Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

By Joel Dipert

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God." - Col 3:16

It has been a few weeks since our church's Elder board and I went to the Together For the Gospel conference in Louisville, KY. Although it was mainly intended for Sr Pastors and preachers, I took a lot away from the conference in the realm of worship leading. The worship in our general sessions was led by Bob Kauflin, from a new hymnal put out by Master's Seminary Press which everyone received a copy of. Some of the breakout sessions I attended were geared toward worship/music too and led by Matt Boswell, Keith Getty, and Bob Kauflin. I learned so much and was reminded again of how important the songs we sing are, how we choose them, and why. In choosing what to lead our congregation in singing, these are my main take-aways:

1): Present the gospel. This should drive what we sing more than what's popular or what we might enjoy listening to. When we sing 'In Christ Alone' together, we are reciting profound theological statements and biblical doctrines. When we sing 'Amazing Grace' we are essentially preaching to ourselves and to each other the gospel and the wisdom of the word of Christ (Col 3:16). In fact, familiarizing ourselves with songs like these helps us recall true statements of the gospel that can help us share the gospel with others. Songs have a way of giving us all an ability for memorization we thought we never had.

2): Choose songs that your congregation sings well. Psalm 95 says that we are to "make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!" Melody, range, key, familiarity all need to be considered so that focus is on the truths being sung and everyone is comfortable participating. Singability is not good enough- if we've already chosen carefully a repertoire of gospel-driven, truth-centered lyrics, which ones does our congregation LOVE to sing? 

3): Variety. Psalms, hymns, spiritual songs (Eph 5:19, Col 3:16) Every camp of musical genre, from 500 year-old hymns to the latest VCB album, has something to offer us, so don't miss out on the wealth of worship music out there and the theology that we can sing to let the Word of Christ dwell on us richly. For me, this was especially true in thumbing through the new hymnal we received. There are songs written in the 1700's as well as ones written in the last couple years. It is not entirely clear what the distinction between 'Psalms, hymns, spiritual songs' is, but there is a clear indication of variety. For this reason, we do not just sing the top 40 songs on CCLI nor are we switching to solely using pew hymn books any time soon.

4): Be careful of associations you may make (though unintentionally) to certain 'brands' or movements in the worship music sphere. Solid theology in the lyrics is always our biggest concern, but we want to shepherd our people well and point them to places we can trust they will receive clear, true doctrine. At Harvest Calgary, there are certain popular worship movements and/or mega churches that we do not sing songs from because of the association they hold to what we would feel is a false gospel. It can be a fine line we walk sometimes as some artists/churches are more overtly associated with false doctrines than others, but it is important to evaluate where the songs come from that we sing. For instance, 'Be Thou My Vision' was written in 1912 by a Catholic 'saint'. Does this mean that if we sing it on Sunday, our congregation will research it and be drawn to the Catholic church? Probably not. But there are other popular christian songs today that have a stronger tie to modern false doctrines that we would prefer to stay clear of.

Lastly, I was most inspired to continue writing for our local church, songs that our congregation sings well and loud that are grounded in the truths of scripture. Let us continue to admonish one another on Sunday mornings through the songs we sing.