Guidelines for Congregational Singing


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

There is much discussion about what music in the church should look like. It seems that there are as many different opinion as there are churches, and while I do think there is plenty of room for various viewpoints, Colossians 3:16 gives a wonderful outline for some basic principles for church music. While there is certainly much more to church music than what we’ll look at here, I firmly believe that there should not be less. This verse is written as a command, and should be treated as such, and responded to with obedience. So, let’s look at the various parts of the verse to see what it teaches us.

The word of Christ” – The music of the church should be scriptural. If our music is ever in contradiction to the Bible there is a severe problem, however what is more common is when music is simply ignorant of the Bible. When the lyrics bear no imprint of scriptural references and ideas, they become indistinguishable from the secular music around us. It is my goal that the music of this church will always be rooted in scripture.

“Teaching and Admonishing” – Here we see, quite plainly, that the purpose of church music is not emotional or experiential, but rather educational. Paul is clear that our music is used for teaching. It is for this reason that we strive to make the music a further exposition of the sermon text. We do not want the music time and the sermon time to be two separate elements, but rather it our goal that the music will be teaching the same ideas and themes as the sermon. This helps to combat the issues of emotionalism and entertainment in our singing. It ensures that the basis for all we do is not within ourselves, but always in response to scripture. It also ensures that our attention is drawn to the aspect of God we are learning about, and not to anyone who is on the platform. Paul does not simply say music is for teaching, but also for admonishing. This means that the songs we sing should also be working with the sermon to convict us, and to encourage us towards righteous living. It is my goal that after we leave the sanctuary, if you find yourself humming any of the songs we sang that day, that they will remind you of the sermon, and that they will continue to teach you.

“One Another” – The New Testament is filled with commands to live with ‘one another’ in view. This requires participation. We cannot love one another if we are cloistered away by ourselves. In the same way, we cannot sing with one another if we keep our mouths closed. Again, this fights against the culture of entertainment that can creep into church music. We are not gathered together to listen to someone else sing, but rather to join our voices together.  There are some practical implications to this as well. If we are to be singing together, then the songs must be singable. There are many popular songs on the radio that have ranges well beyond what the untrained voice can handle. This keeps the average singer silent while only the talented continue singing.

“With Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” – Here Paul takes a stance on the issue of genre in church music, and his instruction is to have diversity. We are not just to sing Psalms, or just hymns, or just spiritual songs, but a mix of all of them together. Here at Forest, we have such a wide range of ages in our membership, and there is an equally wide range of opinion on worship styles. My goal is to follow Paul’s instruction and to keep things diverse. One week there is a brass ensemble, another week a band with guitar, bass and drums, another with violin, flute, and hammered dulcimer, and yet another a men’s quartet. We have been blessed with many talented musicians, and I am thankful for the ability to have such diversity in our music.

“Singing with thankfulness”- Overall, however, we music remember that singing in church is not a duty to be endured, but rather a joy to be participated in with gratitude. We get the chance to gather together and lift our voices in praise and adoration of our Creator who loves us and has redeemed us. I hope that we will keep these things in mind while we sing and they will enhance our participation in worshiping Christ together.