ve had many more discussions with pastors regarding the wise selection of hymns for corporate worship. TCBC has always put a lot of thought (and time, and effort) into this crucial part of our body life. Joe Tyrpak handles it for us now and does a superb job.

I’m reposting these very general thoughts and examples with the hope that they will help address the issue in a way that sheds more light than heat. Here are some brief thoughts about how we choose songs, old or new. I’ll also add this thought from T. David Gordon’s book Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: Every time you choose one hymn, you’re omitting a thousand others. So choose carefully.


I get asked quite often about the advisability of using modern hymns (especially from Sovereign Grace and Townend & Getty), probably because of my association with ChurchWorksMedia.com. It’s a decision that churches need to make individually and on which we should give each other a great deal of space. (We do believe in the autonomy of the local church, after all.) But for the sake of time, I figured it would be most efficient to collect some of my thoughts and other resources on the topic in one place.

For our part, Tri-County Bible Church has benefited tremendously from supplementing our hymnal (Majesty Hymns) with a large number of hymns. In fact, we generally print bulletin inserts with at least 2 hymns per week. (We’ll “go green” and project them onto a screen in our new building, Lord willing.) At the bottom of this post are some that we’ve used in recent years. You’ll note that some are very old. (We love Watts and Wesley!) Others are very new. But all make much of Christ and are overflowing with sound theology. Many were composed or revived by Sovereign Grace or Townend & Getty. We’re very grateful for the Christ-honoring texts these brothers and sisters are writing, and we’re not at all hesitant to use them. We don’t use everything they write, and when we do, we do it in a “Tri-County” manner. But neither do we use everything Ron Hamilton writes, or everything Mac Lynch writes, or everything I write! We’re selective, and we try to discern what will best honor our Savior and serve our congregation. Our main burden is that we choose our songs intentionally–for textual reasons, as part of a worship service theme, etc. Here are several resources that may be helpful as you think through this (all expressing my basic approach):

I understand that others are coming to different conclusions, which is fine. But we believe that what we’re doing has biblical and historical backing. And frankly, I can’t imagine that our church would be best served by eliminating a song like Before the Throne of God Above, which I consider to be among the finest hymns available to us. Whatever you decide, I urge you to practice discernment—don’t just do what’s trendy, and don’t just bow to the fear of man. Adopting every new thing probably reveals a lack of discernment, as does fear of adopting any new thing.


Hymns we’ve recently introduced at TCBC:

  • All Praise to Thee (a great meditation on Philippians 2)
  • Almighty Father
  • Before The Throne of God Above
  • For the Sake of His Name
  • God Is Our Strength and Refuge (Psalm 46)
  • Glory Be to God on High
  • Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal
  • Heavens Shout God’s Matchless Glory (Psalm 19)
  • Here Is Love
  • His Robes for Mine
  • Holy, Mighty, Worthy
  • How Awesome Is Your Name (Psalm 8)
  • How Deep the Father’s Love
  • How Sweet and Awesome is the Place
  • I Plead for Grace (Psalm 51)
  • I Will Glory in My Redeemer
  • Immanuel (From the Squalor)
  • In Christ Alone
  • Joy Has Dawned Upon the World
  • Let There Be Light
  • Lo! He Comes With Clouds Descending
  • My Jesus, Fair
  • Nothing. Hallelujah!
  • O God, Be Merciful to Me
  • O God, My Joy
  • O Great God
  • O How Vast the Blessings (Psalm 1)
  • Of the Father’s Love Begotten
  • Praise Our Savior, Jesus Christ
  • Praise the Savior Now and Ever
  • Salvation’s Cup
  • Speed Thy Servants, Savior
  • Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted
  • The Gospel Song
  • The Lord’s My Shepherd (Psalm 23)
  • Thy Way, Not Mine, O Lord
  • To the Praise of His Glorious Grace
  • We Rest on Thee
  • Why Do the Nations Rage (Psalm 2)
  • You Who Were Rich

Note: I mentioned that these are supplementary. The songs we sing from our hymnal are generally of the same flavor, however: And Can It Be; Arise My Soul, Arise; Hallelujah, What a Savior; How Can It Be?; and the like.

2 Responses

  1. I think another important aspect of song selection is the _purpose_ the song serves within the larger context of the service. You don’t have to go all “smells and bells” to use some good ideas from the liturgy. I don’t think I’ve ever sung in Latin (well, maybe in a Mass at Notre Dame once), but I’ve been to many churches that borrow some variation of the progression of themes in a traditional Mass:

    Kyrie: our unworthiness/song of repentance
    Gloria: God’s majesty (as contrasted with said unworthiness)
    Creedo: What we believe about the relationship between God and man as a result of said glory and said unworthiness
    Sanctus: Our response to the what we believe in the creedo (demands a cry of “Holy!” a la Revelations)
    Agnus Dei: A celebration of Christ’s sacrifice and thus our redemption.

    Each service is the gospel replayed for our reminder.

  2. Regarding using Sovereign Grace/Getty, how would you answer the following questions:

    1. Do you totally reject that associations matter or do you believe they just dp not matter in the area of church music?
    2. How do you handle with your church the major doctrinal difficulties with the Sovereign Grace movement? Or do you?
    3. Do you teach your church how/why you differ from the stylistic renderings found on Sovereign Grace website? Is this necessary? Does it even matter?
    4. Do you feel any responsibility (due to the immense present popularity of Sovereign Grace music) to warn people (especially impressionable teeangers and college students) away from the stylings of their music?
    5. Do you think it would be appropriate for a youth group to do a popular/current/recent Saturday Night Live or Mad TV skit for youth group? (providing the cleaned it up?)
    6. Is the responsiblity any different for a pastor of a local church vs. someone putting the music on recordings?
    7. Bob Kaufflin (of Sovereign Grace Music) was asked if he would ever use secular songs in his services. He answered that it might be okay, but he probably wouldn’t because of the associations with that music. Interesting. (sorry – this one wasn’t a question)

    “Songs speak not only through their lyrics but through the associations people make with them.” Bob Kauflin

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