Skip to main content

“Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine.” — Psalm 80:19

Call to Worship
Join us on Facebook   Follow us on Twitter   Subscribe by RSS

For more information:

(800) 728-7228

Or write to
100 Witherspoon Street
Louisville, KY 40202

Music in Christian worship

The Directory for Worship of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) includes these statements on “Music as Prayer”:

Woman playing the harp

A woman playing the harp

Song is a response which engages the whole self in prayer. Song unites the faithful in common prayer wherever they gather for worship whether in church, home, or other special place. The covenant people have always used the gift of song to offer prayer. Psalms were created to be sung by the faithful as their response to God. Though they may be read responsively or in unison, their full power comes to expression when they are sung. In addition to psalms the Church in the New Testament sang hymns and spiritual songs. Through the ages and from varied cultures, the church has developed additional musical forms for congregational prayer. Congregations are encouraged to use these diverse musical forms for prayer as well as those which arise out of the musical life of their own cultures.

To lead the congregation in the singing of prayer is a primary role of the choir and other musicians. They also may pray on behalf of the congregation with introits, responses, and other musical forms. Instrumental music may be a form of prayer since words are not essential to prayer. In worship, music is not to be for entertainment or artistic display. Care should be taken that it not be used merely as a cover for silence. Music as prayer is to be a worthy offering to God on behalf of the people. (W-2.1003—W-2.1004)

The Directory also offers these reflections on the role of music in proclaiming the Word:

The Word is also proclaimed through song in anthems and solos based on scriptural texts, in cantatas and oratorios which tell the biblical story, in psalms and canticles, and in hymns, spirituals, and spiritual songs which present the truth of the biblical faith. Song in worship may also express the response of the people to the Word read, sung, enacted, or proclaimed. (W-2.2008)

Music may serve as presentation and interpretation of Scripture, as response to the gospel, and as prayer, through psalms and canticles, hymns and anthems, spirituals and spiritual songs. (W.3.3101)

Liturgical Index of Commonly Used Praise Songs, 2008–2009

Kati Salmons

The index was compiled from information supplied by Church Copyright License International (CCLI) from church reports of copy activity during 2008–2009. We hope this list will supply you with many new songs, though it is not intended to be a resource for the newest songs for “contemporary worship.” This list does demonstrate, however, what praise songs have been sung in the past year in cross-denominational congregations. The index supplies suggestions for how we, as Reformed worshipers, might successfully use praise songs as a part of our liturgy.


Music and the ministry of healing

Virginia Bethune sitting, playing a wooden harp.

Photo courtesy of Virginia Bethune

The November 2009 issue of Call to Worship on healing features an article titled "Sound and Music, Signifying Healing," in which harpist Virginia Bethune describes her use of music in healing ministry. Download examples of Bethune's music:


Canon in D


(MP3 files — For best results, right-click the link [or click and hold for Macintosh], select "save target as" and save the file to your desktop).

Learn more about Bethune and her ministry.

Featured article

David W. Music, “Tradition vs. Innovation in Church Music,” Call to Worship 45.2 (2011)


Greg Scheer, “Sing to the Lord a New Psalm,” Call to Worship 41.4 (2008)


Book reviews

Is there a book on liturgical music you’d like to recommend to other readers of Call to Worship? Submit a review. Be sure to include bibliographic information and a brief description of the book, indicating what you appreciated about it and why others might find it helpful.

Kathleen Harmon’s The Mystery We Celebrate, the Song We Sing: A Theology of Liturgical Music (Liturgical Press, 2008)

by David Gambrell

Harmon’s work is based on Joyce Ann Zimmerman’s proposal that liturgy is a ritual enactment of the dialectic tension of the paschal mystery — that is, the tension between the soteriological “not yet” and the eschatological “already” of our redemption in Christ. In other words, in the life, death and resurrection of Christ, we can see that God&rsquoi;s new creation has already begun; yet it is abundantly clear (think of the recent earthquake in China or the cyclone in Myanmar) that the salvation of the world is, as of yet, incomplete. The “ritual enactment” that Harmon describes is a way of remembering (anamnesis) and entering into the “originary” events of the faith (the Exodus, e.g., or the Christ event) that reveal to us who we are and how we are called to live. Continue reading.

Learn more

Visit these websites to learn more about music in Christian worship.

Presbyterian Association of Musicians
Presbyterian Hymnal

Recommended reading

Jeremy S. Begbie, Theology, Music and Time (Cambridge University Press, 2000)

John Bell, The Singing Thing: A Case for Congregational Song (GIA, 2000)

Albert L. Blackwell, The Sacred in Music (Westminster John Knox, 1999)

F. Forrester Church and Terrence J. Mulry, The MacMillan Book of Earliest Christian Hymns (MacMillan Publishing Company, 1988)

Melva Wilson Costen, In Spirit and in Truth: The Music of African American Worship (Westminster John Knox, 2004)

Lucien Deiss, Visions of Liturgy and Music for a New Century (The Liturgical Press, 1996)

Harry Eskew and Hugh T. McElrath, Sing with Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Hymnology (Church Street, 1995)

Robert Buckley Farlee, ed. Leading the Church’s Song (Fortress, 1998)

Marilyn L. Haskell, ed. What Would Jesus Sing? Experimentation and Tradition in Church Music (Church Publishing, 2007)

C. Michael Hawn, Gather into One: Praying and Singing Globall (Eerdmans, 2003)

Robin A. Leaver and James H. Litton, eds. Duty and Delight: Routley Remembered (Hope, 1985)

Robin A. Leaver and Joyce Ann Zimmerman, eds. Liturgy and Music: Lifetime Learning (The Liturgical Press, 1998)

Mary E. McGann, Exploring Music as Worship and Theology: Research in Liturgical Practice (The Liturgical Press, 2002)

James McKinnon, Music in Early Christian Literature (Cambridge University Press, 1987)

Robert H. Mitchell, I Don’t Like that Music (Hope, 1993)

Alice Parker, Melodious Accord: Good Singing in Church (Liturgy Training Publications, 1991)

Erik Routley, Church Music and the Christian Faith (Agape, 1978)

Günther Stiller, Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig (Concordia, 1984)

Leanne Van Dyk, ed. A More Profound Alleluia: Theology and Worship in Harmony (Eerdmans, 2005)

Paul Westermeyer, Te Deum:  The Church and Music (Fortress, 1998)

Andrew Wilson-Dickson, The Story of Christian Music (Fortress, 1996)

Brian Wren, Praying Twice: The Words and Music of Congregational Song (Westminster John Knox, 2000)