Congregational Worship is Theological Formation

“Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”

Colossians 3:16

What are we doing when we sing together? Certainly, we are exalting Christ together. We are uniting our voices in expression of the oneness of our confession. We are reminding ourselves and each other of the majesty and grace of God. Congregational singing is not less than this, but it is more than this.

Paul’s apostolic instruction to the Colossian church characterizes congregational singing as theological formation. In corporate worship we are creating space for Christ’s word to “dwell richly among us.” We are “teaching and admonishing one another.” We are packaging the “wisdom” of God in rhythms of grace and reciting biblical doctrines back “to God” with “gratitude in our hearts.”

For Paul, corporate worship invited congregational participation in theological formation.

Congregational worship is always theologically formational. It’s not merely that worship should be theologically formational. It always is. The songs we sing are shaping us and forming us. They are teaching us things about ecclesiology, hamartiology, theology proper, Christology, angelology, eschatology, anthropology, teleology, ontology and more. These theological truths are being reinforced through the voice of the church as we recite them week after week.

Your worship songs are forming your congregation. The question is what, exactly, is being formed in your congregation through the songs they sing?

“Your worship songs are forming your congregation theologically. The question is what, exactly, is being formed in your congregation through the songs they sing?”

Some songs form a congregation into theologically weak perpetual infancy. Congregational singing should be rich with the deep doctrines of the faith. We should hunger for songs that feed us the meat of biblical truth. If the songs we sing do not move past comforting and coddling, they will never get to “teaching and admonishing.”

Some songs form a congregation into introspective isolates. Our voices should be lifted together in congregational singing. In song selection, the “We’s” should ring louder than the “I’s.” Some songs overemphasize spiritual introspection to the degree that the church’s corporate voice is drowned out by the noise of individualized experience.

Some songs form a congregation into accidental heretics. Let’s be honest: just because a Christian song is loved does not mean it is biblical. Some of the cherished songs of our faith tradition are doctrinally unsound. So are some of the cherished songs of our faith in vogue. If the congregation sings them regularly then their faith is being formed heretically, even if accidentally.

The apostle’s words caution the congregational worship leader to give reflective pause to song selection. This is, for the worship leader, a matter of dutiful urgency. Your congregation’s theology is being formed by their own corporate voice. The question is: is their faith being formed biblically by the songs they sing?

Congregational worship is theological formation.

Grace and Peace,
Tony

  One thought on “Congregational Worship is Theological Formation

  1. Jimmy Caffey
    January 30, 2021 at 11:15 AM

    Love reading your words of wisdom brother love you brother.

    • January 30, 2021 at 11:20 AM

      I love you too, my friend.

  2. Weldon Doherty
    January 30, 2021 at 2:13 PM

    Tony…this is so helpful to me personally! Thank you. Great words.

    • January 30, 2021 at 2:25 PM

      Thanks for your encouragement today, my friend.

  3. tcsamples
    January 30, 2021 at 8:03 PM

    Great words Tony. As a music minister, my greatest time each week was planning the music part of the worship service. I wanted you make sure the music was Biblically correct, and hopefully arranged in a way that the congregation was ready to here the delivery of God’s Word. I just do not believe in picking a song or two, or three on a whim. It has to be with the Holy Spirit’s leading. Your words are a breath of fresh air. Thanks for posting. I could post more, but maybe later.
    Have a blessed Sunday.
    Tim

    • January 30, 2021 at 8:18 PM

      Blessings to you my friend. Thanks for the engagement.

  4. Kevin Muilenburg
    February 1, 2021 at 3:31 PM

    Good stuff here brother. Thanks for sharpening us all!

    • February 2, 2021 at 4:26 AM

      Thankful for your friendship, Kevin. And for your encouragement today.

  5. David
    February 7, 2021 at 1:36 AM

    Thank you for this article; it’s needed! In 2018 I was serving as worship leader at a church which welcomed a new pastor. After a few weeks we met and he told me that we should only use songs the congregation would hear on K-love every day. He told me he didn’t care at all about the words or who wrote them, just that people could sing them during the week. When I pointed out theological problems with some of them he told me my service was no longer needed. I was out the next week; he has since moved on to a position in SBC denominational leadership.

    • February 8, 2021 at 8:07 AM

      I’m so sorry for your difficult experience serving the church, friend. Praying the Lord gives you new confidence and renewed passion in this season of ministry.

  6. Jim
    February 15, 2021 at 8:27 AM

    Absolutely!

    I’d take it a step further. The congregations belief system is often shaped MORE by the songs we sing than the sermons we hear. Like David mentioned above, we sing them all week long. We forget the sermon by Monday but we sing the songs all week long. Often times, the band leader has no theological training. And we turn 30-50% of the service over to him/her. And we wonder why the church has so many problems?

    The Evangelical church in the US is woefully under-discipled. One of the main reasons for that is our “worship”. It is turning us into accidental heretics, introspective isolates and perpetual infants. At least that’s how I see it from the cheap seats.

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