Ten Commandments for Choosing Worship Music

James Teel

Practical guideline for choosing music, as listed by the author at the end of his article, Music that Worships, People that Worship, People that Worship Music, Music that Peoples Worship, which is also posted on this website.


Music shall provide a focus on God - His character, His works and His presence.

Worship should be God's time. He should be the theme of our song. As far as possible I like to use songs which address God directly and personally to underscore the sense of His presence. Hymns about God are fine, but hymns to God are even better. Music about our human experiences should always point to God's good works in our lives and to victory through Him alone.


Music shall strengthen the personal relationship between the believer and Christ.

Knowing God is more critical than knowing about Him. Music can create many opportunities for a worshiper to release things that are obstructing the connection between him and his Savior. Also new revelations of His goodness may come through, increasing the believer's appreciation and faith.


Music shall allow for both the receiving of and the expression of the Holy Spirit.

Songs that appeal for a decision, songs that petition God for the gift of His Spirit, and songs that allow a response of conviction from the worshiper all have their place in the service.


Music shall be purposeful.

Know what you want to accomplish or convey with every piece of music and words. Determine the flow of your programming as well. Where do you want to start and where do you want to end? What experiences do you hope the worshiper will find in between? Don't include something just out of loyalty to tradition. Is it needed? If so, could it be done in a better or fresher way? Don't use music as filler!


Music shall be balanced in heart and mind.

Paul says to pray and sing with the spirit and with the understanding. Too much heart can become emotionalism, too much head, intellectualism. Give me a reason to believe and an opportunity to celebrate my belief.


Music shall first encourage participation, then meditation and lastly observation.

We have already discussed this. Worship is not a spectator sport!


Music shall relate to the majority of worshipers on a comfortable culture level.

It is critical to spend time getting into the heads of your church membership. I'm convinced that a large segment of the baby boomers and busters will find renewed vitality in their worship services when contemporary Praise and Worship music is included, but it is not necessarily for everyone. I can conceive of meaningful worship happening through a large variety of musical styles. The crucial question every worship leader must ask himself or herself is whether or not their cherished style of music is honestly fulfilling the worship needs of their congregation and enlivening the church body toward service. Is it meeting the other criteria listed in I through VI?


Music shall have quality in its construction without complexity in its structure.

This is a bit more subjective in nature. I'm sure that you can think of several examples of well-written songs which are also quite simple. I think of Amazing Grace as an example. These songs often become classic favorites of congregations from generation to generation. Their simplicity allows for a variety of styles of arrangement to fit your congregation's interests. Most important, a simpler song invites participation fom a larger portion of your church. The level of acceptable complexity, of course, will vary from church to church.


Music shall rely more on fresh expressions of God's Word and less on trite cliches.

When I look for a new song to include in the service, I am always delighted to find one with lyrics from Scripture or paraphrased. If the song is one of experience, I want to make sure that the testimony sounds up to date and not a throw back to an older time. Our message is an old one, but it shouldn't sound that way.


Music shall tie into the theme of the worship service as closely as possible.

Work with the Pastor in creating a total worship package where each part reinforces and complements the other. Songs and hymns that instruct or inform are strong tools to use to spotlight the sermon theme, but be sure that they do not replace your important worship songs. Nothing is more important than the time your congregation spends worshiping their God and Savior.


Jim Teel holds a degree in religion from Southern College and a Master of Music degree in composition from the University of Arizona. He has served as a secondary teacher, an arranger and a pianist for The Voice of Prophecy and 7he Heralds Ministries, and a Minister of MusiclWorship Pastor for two churches in Southern California. He was Pastor for Worship and Youth Ministries at the Marietta Adventist Church near Atlanta, Georgia when this article was published.

This listing of guidelines was listed with Teel's article and printed in the Autumn 1995 issue of Notes, a publication of the International Adventist Musicians Association.