Barry Liesch’s book, The New Worship: Straight Talk on Music and the Church (Baker Books, ISBN 0-8010-6256-6) has a number of helpful chapters for those who lead the musical portion of their church worship service. He gives a number of principles based on Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:18-21. These are the passages where the Apostle Paul discusses the importance of singing “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” in our church gatherings. Leisch shares several summarizing principles for worship songs from these two passages. In our worship songs we should:
1. Sing to the Lord
2. Sing to one another
3. Teach and admonish one another with songs
4. Value variety
5. Recognize that grace motivates praise
Leisch unpacks each of these principles in the first chapter of his book. He believes that “we need to take the teaching role of music and song much more seriously” and that this teaching role should transcend the issues of musical style. “Set short and long-term systematic goals for teaching biblical content through congregational song.” Leisch quotes R.W. Dale who says, “let me write the hymns (choruses) of a church and I care not who writes the theology” (page 51 of The New Worship).
I think Leisch is on target with the issue of teaching biblical content in our worship songs. Does every song in the worship service have to teach deep theological truths? I would say no, but we certainly want to make sure we have balance between simple songs of praise and songs that instruct us in the Gospel. That is why using hymns in combination with newer simple praise songs is such a great way to achieve this balance.