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Releasing the soundtrack for childhood - finding songs that build faith in a generation

Releasing the soundtrack for childhood

I am a great fan of musicals, I always have been. I know some struggle with the genre: “How come the surrounding crowd already know the synchronized dance moves?” The sceptics cry, “Who would ever burst into song mid-sentence in real life?” I reply “Me!” I usually have a song buzzing around my head and in the privacy of my own home will often be heard bursting into song (albeit that the backing chorus of my family have not quite caught on to the required dance moves).

I suspect I am not alone. The songs that we listen to shape the people that we become. Through music and rhythm we reinforce or deconstruct messages that are written into our souls. So what soundtrack are we providing for our children’s lives? If you know of any of your children who have sung church songs away from church meetings then you will know that the songs we sing in church are not just opportunities for them to engage with God in the session – they can become the soundtrack in different seasons of their lives.

As we choose songs we need to do more than select the songs our children like (or which songs fit with our theme for the w

eek) – we have to consider what songs will be beneficial for their spiritual diet. If the songs we sing are, for at least some of the children, the core of their faith formation then we have a responsibility to choose those songs with great care. To put it another way,

  • What is the main message of the songs your children regularly sing in church?

  • Are there any themes that are missing from their sung spiritual diet that would be required for wholesome discipleship?

  • Have we provided songs that our children can hear when their faith wobbles or when trials come their way?

Just because children love a song does not mean that it should be sung if it is devoid of meaning. If the songs our children sing inform their view of God, then we must ensure that the songs we sing point to the true God. As John says we should worship God both in spirit and in truth.

So here are the four main types of songs that I believe should be found in our children’s catalogue.

  1. Glorifying God

  2. Teaching doctrine

  3. Activating service

  4. Anchoring to Christ

Glorifying God

Now, I would hope that every song that we sing would glorify God in some way. But for these songs, I look for lyrics that will explicitly glorify the character of God. Some songs we sing are focussed on God, others put the spotlight on ourselves and who we can be because of God. If most of the songs we sing are focussed on us, rather than the character and nature of God then we risk becoming focussed on our self rather than God. These songs help us to trust God, because of His unchanging character, in every season of life. Such egotistical attitude (loving of self) is the continual battle that sin and pride seeks to present to us. My greatness is because I am found in God, without God I am nothing. The more I know of my own character the more I see my need to God. The more I know of God’s character the more I can do for Him. In the words of Paul in Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Paul’s context fort his is that I can go through any trial – I know how to cope with great riches and how to struggle in life – I can face anything through Christ. When we glorify God, we lift our eyes from our own problems and challenges and pride to see the solution to everything – God in all his glory. I want to sing songs that glorify God, not myself. The structure for most of the Psalms involves the Psalmist coming before God and looking to him. Sometimes he starts with adoration, sometimes it is a time of confession, sometimes it is a struggle that the Psalmist is facing, but it always leads to the character and nature of God being praised. Some of the Psalms, written in times of crisis, start off focussed on self, but they end with the Psalmist fixing their thoughts on God – the one who carries them through the crisis. After all, in times of great trial it is not our own strength that will carry us through, but the unchanging character and nature of God. I love how the Psalmist even speaks to himself to say snap out of it and worship God (like in Psalm 42:5). This kind of internal dialogue in sung form helps to strengthen faith because it is not based on an experience but on the truth of who God is. As we choose our songs I love to look at the songs being sung in the adult church too – songs that present Biblical truths about the character and nature of God that the adults are singing, will be known and enjoyed by the children too, for years to come.

Teaching doctrine

In days gone by, when Christians did not have the Bible in their own language and were dependant on the priest to tell them what God said, songs became a key part of teaching doctrine to church members. For our children who are not yet confident readers, the stories we tell and the songs we sing are the primary way they will learn doctrine. These songs can help build discernment for the future, guarding against error in the church and providing a filter from the word of God through which children assess new challenges. A church that is not founded on truth, will soon devolve to nothing more than a social club open to the latest fad of the world. Songs are a fantastic way to teach doctrine. What child did not learn their alphabet from the Alphabet song! Some songs in this category will be Scripture verses set to song, others will teach broader doctrines. So, here is the challenge with these songs - to teach doctrine they must be theologically accurate. Children’s songs need to have simple lyrics. I have found the simpler the lyrics are, the longer we have to analyse whether they provide a distilled or a distorted version of Bible truth. One song we wrote for under 5s had this lyric: if you’re bad, it makes you sad …. As a team we spent hours arguing over each part of this phrase. Does the word bad truly explain sin (our conclusion – no, but it’s a good start. It seems to encompass the doctrine of original sin that came through Adam to the human race. As Jesus said in Luke 11:13 If you, being evil … and Romans 3:23 tells us that all have sinned)? Does sin make you sad (Hebrews 11:25 speaks about the passing pleasures of sin – so sin has some pleasure in it, that means it brings some temporal happiness, but the end result of sin is brokenness)? Some may be more concerned about the feel of a song, but in getting a song that feels good and has fund actions we must not compromise the truth that is working into their spiritual diet. If we consistently feed them the equivalent of fast food this is a recipe for disaster for their future spiritual health. The best songs, are those that have a moving melody that matches the emotion of the song together with robust lyrics. These songs often become favourites in churches across denominations and nations. Setting Bible verses to a catchy tune are a great way to encourage our children to learn and meditate on God’s word. What better way to meditate on God’s word than with a catchy tune that keeps it running around your head!

Activating Service

Many songs encourage us to get out their and live for Jesus. Songs that encourage us to do what God has called us to do can inspire us to pray, to speak, to make a stand for Christ. Our album, Mission Unstoppable, is full of songs in this category. These songs are commissioning songs that we sing to each other. They help to kick us off our backside and get on with the mandate God has given us to fulfil here on earth. After all, we are called to not just be hearers of the word of God but to be doers.

Anchored to Christ

A good song should be able to provide more than a feel good moment – it should be able to provide an anchor to Christ in different seasons of life. This point is intuitive for many of us. How often on a death bed has a hymn been sung or a Psalm read. Knowing this, we should be intentional in providing the right soundtrack for our children. If the only songs we sing are wild action songs, ‘because the kids love them,’ we are missing out on providing them with a catalogue of songs that can carry them through different turns in their faith journey. Action songs – these songs give children a great opportunity to be fully engaged body, soul and spirit. A good action song has more than just good actions. It should have a depth of theology that is easily accessible. Whilst some speak of storing up truth that can be understood at a later date, I want this truth to be accessible to children now. If it isn’t then the song becomes devoid of meaning in the present and so is unlikely to enter into the memory jukebox of their spirit.


These categories of songs are not exhaustive, I am sure there are many others we can point to, but I believe they are a great starting point when we consider the song collection that we sing with our children. As we teach our children about praise and worship (and the difference between the two) and as our children learn to gaze on God, they will be changed to be more like him – to reflect the image that they were made in (2 Corinthians 3:18). Let’s make the most of every opportunity the Lord gives us to equip this next generation through song.


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