Leading Worship With Timeless Songs

This post first appeared on Gary Durbin’s blog: garydurbinblog.com. It is used here with permission. Be sure and check out his site for more great tips on leading worship. 

As constructing a sermon is to a pastor, so constructing a worship set is to a worship leader. You want to have solid content and memorable hooks that will stick with your church as they walk away. For a worship leader, song selection is a very important and delicate task.

I don’t view myself as an entertainer; therefore, I want my church to be able to easily engage, participate, and sing the songs every week. That being said, I try to select singable songs. Novel idea, right? It doesn’t sound very profound, but it seems to be somewhat of a lost art.

What I’ve found is that the songs that seem to be the most accessible for the church are those songs that are timeless. Timeless songs could have been written this week or 300 years ago. If we as worship leaders embrace them, I believe we can more effectively help our churches embrace God in corporate worship.

Here are qualities I look for in a timeless song:

1. SIMPLE MELODY—Think of the most popular songs that have been passed down from generation to generation. Most of them have a memorable and easy-to-learn melody line. The more complicated the melody, the harder it is to sing. I’m not saying that every great song has a simple melody, but if you have one, it will help the people in your church sing along.

I was in a workshop at the National Worship Leader Conference one year when I heard Nathan Nockels critiquing a song. He talked about keeping the melody simple, which means limiting the fluctuation in the notes. I think the reason the Beatles’ songs have stood the test of time so well is because of their gift for writing memorable yet simple melodies. A song doesn’t have to be complex to be great and when it is uncomplicated, more people will be able to sing along.

2. AGE ADAPTABILITY—A timeless song is an ageless song. Its melody is simple enough to be adapted to any generation. It can be sung by my 7-year-old daughter or my 81-year-old grandpa. When you look at your setlist, is it geared towards just one age group or can it be embraced by multiple generations?

One of the timeless songs I use is “10,000 Reasons.” It’s a great example of a song that’s embraced by every generation in my church. I expect my generation and younger to like most of the songs I use, but there’s nothing sweeter than when I hear a compliment from someone who’s 30 to 50 years older than me. It tells me that most everyone was able to engage in worship in the same hour. That means I’m serving the whole church and not just one demographic of it.

3. STYLE VERSATILITY—A song that stands the test of time is largely preserved by its versatility. When you strip all of the instrumentation away, do you still have a great song? When a song is too dependent on the accompaniment, its versatility is extremely limited. The obvious examples of versatile songs are the revised hymns that we’ve all heard in the past decade.

A timeless song can be played by a rock band, acoustic instruments, or an organ. When you have style versatility in a song, its life span increases dramatically. I think one of the greatest examples of this is “All Creatures of Our God and King.” It was written in the 1600s, yet it is easily translated to today’s popular style. Why? Because of its versatility. When you’re looking for a timeless song, test it with different styles.

Using the three qualities above to choose songs for your set will ultimately help the congregation engage in worship. Singing a song can be one of the most unifying elements for a group of people to do. A worship set list that does not accomplish that is an oxymoron.

Psalm 100:2 says, “Worship the LORD with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy.” This is not a suggestion. This is a command. As worship leaders, let’s have a heart for God, His commands, and His church—no matter what demographic they belong to. Let’s give them timeless songs they can sing.

Here are examples of timeless songs (old and new) that I’ve used in corporate worship:

“How Great Thou Art”
“How Great is our God”
“All Creatures of our God and King”
“10,000 Reasons”
“Amazing Grace”
“Lord, I Need You”
“I Surrender All”
“Here I Am to Worship”
“It is Well”
“Because He Lives (Amen)”

What are some other songs that you think are timeless? 

About the author:
Gary is the worship arts director at Orchard Church in Denver, Colorado. He is also a blogger and a songwriter with a passion to serve the church. He and his wife, Jennifer, have two children and have been married since 1999. You can follow him on Twitter @garydurbin.

2 thoughts on “Leading Worship With Timeless Songs

  1. Excellent article! A song that I view as timeless (in the sense of all generations loving to sing it) in our church is “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery.” The whole gospel in one song with a simple melody. Absolutely beautiful.

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