What Do You Do When You Have Problems With the Songs You’re Singing on Sundays?

A podcast listener sent in this question, asking what to do when the songs your church is singing are problematic, either for musical or theological reasons. It’s a question we’ve received more than once, and in this episode David and Bob seek to provide biblical and practical answers.

Have a question about this episode? Send us an email at soundplusdoctrine@sovereigngrace.com

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Bob Kauflin: Singing is not about our personal preferences. It’s about singing songs that edify the body, edify the church. So we’re really looking for the songs that everybody can join in on.

David Zimmer: Hello and welcome to the Sound Plus Doctrine podcast. My name is David Zimmer.

BK: My name is Bob Kauflin. And do we have an episode for you today?

DZ: We do have an episode for you.

BK: We always have an episode for you.

DZ: That’s why you’re here.

BK: It’s not like that’s a real big deal. But a lot of times people send in questions hoping that we will provide answers. And…

DZ: We love receiving questions.

BK: We do.

DZ: We’ve gotten really, really great ones.

BK: We do. And we’ve done some episodes on answering those questions. This one actually a number. We’re going to answer a question today. A number of people have sent in something very similar to the question we’re going to read. Right. And I think it’s going to be helpful because Sound Plus Doctrine is generally for people who plan and lead the Sunday gatherings. But we find out that all kinds of people listen to this. Someone left a comment somewhere just recently. Yeah, I was listening to it while cleaning my bathrooms again.

BK: Thought Okay, great. Thank you.

DZ: Whatever motivates you.

BK: Thank you for being faithful. But we appreciate that because we are hoping to serve Christians as part of your church. Yeah.

DZ: You know, how you can be more engaged and be more involved. So.

DZ: If you have a question.

BK: Oh, thank you.

DZ: How do you send it in to us?

BK: I thought you were going to answer that question. You email us at soundplusdoctrine@sovereigngrace.com.

DZ: Yeah. I was just testing you.

BK: You spell out the plus. It’s not a plus sign. Yeah. Plus sign. You spell it out. Okay. Question we are looking at today is, what do you do? It’s a long title. What do you do when you have problems with the songs you’re singing on Sundays?

DZ: Hmm. So, this is like from the perspective of someone in the congregation?

BK: Yes. Or someone on the team.

DZ: Okay.

BK: So, this is the, this is their question that they sent in for us. First of all, this person starts out, she starts out, I’m grateful for the wisdom and knowledge you guys share that first stems from a deep foundation in God’s Word. Thank you. Thank you. And we really appreciate you saying that. That’s what we’re seeking to do. Look at what we do in our gatherings from the perspective of God’s Word.

DZ: Yep.

BK: Then the question. “My question is hard to adequately put into words, but basically, what do you do when the worship team leader is picking songs that you just don’t like. It sounds brash, but when the songs are more outdated, not as theologically rich, it’s hard to tune your heart to sing them with joy. Is this a sin issue in the person’s heart who’s struggling with these things? I’ve gone to the Lord in prayer over this.” Thank you. “But wanted to glean any insight you may have. Thank you in advance.” That was similar to another question we got.

BK: “I have been struggling with the direction that our worship team has been going in terms of lack of rich biblical theology in lieu of playing what’s hip at the moment. As a member of the team, even on Sundays when I’m not playing, it’s harder and harder to find rich nuggets of truth to cling to during worship.” What a great question and what a common experience, I think. Yeah. You know, on the one hand, you have leaders who are seeking to lead their churches into a deeper, richer experience of singing together as a congregation, trying to help them see what this means, what it’s meant to do for them, how it’s meant to enable the Word of Christ to dwell in us richly. This is the flip side of that, where you have people in the congregation, on the team, who are saying, you know what? I’m in this church and it’s just for different reasons. It’s not going I’m just having a hard time.

DZ: Yeah, and I think you can feel helpless as a congregation member, feeling like, I don’t know how to say something. I don’t know if I should say something.

BK: Yes, yes.

DZ: Because your heart… And this is what I love about these two people that contributed these questions. Their hearts are to want to engage with the Lord.

