True Worship Music Is Gospel Music – Even If It Isn’t Gospel Music

by Bobby Gilles

in Songwriting/Hymn Workshop,Worship Leading

Mavis Staples performing at 2011 Newport Folk Festival

"Gospel" songs don't necessarily sound like Mavis Staples ...

We talk about Colossians 3:16 a lot here at My Song In The Night, because it tells us what kind of songs please God when we assemble together as his church. It has nothing to do with the instruments or the “style” you use, as long as the music aids our ability to sing and understand the lyrics. So in this sense, gospel music — either from the African America spiritual tradition, the bluegrass-country tradition or the quartet shaped-note tradition — need not be the only musical styles we use in our assemblies.

But in the biblical sense of the word “gospel,” songs for congregational worship should be gospel songs. Look at Colossians 3:16 again, this time dwelling on the “word of Christ” that is to dwell richly within us:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (ESV)

In previous posts we’ve talked about how God intends for us to “teach and admonish” each other with our psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, but what do we teach? With what do we admonish? It must be the thing that dwells within us richly: the word of Christ.

But what is the word of Christ? Jesus said a lot of words. He taught a lot of things — none of them contradictory, but still, we should examine what this phrase “word of Christ” means.

Paul, who wrote Colossians, uses the same phrase in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

The context of this passage, which is all about the need to send out preachers to the lost, makes it clear that this “word of Christ” is the gospel:

Rom. 10:14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Gaither Vocal Band in concert

... or the Gaither Vocal Band. It's about gospel-preaching lyrics

So the word of Christ is the gospel, the good news: it is the sum of everything Jesus demonstrated, said and did. Our church, Sojourn, summarizes it like this:

God created the world. We, His creatures, rebelled. But God, in unfathomable grace, sent His Son Jesus as the sacrifice for our sins.

Through faith in Jesus Christ, we have been forgiven of our sins, welcomed as sons and daughters, and empowered by His Spirit to live lives that reflect His goodness and love. This is the gospel. This is our core passion, and the source from which all of our other desires and ministries flow.

So our songs must be gospel songs. We need songs that say “God is holy.” We need songs that say “We are sinners.” We need songs that say “Jesus saves, purifies and empowers us.” We need some songs that say all of those things, and we need some songs that focus on one or two of those things. Then we need to put those songs together in such a way that we are proclaiming the gospel to each other and to newcomers every time we gather, and every time someone queues up our latest worship record on their iPod or CD player.

Examine your Sunday set lists. Pour through your worship album discography. Look over your songwriting journals. Are you making “gospel” music?

Photo of Mavis Staples at 2011 Newport Folk Festival by Weekly Dig, used via Creative Commons license
Photo of Gaither Vocal Band in concert by Ruth Daniel, used via Creative Commons license


Chris February 28, 2012 at 12:52 am

Colossiand 3:16 is big for me and the ministry at my church. For a couple of years I’ve been praying that we would be a Colossians 3 church filled with John 4 worship led by Psalm 78 leaders. Three bits of scripture which have helped shape my worship leading so much.

Thanks for writing this. Can’t wait to read your book! 😉

Bobby Gilles February 28, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Chris, that’s a great triad: Colossians 3 church/ John 4 worship/ Psalm 78 leaders. Fantastic!

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