A blueprint for worship music part 1 – “Let the Word of Christ…”

So last week I started unpacking my own convictions about worship music. In the first post, we set the scene by establishing the biblical basis for why we even have music at all in our worship: in a nutshell, it’s simply because God tells us to (Col 3:16-17, Eph 5:19, Psalm 33:1, Psalm 150).

One of the verses we mentioned last time, Colossians 3:16 really stuck out to me during my own study. It might be useful to point out the wider context of this verse: it’s part of a passage describing the lifestyle and conduct of a true Christian. By the time we get to chapter three of this letter (addressed to the church at Colossae), the apostle Paul has outlined a comprehensive argument for Christ being the only means of new life. Paul then and urges the readers of the letter to respond: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above…” (Col 3:1). Paul expands on a host of things that those who follow Christ should now do, in light of their new status as born-again believers. They are to put earthly desires to death (Col 3:5-8), put away old lying selves (Col 3:9-11), put on compassionate hearts, forgive one another, put on love, and more (Col 3:12-15).

And so in the midst of all this, the readers of the letter are then called to “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” (Col 3:16). It’s clear here that a worship in music is an appropriate, and desired part of a believer’s worship, and new life in Christ. But I think this verse offers a number of noteworthy and specific signposts on how our worship music should be.

To me, Colossians 3:16 is a good blueprint for some of the goals of the music ministry at Howick Baptist – the home church where I serve as one of the worship leaders. From this verse, we can glean the first of a number of biblical criteria for our worship music:

1. “… the word of Christ…”

Our worship music should be Christ-centered. I think most people appreciate how catchy and infectious good music can be, so it’s crucial that the content and message found in the lyrics are biblical and Christ-centered. After all, the entire bible points to, and declares the amazing story of Jesus Christ! A successful worship song shouldn’t be judged by it’s ability to stir up pure emotion, or to cause us to sing and remember words that do little to magnify Christ in our hearts and minds.

Bryan Chappell, the President of Covenant Seminary, notes:

“Christ-centered worship reflects the contours of the gospel. In the individual life of a believer, the gospel progresses through recognition of the greatness and goodness of God, the acknowledgment of our sin and need of grace, assurance of God’s forgiveness through Christ, thankful acknowledgment of God’s blessing, desire for greater knowledge of him through his Word, grateful obedience in response to his grace, and a life devoted to his purposes with assurance of his blessing.”

Some songs we love to sing at HBC that do this include: “In Christ Alone” (Getty/Townend), “Amazing Grace” (John Newton), and “Soli Deo Gloria” (Mark Altrogge) – of course, there are many more. But in all these examples, the words not only help us to sing and proclaim Jesus, but help us to sing biblically sound reasons for doing so!

For example, singing:

“I am satisfied with nothing less | To feel the closeness of Your breath” (this is a real worship song!)

is confusing, borders on self-centredness, and does little to proclaim the Jesus from the bible.

Instead of vague words like that, it would be much more edifying to sing:

“In Christ alone, my hope is found, He is my light my strength my song…” (In Christ Alone)
“We resolve to know nothing else but Jesus Christ | Jesus Christ and Him crucified…” (Soli Deo Gloria)
“The Lord has promised good to me, His word my hope secures | He will my shield and portion be, as long as life endures” (Amazing Grace)

So when I’m researching, or being confronted with the latest worship song, or some rediscovered hymn, the first thing I need to ask is this: “Does this song have lyrics that proclaim the word of Christ?”

In the next post, I’ll draw another useful criterion we try to apply to our music at HBC, from the next part of the verse.


-William Chong

Preferences in worship music

Last night we had an HBC worship ministry tune-up night. It’s an evening where our musicians, leaders, sound engineers and projector specialists — and their families — get together for a meal, to enjoy fellowship, sing together, have a short bible study, pray for each other, and in general encourage each other in the worship ministry. It’s been really helpful to get together and do this, and I know I’ve personally benefitted each time we’ve done it.