BK: Yes, yeah, yeah.

DZ: They care enough to say something, which I think is something that I would commend to both of them. Thank you for caring about the songs that you’re singing.

BK: Yes, amen. Singing is important in our faith. God gives us over 50 commands to sing, and obviously He doesn’t save just musicians. So there’s something about singing, and we’ve covered this in other episodes, that matters. And so these people are saying, it should matter. It should make a difference. I should be singing words that enable me to teach and admonish others, and singing words that expound on the character of God, His worthiness, His works, His word, and it’s not happening.

DZ: Yeah, and is it sinful to say, I can’t sing these songs?

BK: Yes, yeah, yeah, yeah.

DZ: Or it’s very challenging to sing these songs?

BK: Yeah, yeah, yeah yeah yeah. And not necessarily would be the quick answer. Yeah. So let’s talk about what you might do as a member of a team or a member of a congregation. First, the person who sent in the question already said, “I’ve prayed about this.” That’s where you start. “Lord, is there something in my heart that’s not right? Am I just being critical? Am I being a grumbler? What’s your will in this?” That’s where you start. And then if you’re gonna… I would encourage someone to go, this person, to go to the leader, having prayed. And the first thing I’d do is find all the things that you can encourage. So it’s interesting, sometimes members of congregations stay quiet until there’s something to critique, which is a really bad practice.

DZ: For sure.

BK: When the only time, as a leader, the only time I hear from someone in my congregation is when they have something to complain about…

DZ: Yes.

BK: Or something that stays wrong. So it helps us in our hearts to look for evidences of grace in the leaders.

DZ: Absolutely.

BK: That’s what Paul did with the Corinthians. He just, he begins 1 Corinthians, telling the Corinthians how much they’ve been gifted with every spiritual blessing in Christ and how much he thanks God for them. And that’s the prelude to the letter of where he corrects them for divisiveness and for immorality and for taking one another to court and all those things. But he sees God working in them. He sees God’s call in their lives. He sees God’s grace in their lives. He sees God’s purpose for their lives. And so that enables him to encourage them. And that’s something I learned from a message CJ Mahaney gave years ago, grace in the adventure of leadership, where he just brings those points out.

DZ: Well, and how CJ has modeled that for you, you’ve modeled that to me, you’ve modeled that to us who are in Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, who are on teams. Just your encouragement wants… It makes me want to sort of step up and you’re enabling me through the encouragement. Hey, you’re doing these things well? And these are areas, you could, we could see growth. That enables me to do that. It gives me joy to do that.

BK: Yes. Well, that’s the way God treats us. He doesn’t say, “here’s the bar, reach it, jump high, jump higher, jump higher.” He says, “this is why I’ve made you in Christ.” I mean, all the… We’re getting off here, but this is good.

DZ: That was great.

BK: All the motivations to obedience in the New Testament and the Old Testament are rooted in grace. Those commands are rooted in grace, 10 commandments. God begins with, you know, I’ve redeemed you from Egypt, therefore do these things. Like, “you are mine, you belong to me.” So in the New Testament, you take a book like Ephesians where Paul spends the first three chapters describing how we have been changed by the grace of God in Christ.

DZ: Absolutely.

BK: Changed by the Gospel. Then he talks about how we’re to live. So, begin with encouragement.

DZ: It’s worth taking the time to talk about because I think so often we all want it to be better, but we just don’t lean in with encouragement. We lean in with criticism. And it makes people feel disheartened when you’re trying to serve week in and week out.

BK: Yes. So, let me put this on you, David. What could you say to someone who’s leading, because you’ve led, what could this person say to the person who’s leading? Without even knowing the situation, what evidences of grace could there be in a leader?

DZ: Oh, man. I mean, so many. Just the fact that someone has chosen to lead, the fact that someone has chosen to step up and pick songs and pick the keys. They’ve set aside time. Maybe they’ve practiced. Maybe, you just. They’re serving in that capacity. That’s a wonderful way to start. Thank you for just serving.

BK: Yes. Yes yes.

