Putting Words in Your Mouth

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.

Scripture-Guided Christmas Caroling

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? Christmas season means we sing Christmas carols, right? Doesn’t Christmas season mean that our job gets easier? For those who seek to pastor a congregation through music and the arts, this season can be at the same time both unifying and frustrating. Many who strive weekly throughout the majority of the year get to December and mail it in. “Ah, my work is done. Time for Christmas carols.”

Then comes the inner struggle, at least for myself, of working to start every planning session with the Word of God, and base everything we do in Scripture. Easy, right? Reference an Old Testament prophecy here, talk about angels and shepherds, then sing a few carols. As my three-year-old would say, “Easy-peasy.”

Yes and no.

I love this time of year because, for the most part, as others have noted, even the broadest of musical styles have a common hymnal, if you will, for the Christmas season. That doesn’t mean, though, that your work is done, or even easier. It just means that it’s more specific.
Allow me to provide an example of how I balance this tension in the Christmas season. Our pastor is currently preaching through the Christ-hymn in Colossians, teaching on who Jesus is. This Sunday his text is Colossians 1:18-20, and he’ll be preaching on the truth that Jesus is Lord of the Church. He’ll give three reasons that point to Jesus’ worthiness for this role: 1. Christ is the firstborn from the dead (v. 18), 2. God’s fullness dwells in Christ (v. 19), 3. Christ reconciles sinners by the blood of His cross. Not much room in there for what can be a kitschy time of Christmas carols sung by rote memory.

So, seek out Christmas songs (and/or others) that point to the greatness of God in Christ. Here are the songs we’re singing this Sunday and a brief reasoning why we’re doing so.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing: Verse One references the reconciliation that is available between God and man because of Christ’s birth. Verse Two acknowledges Christ as Lord and calls the singer to “Hail the incarnate Deity!” Verse Three references Malachi 4:2 and points to Jesus as the “Sun of Righteousness, risen with healing in His wings.”

O Come, O Come Emmanuel: The entirety of this song is a prayer asking God With Us to be all these different things (which He is), to guide us in such a way (which He does), and also offers a reminder to rest in the truth that He will do what He promises.

What Child Is This: A series of questions and answers in this song point to Christ as King, as the One who bore our sins on the cross (if you sing the entirety of all three verses), and it calls all of us to praise Him with all that we are.

O Come, All Ye Faithful: Following the questions posed and answered in the previous song, we’ll finish our singing with a song of adoration, once again reminding ourselves that Jesus is the “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.”

So, sing Christmas carols! But sing them intentionally, in light of who God has revealed Himself to be in His Word. Even when it seems your music library may be limited, work hard to be thoughtful. Let Scripture guide your worship even in seasons that may be more “predictable.” And point out why you’re singing these songs. For our good and for His glory.

Garrett Wooten serves as the Worship Arts Pastor at Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, TX. He and his wife, Brittanie, have been married for 8 years and have two boys. Garrett is a student at Southern Seminary working toward the Master of Arts in Worship Leadership.