The topic of study and discussion last night was on the issue of worship music style. Let’s be honest – it’s an issue that most churches grapple with to some degree, as believers wrestle over the question: “What style of music is most appropriate in corporate worship?”. For some churches, it’s a non-issue, as the church family all seem to enjoy worshipping under one musical style. In other cases, churches split into different-styled services (e.g. an early morning hymn service, versus a contemporary family service), catering to different preferences but dividing the church family in this way. And in extreme cases, church members argue and fight, and even split into different churches, because the tensions of “traditional” and “contemporary” music aren’t reconciled.

HBC, God has blessed us with a congregation that spans multiple generations. In our Sunday service, we have octogenarians and other seniors worshipping alongside high-school and university-aged students. We have folks from different cultures and countries, all worshipping “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Eph 4:5-6). Naturally, this brings together folk who have very contrasting preferences regarding musical style, and so this is a practical and pertinent topic for us.

So during our tune-up night, we had some honest and robust discussion on this issue, and we worked through some passages in the Bible to help orient our thoughts and direct the discussion.  There were many good points made, I know many of us were convicted as the truth of God’s word was applied to each of our own preferences in worship music. Time, however, passed very quickly, and  I thought it would be practical and helpful to share some of the things we talked about, over a couple of longer posts.

Worship music: God’s idea

The first (and most important) thing to point out is that God has plenty to say about music in worship. After all, music was God’s idea, and he saw it fit to ask David — a man after God’s own heart — to schedule skilled musicians to regularly play as part of various temple ceremonies (1 Sam 13:14, 1 Chron 16:5-7).  In the Psalms, God’s people are repeatly called to “sing a new song to the Lord”, and to “praise Him with musical instruments” (Psalm 33:1, Psalm 150). In addition, Jesus Himself saw it fit to sing with his disciples (Matthew 26:30) before he was crucified: you could almost see Him and the twelve disciples forming a decent a cappella vocal group…

To me, the two passages that describe worship music most clearly are found in two of the Apostle Paul’s various epistles. In Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae, he writes: “Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:16-17)

Paul repeats this instruction to the church at Ephesus, when he notes that being Spirit-filled comes with the desire to be “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart…” (Eph 5:19)

So in all of this, it’s pretty clear that God desires music and singing to be part of our worship. In the next post I’ll use Colossians 3:16 as a basis to outline the criteria for which HBC’s worship music is based on. In the meantime, if I may ask — what discussions do you have at your church/fellowship regarding choice of music? What’s the worship music like at your church? Are there any explicit criteria set out for the music at your church?

“The highest form of worship is hearing God’s Word with an obedient life and then living in submission to its truth.” – Martin Luther


– William Chong

“Haere ra” to faithful, successful gospel workers

In our consumerist, results-driven world, it’s easy for Christians to fall into the same mindset as the world regarding success in ministry. Bulging at the seams, super-slick everything, entertaining music, drama, inspiring speakers.

I’d like to share an example that I know of a successful ministry. Twelve years ago, John and Mihyon Humphrey moved to New Zealand with a desire to share the good news of Jesus Christ. They sought to do so by inviting folks to study the bible, and to discover the gospel, and then to minister to those who were saved by forming a fellowship of believers that met as Grace Baptist Church.

During this time, Cheryl and I were immensely blessed to have been able to come under John’s pastoral care and guidance for a season. Over these years, God used John and Mihyon to challenge us to grow and mature in the Lord. In particular, John instilled in us a love for the bible, by faithfully preaching through books of the bible, verse by verse, patiently explaining each verse to us and expanding upon the whole counsel of God.

Mihyon, on the other hand, modelled many aspects of a virtuous wife (Proverbs 31) through her acts of service, hospitality, counselling, and more. When writing many letters to their supporters and ministry partners, she continued to express gratitude and thanksgiving to God for many blessings they experienced and witnessed.

