Are You Out Of Shape? What You Sing Matters. There's a good chance you've already broken one of your New Year's resolutions. In fact, the
stats are just plain ugly. Statistics say that nearly all resolutions made in January fail by early
February, with the most significant number crashing and burning just three weeks into the new
year. So, if you find yourself standing in line at the juice bar of your local mega gym about to
consume a 1,200-calorie post-workout congratulatory 'milkshake' to recover from 11 minutes on
the treadmill and two sets of dumbbell curls, this is for you. And if you also happen to be your
church's flame-throated worship warbler who's trying to slither into skinny pants, this piece is for
you. But not for the reason you might think.
The most important thing we and our churches consume weekly is what is said and sung from
the pulpit. Ask an average attendee what the preacher said last week, and they might struggle to
remember, but they will find themselves singing the choruses on repeat throughout the week. As
Martin Luther stated, "Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise."
One of the most important resolutions you can make as a worship leader is to ensure
that what you sing leaves people spiritually nourished instead of feeding them a steady diet of
hollow words and empty refrains.
My suggestion might not be what you think–– I'm not advocating for you to exclude certain
songs based on who wrote them, what church they are from, or if you agree with everything their
ministry teaches and believes. This isn't the space to talk about reckless loves, sloppy wet kisses,
and Jesus not wanting Heaven without us.
I'm imploring you, dear worship leader, to understand that more than building weekly setlists,
you are shaping the theology of your congregants—for better or worse. Paul tells us in
Colossians to let God's Word live in us in a meaningful way through singing. At its core, musical
worship is formational. Over time we digest these melodic words, forming what we think about
God. And what we think about God shapes every area of our lives. A.W. Tozer once said, "The
most important thing about us is what we think about God."
As you begin the new year with resolutions in tow, I would love to share a few principles that
might be helpful as you navigate what songs you are putting in front of your congregation.
1. Start with Scripture.
This seems simple. I've asked this question to countless worship leaders in the last 20 years:
"When you are planning for Sunday, where do you start?" The answer is pretty consistent—
most don't have a place. They typically base what they sing on what was scheduled recently,
what's most popular, or who is scheduled to sing. Those things are helpful, but they shouldn't be
where we begin. Whether your pastor is preaching on a topic or verse by verse through a text,
hopefully, what they share on Sunday points people to the truth in Scripture. When you select
songs, start with the text your pastor is teaching. Not every song will or should match the
sermon, but the idea is that Word and melody are working together with the power of the Holy
Spirit for the truth to be made real in experience.
2. Sing a variety of songs.
Paul goes on to encourage his readers that not only should God's Word be formed in you through
singing, but that this formation comes from a variety of sources. He encourages us to sing
psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. When the church gathers to celebrate and respond to these
glorious truths, it should do so in many different ways. I once heard a trainer say that you can't
outrun a bad diet. This applies to what we sing, as well. If we consistently feed ourselves from
the same theological stream of music or give no thought to what we are singing about at all, we
will find ourselves gorged in some areas of our Christian walk but malnourished in others. This
isn't a call to embrace one genre or style of worship music over the other, but rather a call to be
mindful of what menu we place before our people week after week.
3. Turn practice into prayer.
I once heard a worship leader say, "you can't lead people someplace you haven't been." Over the
years, one of the simplest practices I've enjoyed is taking the songs you will lead on Sunday into
an empty room and sing them straight to Jesus. Grab your instrument and your Bible. No crowds.
No technology. No pressure to perform. Just you and Him. Nothing is more important to your
spiritual nourishment than this. Jesus Himself is your daily bread. Jesus Himself is the living
water to your thirsty soul. And after you've done this, pray and ask God to use the songs you're
going to sing for His glory and the good of those gathered.
Worship leading is hard work, but it is essential work. It is this work that profoundly shapes
people's theology. This year, let us resolve to consistently feed our congregations the whole
gospel of grace that leads to healthier churches.
What you sing matters.
Jake Ferrell has been leading worship and encouraging worship leaders for over twenty years. He serves as the Worship Director at Valley Church in Des Moines, Iowa. Jake and his wife Lacy have four children. He loves Jesus, his family, and the Chicago Cubs... until mid-July every year.