Taking Theological Inventory of Songs3
If you have ever seen Georges Seurat’s famous painting, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, at the Chicago Art Institute, or if you have ever watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, then you understand the need for perspective. From up close this painting seems to be a smattering of dots, but when you take a few steps back you see how the millions of paint strokes form a masterpiece. Likewise, the songs that that we put into the mouths of our congregations are forming them, as we are told in Colossians 3:16-17,
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.
The songs we lead are meant to form our congregations with the word of Christ so that the gospel would inhabit them with mastery. These songs are tools to mutually disciple the gathered church. They should be filled with wise content from the Scriptures that instructs and corrects. They should engage our affective-center in gratitude to our heavenly Father. They should aid in producing people who live for the glory of Jesus by the grace of Jesus.
Our difficulty as worship pastors is that we tend to be so close to the songs we lead that we cannot see the big picture which we are forming. The people of your church are worth your spending the time to take a few steps to take theological inventory the songs you sing.
What Are You Painting?
If someone were to analyze the theology of your church based only on the songs you lead, would they see a masterpiece? There have been seasons in which I aimlessly shotgunned our people with theologically weighty lyrics, often while pridefully patting myself on the back that I was equipping them so well. If you assessed our theology from the songs I led, you may have counseled me that I was forming people toward equal parts theological depth and theological disjointedness. Disjointed depth creates better Pharisees than followers of Jesus.
As I grew in appreciation for the centrality of the gospel as not only the power of God for salvation to all who believe, but also as the fuel for sanctification, our services and our songs healthily shifted to intentionally narrate a weekly gospel arch with Christ’s atonement as the theological capstone. Nevertheless, I had a nagging feeling that despite my effort to instill a robust Christology, I was unwittingly doing so to the diminution of our view of the Father and the Holy Spirit. Was I teaching our congregation an anemic theology of the Trinity? It’s good for us to know the importance of curating our songs, but it’s not enough. If we base curation on our gut, we are in danger of constant overcorrection.
Seeing the Big Picture
I had long inventoried our songs in spreadsheet form based on stylistic elements (e.g. key, tempo, author, liturgical function, etc.). I’m an advocate for taking inventory of these types of categories because they can be massively helpful in navigating areas of aesthetics and accessibility. But they don’t show how we are forming our people theologically.
To see the big picture, I took a profoundly simple first step: I added three columns to our song spreadsheet. I then analyzed the lyrics of every song we lead and filled these columns with the three primary theological areas covered by each song (e.g. atonement, Christology, soteriology, sanctification, resurrection, eschatology, election, evangelism, the Trinity, perseverance, etc.). By plugging in this data and doing some simple analysis, I could finally see the big picture of what I was instilling into our people. For instance, I found that more than half of our songs proclaimed the doctrine of the atonement. While I considered that a win, I also had serious room to grow upon realizing that only 7 percent our songs clearly revealed our God as triune. With both our blindspots and strengths in focus, I had the perspective to fill the bare areas of our theological canvas and bring them into harmony those which already burst with hue.
What about you? If someone were to analyze the theology of your church based solely on the songs you lead during corporate worship, what picture would they see of our God? Take a step back and take theological inventory of the songs you utilize to form the people of your church, so that the word of Christ might more richly dwell in them.
Editor’s Note: If you’d like, take a look at Travis’ inventory here. While we encourage worship leaders to take theological inventory of the songs you sing corporately, each church and each worship leader will accomplish this differently. Travis’ inventory is meant to give an option for how you can accomplish this, not to create a rule for how you should accomplish it.
Travis Ham (@travisham) is the Worship Pastor at Bear Creek Bible Church in Keller, TX. Several of his team’s EPs containing arrangements of classic hymns as well as homegrown corporate worship songs are available for free at bcbc.bandcamp.com.