DZ: And then from then on, I know there can be… And this might be controversial, but even in the songs that you don’t love, I bet there could be something in there.

BK: There often is.

DZ: That says something about what the Lord has done, something about our lives in Him.

BK: We’re not singing constant heresy.

DZ: Exactly. And to have eyes to see that, man is good.

BK: Yes. Yeah. So, if there’s a particular song that you’ve been doing, that really feeds my soul. Thank you for choosing that. Thank you for picking that. Their instrumental gifts, if they’re playing an instrument, thank you for the hours you’ve put into that. And as you mentioned, just the time, so many people who lead are volunteers…

DZ: For sure.

BK: Or part-time. So, they’ve got other things they’re doing.

DZ: Oh, man. Yeah.

BK: So, just having God’s eyes to see how much this person is already doing to serve you.

DZ: Excellent.

BK: And to serve the church. So, that’s where I’d start. And through prayer, you could probably think of more things to just thank them for, encourage them. And it may be even just for the way they’re living their lives, caring for their family, just anything that you can genuinely go to them and say, first thing I want to do is thank you for serving us. That will just change the tone of the conversation. Then second, and by the way, that’s just a way to live our Christian life.

DZ: Absolutely.

BK: With the people around us, we’re looking for ways God is working to encourage other people, because we need to encourage each other. “Let us encourage one another as long as it is called today, lest any of us be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin”, Hebrews 3:13. It’s important that we encourage others, and that’s how we do it. We have the eyes to see where God’s working. Yeah. Okay, so you’ve done that, and then you say, “now, I want you to know that as we’ve been singing, there’s sometimes I have a hard time, and I am wondering if you could help me with this.” So you ask them to help you. You’re in a dilemma. You want to sing, you appreciate their leadership, but… And that’s where it gets into, okay, what are we going to talk about? Is it, “It seems like a lot of the songs we do don’t refer to who God is and what he’s done.” It seems like that’s what our song should do. It seems like they’re more driven emotionally, just about how we’re gonna… The best times of corporate worship are when we’re yelling and screaming and just giving it all, and there’s not much time for just considering who God is in his glory and his majesty and his holiness and his righteousness and whatever.

BK: I don’t know the particular issues going on here, but it’s funny, not funny, how often we can just start to blanket judge every song we sing. Yeah. We have a critical heart, and so every song just sounds the same. And it is important, I think, as you said, to look for lines, verses, phrases that are biblical, that can feed your soul, that provide that doctrinal fuel for your emotional fire, and to meditate on those, to think on those, and not just blanket, “nothing about this song is worth singing.” I mean, there are songs that I would never lead that if I was being led in them, I could still find true things.

BK: Sometimes it’s a matter of imbalance. So songs that are kind of big God songs, they just talk about God, “you’re this, you’re that, you’re that”, but never get really into the details of, okay, what does that mean? Never talk much about the gospel. What does it mean that Jesus lived a perfect life and hung on the cross as payment for our sins, to receive the punishment we deserve, to receive God’s wrath for us, our judgment, and then rise from the dead? What does that mean? What difference does that make? And why is that so important? That’s the heart of the gospel.

DZ: Absolutely.

BK: And if we don’t sing about that much, well, that’s going to have an effect. And that’s what we’re called to meditate on. “As you’ve received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him”, Colossians 2. We are to be rooted and built up in him. And singing is one of the ways we do that, as the word of Christ dwells in us richly. So it could be a matter of just balance.

BK: It could be a matter of a sense that, like the second question asked, everything, it just seems to be… Songs seem to be chosen more because they’re hip and cool than and popular than the fact that we need to do these songs.

DZ: Right. Or, I don’t know if you were continuing that train of thought, I would say, or on the flip side, there are songs that are really old or very hard to sing.

BK: It did mention outdated yes.

DZ: Or outdated. And multiple podcasts that we’ve done come to mind as I’m thinking about that. But most recently, the two we did with Ben Shive, of him just helping song leaders think about keys and think about congregational singing. And it can be a challenge even then to say, “it’s really hard for me to sing this song.” And how would you say that to a worship leader in a way that’s gracious? Say this woman wants to approach and say, “it’s hard for me to even sing these songs.” How would she?

