Singing songs that teach

[notice]Hugh Wetmore is a songwriter and student of worship trends. He invites you to join the worship conversation by commenting on his monthly column.[/notice]“Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom,
and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Col 3:16). This is a new idea to many churches, who suppose that all singing should be “Praise and Worship” to God. Even the great and influential 4th century Church father Augustine defined a “hymn” too narrowly as “a song of praise to God”. God’s Word broadens our singing to include Instruction in the whole Truth of God.

That what apostle Paul commands: Sing “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” to teach one another the word of Christ. The content of the lyrics should be aligned to “the Word of Christ”, i.e. Scripture. The intention should be to “teach one another”. The teaching lyrics should be filled “with all wisdom”.

Our congregations should be singing Biblical songs to each other, songs that are rich in wisdom. The lyrics should have meaning. God does not want unwise, trite songs that have meaningless lyrics.

What are the marks of a good quality teaching song?

1. Clear, well-chosen words. A good song-writer chooses the words carefully, avoiding vagueness, conveying intentional meaning, rather than simply triggering warm-fuzzy, spiritual feelings.

2. Picture language. A good song uses metaphors, poetic symbolism, to conjure up memorable images in the imagination of the congregation. Poetic expression is not a beautiful end in itself. It must embed the teaching in the mind. Song 23 in the Hebrew song-book chooses the image of the Lord as a Shepherd. The Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32) speaks of God as “a Rock”. Kendrick’s contrast: “Hands that flung stars into space, to cruel nails surrendered” is graphic. (SoF 120) Feel the peace of “the Sabbath rest by Galilee, the calm of hills above, where Jesus knelt to share with Thee the silence of eternity interpreted by love”, as we learn Holy Land geography from Jesus’ perspective (SoF 79).

3. Words that connect with each other in a meaningful way. Any teacher who merely throws many good and true concepts into a pile with no demonstrated connection, fails to teach at all. What does Robin Mark mean when he asks the Rock of Ages to hide him and mould him? (SoF 1644). Rocks don’t normally do these things. The lack of connection leads to confusion. Toplady, however, used the image of the Rock of Ages well: It was split for so that we could hide in it/Jesus. We can imagine a man hiding in a cleft of a mighty Rock. The words are a clear teaching aid. (SoF 488)

4. Progression of thought. A good teacher starts at the beginning and leads the disciple step by progressive step to the conclusion. “Amazing Grace” begins with lostness and teaches how God’s grace found me and leads me through the dangers and toils of life till we reach our eternal home. Or she puts her thesis on the table, then examines it systematically from all sides till we understand it. “Crown Him with many Crowns” adores Jesus as “The Lamb”, “the Lord of Life”, “the Lord of Love”,
“the Lord of Peace” and “the Lord of Years”. There is a coherent themed structure in the song.

5. Presented in a memorable way. Songs by their very nature are more easily remembered that mere verbal teaching. The tunes form grooves in the mind, which are filled with the content of the words. When one hears the tune, the words can easily come to mind. Rhyme aids the memory. A good Rhythm aids the memory. So the preacher’s teaching from the pulpit is entrenched in the congregation’s memory by the choice of an apt song. A good song is a superb teaching aid.

There will be 6. Motivation ~ there is an “ought’ in all Christian teaching. We don’t teach simply to satisfy curiosity, or accumulate factual knowledge. The knowledge gained must be useful knowledge: Colossians 1:28. And there will be 7. Application: Good teaching is practical. This should be spelt out so that each singer/listener knows what they should be or do. But these latter two marks move the Teaching into Preaching. Teaching targets the Mind, Preaching targets the Will.

You will recognise that all the above applies to the Pulpit Ministry as well as the Music Ministry. All is integrated into the Worship Service, to create one seamless flow in one sequenced whole, with the object of pleasing God who seeks our worship in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:24). Make sure you please the Father by teaching His Truth through the songs you sing on Sunday.


  1. It will be a pity if hymns die out in the church as they are very uplifting.
    Hopefully and pray-fully this won’t happen in all churches.

  2. Hugh G Wetmore

    Thanks, David, for affirming Hymns as a major TEACHING song-genre. Townend, Leckebusch and Getty are contemporary hymn-writers worth using. But let’s also write/use Contemporary Worship Songs (CWSs) to teach also. Matt Redman’s “You led me to the Cross” (SoF 1666); Stuart Townend’s “Woven together” (SoF 1635); David Fellingham’s “There’s a pageant” (SoF 1551); are some songs that Teach, in the CWS genre. I plead with anointed, gifted CWS-writers to provide the church with songs that teach God’s truth, with a ‘syllabus’ of themes as wide as the content of Scripture. We need them, to communicate with new generations. If anyone agrees, and/or is so gifted, please contact me: