Why Should Worship Leaders Study Theology?
Nearly everyone enjoys music; however, we know that not everyone loves the music we lead in our various churches as worship leaders. Multiple lobby conversations occur over preference, passionately delivered by armchair musicologists and theologians turned into skeptics who claim musical skill is missing in our gatherings and that Biblical instruction is null and void during our musical worship celebrations. As we break down these dynamic interactions, a common question remains: "What has happened to theology?" Have our musical moments in worship become "rock concerts" leading to a dumbed-down liturgy masked by lights, fog, and electric guitar solos?
It is so easy to take offense to these questions, but we must remember that we are not worship's centerpiece. Moreover, it is hard to shift our focus away from ourselves at times. As musicians, we have received applause and participated in private lessons geared toward making us the most perfected instrument. We have practiced before mirrors to get our expressions just right and even received encouragement around ways to connect to our audiences. Still, these foundational musical learnings can trap us in a tug-o-war between musical perfection and Christian authenticity in church work. Studying theology can help realign our person with the purpose of our musical calling. Theology reminds us that we are not the centerpiece — Christ is the focus.
Every worship leader should study theology for many reasons, one being we cannot lead people to an awareness of what we do not know. Of course, we must continue to learn our music; as pastors and leaders, we must equally (if not more) digest Scripture, grow, and invest in our relationship with Christ by reading his word and dedicated time in prayer. This knowledge and preparation will fuel our congregations and make us more like Christ throughout the week. So, where do we begin?
There are many facets of theology to consider studying as worship leaders. The first three to propose exploring are Anthropology (the study of how humanity fits into the more significant story). Christology (the study of the person, nature, and role of Christ). Lastly, Pneumatology (the study of The Holy Spirit). Experience leads me to choose these facets, and I am currently delving deeper into these domains of theology and learning while exploring and connecting these domains to the people I lead on any given weekend. I believe that God desires to be known as He is, and as I invest more in theology and dig deeper into the soil of truth. Allowing seeds to be planted in our congregation's minds and hearts that grow into beautiful gardens of truth.
As we latch on to these truths, we must intentionally implement these concepts in our weekend services and consider evaluating our song selections around five ideas. Three facets to inspire us musically and two to elevate the person and work of Christ.
The five themes to base every song around are:
- Theologically significant lyrics
- Literarily apt and thoughtful lyrics
- Lyrics and music appropriate to a meeting between God and his visible people
- Well-written piece concerning melody, harmony, rhythm, and form
- A musical setting appropriate to the lyrical content.
Researching the depth of scriptural relevance in music takes time, but theologically sound songs will be easily noted. We are looking for a resounding awareness of what is accepted as right, correct, established, and approved within the capital C church. As we sing these lyrics, we are joining with the chorus of the saints and angels, declaring the power of Christ's work and the beauty found within the name of Jesus. We are also looking for singable songs that make glorious the musicality associated with the human voice and accent the instrumentation made available in our local church body.
As we look for orthodox and significant lyrics, we are making sure that our congregations receive, through musical worship, a way of relating to God and the world. The messages should emphasize the good news of Jesus Christ and its importance in living our lives. Some questions we can ask are: do the lyrics reflect Biblical language or ideas? Do the lyrics contain Scripture? Do the lyrics promote genuine praise, thanksgiving, and repentance and leave one delighting in God's character? Do the lyrics understandably communicate the message of God? These questions ensure that growth and participation are a goal in our musical worship.
Our churches can see a great example of this lyric idea in hymns of the ages. It is important to note these concepts also exist in new worship songs, such as God So loved, by the Capital music group, We The Kingdom.¹ Based on the gospel passage of John 3:16, Isaiah 25:8, 2 Timothy 1:7, Revelation 1:18, among others, the lyrics contain a beautiful and accurate theology surrounding the love of God.
For God so loved the world that He gave us.
His one and only Son to save us.
Whoever believes in Him will live forever.
The power of hell is forever defeated.
Now it is well; I’m walking in freedom.
For God so loved, God so loved the world.
The song is singable and written in a happy tempo (100 bpm) that draws everyone together under the joy of God's love. The range is singable, and the syncopation is nominal or placed in a way that makes sense to the worshipper. The melody is childlike (in the best way) and is lyrically laced with a familiar bridge based on The Doxology ("Praise God from Whom all blessings flow"). We unite generations around God's message's love and build on the singing tradition of previous generations. Adding needed spiritual formation elements to harmonies that make sense, a congregation can easily follow along, grow, and engage in the message of the cross of Christ.
Although this is simply one example of incorporating the six criteria discussed into planning a corporate worship time, the time spent analyzing the music being considered for musical worship will surely edify the church and create a place where God and man connect. The questions may take time and devotion to answer, but as shepherds of our congregations — the time will prove itself of value as we grow together in awareness of who God is and what He has done. After all, the songs we use in worship are meant to propel believers' community to greater faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and theology helps us connect our congregations to the nature of our loving God.