BK: I think it’s always helpful to start to just frame it as a dilemma. Like, “I know you care about me. And I know you care about the congregation singing, It’s really hard for me to sing the songs in the keys they’re in.” Or, “it’s really hard for me to get a good grasp of God and who He is through some of the songs we’re singing. And I want to. So how would you counsel me?” In other words, have them… And that’s the third thing, enter into a discussion. Have them help you.

DZ: Not just a card that I write on and hand it to him and then walk away.

BK: Yeah Oh, gosh, I’ve read so many stories. We got a card this week from.

DZ: Oh, a suggestion box or something? Oh, no.

BK: Yeah, I think those are so unhelpful.

DZ: Take those away.

BK: Yeah, because it eliminates the person-to-person dialogue.

DZ: Have relationships. Yes. Oh, man.

BK: So you have a discussion. Once you find out, okay, what are the issues? Is it a theological issue? Is it a musical issue? Those are probably the two main ones. Could be a character issue, but that’s on another level that we’re not going to get into. They’re not asking about that. But it’s more, these songs, it’s hard for me to engage with the Lord as we’re singing the songs that we’re singing. So you pinpoint maybe one or two or three things, specific topics, and then you talk about them. You try and engage in discussion rather than, “here’s what I think, okay, you better do something.” Okay. I’ve had people approach me like that. It’s really unhelpful. You just don’t know what to say. Okay, I don’t agree with you.

DZ: And I think it’s taking the position as when you’re approaching someone, it’s taking the position that they’ve probably thought about it. They have reasons of why they’ve done it.

BK: In most cases, they have thought about it. Sometimes they haven’t but.

DZ: Yeah. So to be charitable enough to encourage them and see it from their perspective that they’ve chosen these songs.

BK: Yes, Yes.

DZ: Maybe they love these songs. Maybe these songs are really easy for them to sing. All these reasons.

BK: Yes.

DZ: But then to be able to have a conversation.

BK: Yep. So let’s take a couple examples. So someone who just sings outdated songs, really old songs. It would behoove me as someone in the congregation maybe to think again about those songs. “Okay, what is it about those songs that is valuable?” Yeah. “How might I just not turn off immediately when I hear them sung? But how might I engage with what those words are actually saying?” And certainly a leader can choose songs for bad reasons and do a song just because, well, I like this song. It’s my favorite. And so maybe your conversation will urge them, motivate them to consider, “is this really the best for the congregation?” Because singing is not about our personal preferences. It’s about singing songs that edify the body, edify the church.

BK: So we’re really looking for those songs that everybody can join in on. Sometimes that takes training, teaching to get to that place. But our end point isn’t, “hey, everybody’s happy because we’re all doing the songs we like to do.”

DZ: Totally.

BK: No, what songs should we be singing?

DZ: Totally.

BK: Those are the ones we want to sing. So the leader might be getting a signal, “oh, I need to think about this.” But as the member of the congregation or the team, I should be asking the question, “is there something I can do to engage more fully with those outdated songs?” And not just chalk them up to, “well, that’s 20 years old. Oh my gosh, I can’t believe it. Or 10 years old. I can’t believe it.” No, maybe I can just engage in that. And here’s another thing. If the leader’s looking out and he’s doing a song and people in the congregation just have these blank faces or aren’t singing at all.

DZ: Yeah if everyone…

BK: That’s not exactly motivating.

DZ: Totally. And you should be aware of that.

BK: Yeah. As a member of the congregation.

DZ: As a leader.

BK: Yeah What?

DZ: You should be aware that no one’s singing.

BK: Oh, yeah.

DZ: The song you chose.

BK: Oh, well, that’s true. You’re hitting it from the other side.

DZ: I am, yeah.

BK: That is something that you should be aware of.

DZ: I would hope so.

BK: And try to avoid or do something about it.

DZ: Or ask questions. “Are these hard to sing? Do you connect with these songs?” Yeah.

