All of which leads into the following rant. Proceed with caution. :)
One of the big issues for me when choosing and practicing songs is something Teri nailed when she wrote her rant about church music a couple of months ago. A concert like this isn't about performance, and it's definitely not about entertainment.
That's not to say that musicians, especially those performing sacred music, should do anything less than their best. But I've seen far too many church and outreach meetings spoiled by glitzy, self-promoting, and/or vacuous performances. Cute family acts with matching trendy costumes. Theatrical hand gestures and pseudo-rapt facial expressions. Songs that sound impressive musically but have zero lyrical content, or worse, preach bad theology. Instruments or backing tracks played so loudly that you can't hear what the people are singing. It's so easy, it seems, to forget that the idea behind "special music" is not to showcase the musicians' talent or to give listeners a rollicking, toe-tapping good time, but rather to prepare the audience's hearts and minds for the message from Scripture that follows.
Ultimately, the accompaniment should serve the lyrics, and not the other way around. The style of music should be appropriate to the words being sung, and should enhance their meaning, not detract from it. If the song doesn't carry a message -- ideally a message that fits in with what's about to be preached or done in the service that follows -- then it's not worth singing, no matter how pretty or catchy or emotional it is. And it amazes me how many "Christian" music groups and soloists out there, even in the most conservative of circles, seem to have no clue about this.
So, I try to pick songs that are Scriptural and have real substance, and yet are not too archaic to be understood by the average listener. I do a lot of a cappella or very simple piano arrangements, because so many people -- especially elderly ones -- have commented on how much more clear and meaningful the lyrics seem when sung with little or no accompaniment. And if I can, I try to find out what the speaker's chosen topic or Scripture passage is so I can pick songs that will lead into it, get the audience thinking along the same lines.
Because no matter how much people may enjoy listening to music, in the end, the message is what's important. And the glory of God should always be the focus, not the talent of the singer -- or the speaker.
I hope that doesn't sound too self-aggrandizing, because I certainly don't mistake myself for the best or godliest musician in the world -- far, far from it. But I still think, before God, that I am right about this, and that many church services suffer because of misguided attempts at professionalism on the part of the "special music".