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Guidelines for Evaluating Congregational Singing

Thoughts from the Director of Music

I was looking at the website of the Reformed Church in America recently. I was reminded of my responsibility as your Director of Music to nurture and grow our congregation singing. The article suggests ten criteria to use when considering music that will be sung by the congregation.

Here is the ten criteria.

Suggested Guidelines for Evaluating and Nurturing Congregational Singing
  1. What theology is expressed in our congregational singing? Is it biblical? Is it consistent with Reformed theology? Is the range of what we sing representative of the “whole counsel of God?” What do our songs and hymns say or imply about the sovereignty and grace of God? About the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ? About the work of the Holy Spirit, the nature and mission of the church, the sacraments, and the Christian life?
  2. Is there sufficient pastoral breadth in our music ministry? Do we sing songs that are appropriate to the many and variable life situations in which believers find themselves? Does our congregational singing include the many moods and types of prayer, including praise, thanksgiving, confession, lament, intercession, and dedication? A congregation which sings only “upbeat” praise choruses and hymns, for example, will have a diminished and restricted understanding of prayer.
  3. Is there sufficient liturgical breadth? Does our congregational singing include songs and hymns appropriate to each of the seasons of the church year? For the celebration of the sacraments? For the various opportunities for congregational responses in the order of worship? Is the congregation provided with the opportunity to sing those parts of the service that are better sung than spoken?
  4. Is there sufficient historical, cultural, and generational breadth? Does our congregational singing express belief in the communion of saints? Are all the saints present encouraged to join in singing, and do our songs also express our belief that we sing with saints throughout the ages and around the world? Do the hymns and songs include contributions from other cultures, languages, and eras? Are songs included which allow for the full participation of children? For those beginning the journey of faith as well as for more mature Christians?
  5. Is the language of our hymns inclusive? Do our hymns make use of the full range of biblical imagery for God? Can all believers, male and female, young and old, feel included by the language of our congregational songs?
  6. Are we providing our congregation with a sufficient vocabulary of praise? Marva Dawn suggests that a hymn text “is great in proportion to what we can learn from it.” What do we learn about God and the Christian faith from what we sing? Can the text stand on its own?
  7. Does the music serve the text? “A hymn tune is excellent only as it is subservient to the words, undergirds the thought, and captures the dominant mood.” Does the tune help us to recall the words by bringing forward appropriate features of the text, or does the tune call attention to itself and contradict or stand in the way of the words?
  8. Does our music encourage corporate worship? Does the music encourage congregational singing or is it designed for the solo artist or does it come across as entertainment? Are soloists and choir effectively leading and supporting the congregation in its worship or are they merely displaying their virtuosity? Do the hymns and choruses we sing express the faith of the gathered community or do they tend toward individual and private expressions of faith?
  9. Is the music appropriate to the ability of the congregation? Do our musical selections respect the past practice of congregation? Do we include enough familiar hymns?
  10. Do the hymns and choruses we sing assume and encourage growth in discipleship? Is continuing congregational education in music and worship a part of our ministry? Do we take the time and effort to learn new hymns and challenging hymns? Worship is a “living sacrifice,” and therefore our gifts to God should represent some cost to us. Learning more difficult music and coming to understand and appreciate richer theology may be difficult work, but it can also be a source of spiritual renewal and growth.

—Commission on Worship, Reformed Church in America, 1996

Let me know your thoughts about the congregational singing at LUMC? What do we do well? Where could we do better?

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