Sure, there were challenges and trials. We did encounter some disagreements on secondary issues, some of which led to mutual separation, and our search for another church home. But at no stage has John ever wavered from preaching Christ crucified, nor wavered from upholding the authority of Scripture. And we’re continually grateful for that.

To me, John and Mihyon’s ministry was successful because they put God first, and sought to have Him be the one to grow the gospel seeds sown. It didn’t matter that Grace Baptist was not packed to the rafters with people longing for their ears to be tickled. Every member of this fellowship, past or present, was challenged to foster a deeper relationship with God, to be fruitful Christians. And Cheryl and I, along with scores of other people, are better for it today.

John and Mihyon leave tonight, headed for their new mission field in South Korea. We will continue to pray for your ministry!

The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)


Spring is coming


The song “Spring is Coming”, by Steven Curtis Chapman, has been reverberating in my head, and it so happens to be the first day of spring (in the Southern Hemisphere). In this song, Chapman, who lost his adopted 5-year-old daughter in a tragic accident, sings about hope for those who’ve put their faith in the Messiah, even while they continue to live in a fallen and broken world.

The lyrics of this song describe an intensely hopeful metaphor of “new life breaking through”, declaring that suffering in this life is momentary, and that Spring is coming soon. It’s the last song on the CD, “Beauty Will Rise“, which traces through Chapman’s grief, questions, answers, and his unwavering hope in the God who remains sovereign, and remains good.

Have a listen here:


We planted the seed while the tears of our grief soaked the ground
The sky lost its sun, and the world lost its green to lifeless brown
Now the chilling wind has turned the earth hard as stone
And silently seed rise beneath ice and snow

And my heart’s heavy now
But I’m not letting go of this hope I have that tells me

Spring is coming, Spring is coming
And all we’ve been hoping and longing for soon will appear
Spring is coming, Spring is coming
It won’t be long now, it’s just about here

Hear the birds start to sing
Feel the life in the breeze
Watch the ice melt away
The kids are coming out to play

Feel the sun on your skin
Growing strong and warm again
Watch the ground: there’s something moving
Something is breaking through
New life is breaking through

Spring is coming, Spring is coming
And all we’ve been hoping and longing for soon will appear
Spring is coming, Spring is coming
And it won’t be long now, it’s just about here

Spring is coming, Spring is coming
(Out of these ashes, beauty will rise)
And all we’ve been hoping and longing for soon will appear
(Sorrow will be turned to joy)
Spring is coming, Spring is coming
(All we hoped for soon will appear)
It won’t be long now, it’s just about here
(Out of the dark clouds, beauty will shine)
(All above in heaven, rejoice)
(Spring is coming soon)
(Spring is coming soon)

by Steven Curtis Chapman
© 2009 One Blue Petal Music


There’s still a lot to learn!

On Friday, we had an enchanting night out to celebrate six months of married life. Dinner at a fine Italian-style restaurant on Cockle Bay, a random interlude of Christ-centred rap music, then an evening of enjoying each other’s company, and reflecting on the amazing partnership, the astounding gift God has given us.

Even in just six months, God has already taught us heaps. There are some things about marriage (and about your partner for life) you can only learn by actually being in the thick of a confrontation, or in the aftermath of a disappointing exchange. Books on marriage can only trace outlines around the specific issues in our marriage… real-life issues such as living with your spouse’s habits, and how to show patience, forbearance and forgiveness towards their SSB’s (secret single behaviours). Over time, we’ve realised more and more how immensely dependent we are on the Lord to change us and help us to serve one another better.

What challenges and convicts us the most, however, comes from a passage in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church.

Eph 5:31-32: “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

Our marriage is a picture, however imperfect, of Christ’s covenantal love for His church. We earnestly want to improve our marriage, not because it makes us look good, not because we get fame and glory, but so that it would be a better picture of Christ’s marriage to the church. That’s something worth striving towards, we think.


– Cheryl and William