BK: Yeah. You can see it’s hard to answer this question because sometimes it’s the leader, sometimes it’s the member of the congregation. So if both the leader and the member of the congregation or the team is examining their hearts and saying, what can I do to help change the situation? You’re gonna be honoring the Lord.

DZ: Absolutely.

BK: And not just going at it as a complainer.

DZ: Yes.

BK: So that’s with updated songs. With hip songs, It might be something like, “hey, have you ever heard of this podcast? Sound Plus Doctrine. Because we did a,” not to be self-promoting.

DZ: Honestly, we have talked about this.

BK: Yeah. Why isn’t my congregation singing? Yeah. So I think we did 15 reasons. Other parts of it. But you just might say, “I found this really helpful. I’d love for you to listen to it and just let me know what you think.” Again, not saying, “look, these guys, they’re saying what you need to hear. Right. And I expect you to come back to me on your hands and knees saying, I’m so sorry.” You don’t wanna approach it that way. You just wanna say, hey, “I wanna have a conversation.” Yeah. Because that’s the goal. So it could be that. It could be, “so how do you choose your songs and what’s the process?” Where you’re really trying to find out and not just looking at…

DZ: Let me in on it. That’s what you’re saying. Yeah.

BK: Not trying to expose them. You’re just saying, “so how do you even do that?” Because that is a hard thing. It’s a hard thing to choose songs for a church to sing. So even entering into the labor that that takes and saying, “wow, how do you do that? And if I find a song that I think would really serve the church, can I suggest that to you?” Yeah. Most people don’t even ask that question. They say, “hey, can we do this? Why aren’t we doing this?” Those kinds of things. Right. And you wanna have a conversation to engage them.

DZ: Yeah. Something just came to mind as we’re talking about this, an experience I had at a church I was leading at one time, where I shared a song from CityAlight and the church had never heard it. And I remember the pastor and some of the people came to me and said, “what is this? Where do I find this? Where do I get this?” And I think it brought to mind that I think churches can sometimes be sort of insulated.

BK: Yes. Insular.

DZ: Yeah. Insular. And I think because you’re in the congregation and you’re thinking about this, and maybe you’re listening to songs outside of Sundays in your personal devotions that are, that you feel like, “oh man, this would be a wonderful congregational song to bring in.” If it’s not so insularly, then that could actually encourage your church, encourage your body. You could hear songs that you would have never been exposed to that are allowing the word of God to dwell in you. Yes. That would have never been a case for your church. So I just think, you never know.

BK: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

DZ: If you’re listening to this and feel fearful, “I don’t think I could ever do that. That would be so offensive. Or I don’t know if I could say something,” to a congregation member.

BK: Yes.

DZ: I would encourage you, there could be songs that could really benefit your church.

BK: Yes. So you’re talking about someone who might fear going to their leader.

DZ: Yeah.

BK: Yeah yeah. No, it is worth, if you think that the church could be served, it’s worth going to them humbly and saying all the encouraging things you can think of, and then saying, “I wonder if we could ever do this song. This has really ministered to me.” I mean, sometimes I’ll get people saying that to me and I’ll think, “that is a great song.” Then other times I’ll think, “yeah, it’s not such a great song.”

DZ: Right. Yeah. Because you’re also thinking through the songs you’re picking.

BK: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And in that case, I’ll often say, “here’s what I love about that song, here’s why we probably won’t do it.” Yeah. And if I haven’t heard it, I’ll go listen to it and then get back to them.

DZ: Again, you’re encouraging that, well, that’s a terrible song, I would never do that. You’re encouraging them before you are giving a, this is why I probably wouldn’t do it.

BK: Yes. Yeah, yeah.

DZ: I just think modeling that is so good.

BK: Cultivating a conversation.

DZ: Yep.

BK: And we were talking about this earlier and you asked about supplementing your song diet.

DZ: Oh, right. Right.

BK: With songs outside the Sunday gathering.

DZ: Yeah. If you feel like God has called you to that church and you’re singing songs that are not, say they’re very biblical, but they’re not at all preferential. They don’t meet your preferences in terms of maybe you don’t have a band at your church. Maybe it’s just a piano. Or maybe it’s really hard for you to sing because they’re in different keys. Can you supplement those songs outside of, would you encourage someone to supplement sides outside of God?

