The Commission on Worship’s study of 100-plus contemporary songs
By David Johnson
Endeavoring to faithfully address 2007 Synod Convention Resolution 2-02A, “To Provide Guidance and Direction for Use of Diverse/Contemporary Worship Resources,” the LCMS Commission on Worship sought to begin evaluating a significant list of contemporary Christian songs that are being used in congregations of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
Sixteen reviewers – pastors, musicians, and worship leaders well-acquainted with diverse and contemporary song literature – invested significant time to evaluate this repertoire.
The commission’s publication, “Text, Music, Context: A Resource for Reviewing Worship Materials,” was used to determine that each song would be considered in light of the Holy Scriptures, the church year, the lectionary, the Sacraments, Law/Gospel balance, confessional/doctrinal thought, redemption and forgiveness in Christ, and the use of Trinitarian language. Reviewers also evaluated how accessible the melodies are for congregational singing.
To achieve objective survey results, composite scores in these categories were created. Songs considered ambiguous – those potentially compromising or confusing Lutheran doctrine and practice – were removed from the list.
Visit http://worship.lcms.org/songevaluations to download the results of this study.
The songs listed on the Web page have not been subjected to the same in-depth process that selected hymns receive before being included in a synodically approved hymnal. The rapidly changing scene of Christian contemporary music requires constant attention to evaluate emerging songs in a timely manner.
This resource is designed to assist pastors, musicians, and worship leaders in making informed decisions regarding song selections for their congregations. The downloadable study indicates the specified strengths of each listed song. Comprehensive scriptural, lectionary, and church-year references are provided. As new songs are considered, the database will expand.
It is imperative to note that songs are not hymns.
The words of songs frequently convey simple scriptural thoughts that are wedded to stirring rhythmic melodies. Multiple songs can be sequenced in a medley to draw together several ideas and may be connected with scripture readings, liturgical responses, extemporaneous prayer, praise, and witnessing. Recording artists and song writers collaborate with lyricists, musicians, and publishers to hone their craft audibly first, seeking to inspire individuals, assemblies, audiences, and worship communities.
Hymn texts, in their role in Lutheran worship, provide sequences of poetic stanzas that expound on the life of Christ and the life of the Church. The life cycle of a hymn potentially spans centuries. The life cycle of a song spans weeks, months, perhaps years.
In the midst of Word and Sacrament ministry, both sets of repertoire potentially shape the musical life of individuals and congregations. A congregation’s specific affinity for hymns and/or songs ought to be shaped by the unique gifts and careful leadership of pastors, musicians, and worship leaders in that place.
It is not the intention of the Commission on Worship to produce yet another printed publication of extant musical resources. Contemporary Christian songs for congre-gational worship are accessible through the Internet-based sources and other suppliers.
In accompanying congregational song and hymnody, each congregation should consistently strive for that musical excellence which supports and encourages voices that vigorously confess the Song of the people, Who is Christ alone!
Rev. David Johnson is executive director of the LCMS Commission on Worship.