Have you ever been locked in riveting discussion with someone, points and arguments flying back and forth, only to hear your case misrepresented by some crafty rephrasing from the other side? It’s a fact of life: no one enjoys having the wrong words put in their mouths. We get frustrated when people imply or state something that we never said or meant, and so we take special care to make sure the words we say are clear and direct. Putting words in someone else’s mouth is viewed with such stigma in today’s world of individuality and subjective perspective being the keys to self-expression. It’s taboo and wrong for you to speak for someone else. And yet, worship pastors are called to do just that.
Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (Col 3:16 CSB)
Did you catch that? We teach one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Music is not just about the artistic expression of the worshiper as a response to God’s revelation, but it is also about spiritual formation. The word of Christ dwells richly among his people when they glorify God and edify one another through song. We disciple one another by singing the truth. “What more can He say than to you He hath said?” So, put the words of the Word in their mouths. Oftentimes, well-intentioned Christians who seek to apply biblical principles to their lives walk away from a worship service after hearing the Word preached and taught to them, only to forget the main points just hours after lunch. Yet, how often have you walked away from a worship service, still singing the same songs days later? Paul and other New Testament writers appeared to be aware of this phenomenon. Throughout their letters, we find fragments of early Christian hymns (Eph 5:14, Phil 2:5-11, Col 1:15-20, 1 Tim 3:16, Heb 1:1-3, 1 Pet 2:21-25). These writers understood the power of music: how it hangs in the mind, how it forms the poetic language we use to describe our circumstances and our lives.
Music plays a vital role in allowing us to recall the hope of glory in Jesus Christ. This does not mean that we need to make everything about the music itself. If we are to let the Word of Christ dwell richly among us, we need to make sure the words we sing are the Word itself. The trend is to focus on the music, providing an avenue for emotional response on the part of the worshiper, expecting to see hands raised and eyes closed as we give ‘em the beat, boys, and free their souls so they can get lost in the rock ‘n’ roll. But we must avoid the lie that music determines and causes our responses.
No song is peppy enough to stir the emotions of the human heart unless the Word of God dwells richly within it. There is no BPM fast enough to lift the spirits of the mother who got a call on Saturday night that her 17-year-old son was killed by a drunk driver. No major key on its own will speak truth into the life of the 32-year-old single father of 3 young girls who just found out his cancer is terminal. Have you as a worship leader put the words in their mouths for them to be able to say in these times, “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well with my soul,’” or in more modern terms “Christ the sure and steady anchor through the floods of unbelief; Hopeless somehow, O my soul, now, lift your eyes to Calvary”?
The Word of God alone provides the transformative power for Christlikeness in the lives of God’s people. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). So, worship pastors, sing the Word. Let it dwell richly among your people through song. Don’t just choose songs for their ambient textures or cool guitar riffs. Put the Word in people’s mouths. They’ll thank you for it.
May the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
Lord, my rock and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:14 CSB)
Austin Collins serves as the research assistant at the Institute for Biblical Worship. He and his wife Liz currently lead worship at Harrison Hills Baptist Church in Lanesville, IN, while he pursues his Master of Divinity in Worship Leadership at Southern Seminary.