BK: Absolutely. Yeah. Because we’re called to sing together for sure, but we can sing alone as well. Paul and Silas were singing in the prison in Acts and there was no gathering except the guys who were in prison with them. Right. So yeah, we can certainly encourage ourselves in the Lord by listening to and singing along with songs during the week that feed our souls in that way.

DZ: Yes. Which is helpful because it doesn’t feel like Sunday morning, okay, this is it.

BK: Yes. Yeah.

DZ: This is my one opportunity to meet with the Lord through song.

BK: Yeah. You just want to make sure that’s not cultivating discontent and bitterness like, yeah, “What does my church do to these songs? This is a stupid church.” Which leads us to the last point. Right. And that is you have these conversations and say it bears good fruit. You have to be patient. It’s not like it’s all about you and your preferences. Right. But it may be over time, the leader starts to see, “you know what, that’s a good point.” I mean, I can assure you, we can assure you that if you go with a humble heart in prayer that God very often will change things, see things change. But suppose they don’t. I’ve talked to people who are in situations where the church was taking a decidedly different course from the way they’d been going. So they had been singing rich, theology, hymns or solid songs and they decided we’re gonna be hip now. And the Bible is not hip. It’s the word of God. It’s eternal. There may be brief intersections where it’s hip to be a Christian, but those don’t last very long.

DZ: Oh no.

BK: And the question may come up, “is this where I should be?” Yeah. You know, I mean, music’s one aspect of your life together.

DZ: For sure.

BK: I would say if you’re in a church where you found rich community, the teaching is solid, it’s gospel-centered, it’s theologically-driven, it’s humbly delivered. And just the singing is the only thing that’s kinda out of whack. I would work really hard to have those conversations and not just check out.

DZ: Yes, because we prioritize the word. That’s our first priority. If you’re being taught and fed, but if you’re not being taught and fed and also the music is bad…

BK: Yes. Then I’d be asking the question, “is this where God has called me or us?”

DZ: Right. Right. Because you want to be growing and learning and… Yeah.

BK: Yeah. And you might have that conversation, and we say this very cautiously, because we’re not in a situation that you’re in. It’s really a pastoral… Somewhere a pastor needs to be involved. But if there’s no sign, no indication that church is gonna hear what you’re saying, and they are set on a course of moving away from that. Yes. Whether the messages are getting watered down, they’re becoming more about feeling good and five tips for whatever. And the word of God is being preached less and less. I would say, it’s worth asking, “is there another church where we could plant our feet firmly and know we’re growing as part of the body?” Because you wanna trust your leaders. Yeah. You wanna submit to them, you wanna make it a joy for them to lead you, as it says in Hebrews 13. You don’t want to give them reason to have a lot of problems.

BK: So that may arise. I would get there very slowly and really work hard to have those discussions, conversations, and see what the Lord might be doing in you as well as the leaders.

DZ: Definitely.

BK: But if there is a time where you say, “they’re really going a different direction”, it’d be worth prayerfully just finding out, “is there another church where we could really give ourselves to fully?” The Lord’s gonna work through the situation.

DZ: Definitely.

BK: The thing I love is that when there are these kinds of disconnects, “yeah, the music is not what I think it should be.” It’s an opportunity for God to work. It’s an opportunity for Him to move in you and in the hearts of the leaders. There’s no perfect church, you’re not gonna find one. Yeah. And the important thing is that we all be seeking to do what we’re doing in line with what God has given us in His word, what He’s commanded us to do, the promises He’s given us, with the heart that we have received through the new birth. A heart that glories in Jesus, not in ourselves, in which we are seeking to maintain the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace with those in the local church that God has placed us with. So these are just great opportunities, and I pray that what we’ve shared will help this person and others who might be in that situation to come through to the other side knowing that you’ve sought to please the Lord and have done it for His glory.

DZ: Definitely.

BK: Thanks for joining us, and we hope you’ll join us again at some point.

DZ: Thank you.