The church is described in Colossians 3:12, as "God's chosen ones, holy and beloved" who are called to put off the old self and to put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The church is called to "let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God" (Col. 3:16). So what does this look like within a local congregation?
First "the word of Christ" can also be translated, "the word about Christ" or also known as "the Gospel of Jesus Christ." In fact in Col. 3:15, Paul instructs the church to "let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts" referring to the gospel as well. The reconciling "peace" that Christ won for us in His obedient life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection. The church is to have that "word about Christ" dwelling in their church and ruling their hearts. A local church is to be centered around and united by their faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Second, the word of Christ will dwell within the congregation that is faithful to teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In these days, "teaching and admonishing" are definitely not on the "cutting edge" of local church programming. In our modern culture, it seems so many churches are shooting for what is hip and popular, and so it is no surprise that teaching and preaching are not being emphasized. Teaching and preaching never have been and never will be of any interest to the world. Yet, that is the way that the New Testament prescribes in having "the word of Christ" dwell within your church abundantly. Does the church teach the Gospel and all of God's Word faithfully to the children, youth, and adults of all ages? Is the Sunday School curriculum faithful to God's Word? Are people bringing their Bibles to church and actually being taught to use them? Is the preaching faithful exposition of Scripture or is it some thing else? The church that has the Gospel dwelling within it richly will never grow weary of growing in their understanding of the Word of God.
Third, the word of Christ will dwell richly within the congregation whose songs are filled with and focused on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact it seems that this might be the primary way that Paul is instructing churches to teach and admonish one another within the church, through "singing psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God." The teaching and preaching ministry of a church is incredibly important, but what the church is being taught through the songs that they sing every week is just as important; maybe even more so. There is such a wealth of music and worship songs being written and produced today it is incredible. Churches as so blessed to have such easy access to so much worship music. Yet, with the glut of options for worship songs there is a great need for discernment as to what is actually faithful and not misleading.
Colossians 3:16 shows us that a church cannot go wrong with singing the Psalms, for the Psalms are inspired holy Scripture. There are some churches and denominations that only sing the Psalms for this reason, but Col. 3:16 also encourages singing, "hymns and spiritual songs" as well. This implies an assumption that the church would make use of songs that its own people would write based off of the word of Christ. The church just needs to carefully examine each hymn or chorus that they would consider singing corporately in the worship service. What is the song saying? What is the song teaching about Christ and the Gospel? If the song is saying something about the Christian life, is it something we want to promote within the church? Some modern choruses communicate a message that is so unbelievably positive it's hard for honest Christians to sing it sincerely.
Worship services and worship songs should follow a Gospel theme. An old friend who is a faithful worship leader in his congregation summed up that Gospel theme in this way: God is Sovereign, Man is Sinful, Christ is Sufficient. He plans the worship service around that theme every week, and looks for psalms, hymns and spiritual songs that echo that theme. Songs that declare God's sovereignty and holiness. Songs that make clear our sinfulness and great need for a savior. Songs that proclaim the awesome sufficiency of Christ. There are many songs out there that include all three themes within them, songs that tell the story of the Gospel within its verses. Churches that think through the songs that they plan to sing in this way will help to create a Gospel culture within their congregation where the peace of Christ rules in their hearts and the word of Christ lives within them richly.