Yesterday I wrote a response to a post wherein someone else argued that church praise bands, by virtue of the type of music they play, speak a special language and have become a worship intermediary for the congregation. I disagreed to an extent, but promised some thoughts on principles for leading worship that can make participatory congregational worship more effective. Here are those thoughts:
On the planning side we need to carefully consider what new songs we bring into our congregational repertoire. We need new songs. We may find songs that play on Christian radio that are good choices; we will also find plenty there that are not. We will undoubtedly get requests from church members (and leaders!) to sing their new favorite radio song on some Sunday. This may times turn up good new songs; however, it may also be an area where we need to graciously exercise leadership and say no. If a song seems a little bit too simple and too easy for your highly-talented praise band, it’s probably just about right for your congregation.
We also need to be careful about the rate at which we introduce new songs. Back when I was leading on a weekly basis, when it was time to introduce a new song we would sing the song two weeks in a row, skip a week, and sing it again the fourth week before then adding it to our regular repertoire list. I would alsobe sure that every other song we sang those four weeks was a familiar song.
These two suggestions actually complement each other pretty well: if you’re more choosy about what songs you want to add to your repertoire, you won’t feel such pressure to add new songs at an uncomfortable frequency. And you can still manage to work in at least 10 new songs a year, which isn’t bad.
Lots has already been written on this topic, so I’m unlikely to say anything very new or novel. I love my church’s approach of having a large number of vocalists on the stage; it takes the pressure and focus off of any one or two people being soloists and lets us sing as a mini-congregation right there in the band.
Modern popular praise bands have developed an environment that resembles a rock concert more than a congregational time of worship, and the temptation is there to roll that right into our Sunday mornings. (I’ll leave only one example here.) The issue isn’t that they like to play rock music and that there’s a crowd that enjoys it. The issue is that we
often, consciously or not, take it as a model for how our Sunday morning worship should look and sound. And that can be a problem.
If, during congregational worship, the focus frequently gets shifted to a gifted soloist, or a kickin’ guitar solo, or some novel and funky instrumentation, it’s a distraction. We’ve verged into concert territory and turned our congregation into an audience for the band instead of regular participants in worship. (There’s still room for ‘special music’, though. I’ll get to that.)
The other key thing we can do as leaders during the service requires a focus on that word: leading. One of the nicest things a person ever said to me after I led music in a service was that they felt like I had really led them; that there was no uncertainty about what was coming next, or what they were supposed to be doing; they were able to just comfortably settle into worship.
Here’s where we can be very practical in our leadership. If we’re introducing a new song, we should say so up front. If a band member is going to sing the first verse solo to allow everyone else to learn the tune, cue the congregation to that fact so they don’t feel the uncertainty of wondering when they’re expected to
There’s still room for “special music” if that’s a regular part of your worship tradition, but set it apart in the service in a way that it’s clear what the intent is. By saying “Julie has a song to share with us now, so please have a seat and listen to the message of this song”, we can prepare our congregation
to receive the song far better than if we just have the soloist start singing as if the song were just another part of the worship set.
Physical and verbal cues during songs are important ways to lead, too. Especially in songs where there may be more time between verses – provide clear cues to the congregation as to when to come in. Maybe just call out the first few words of the next line. (The person running your lyrics on the projector will appreciate
Leading worship is an art as much as a science, but if we can approach it humbly and pastorally we will always be finding ways where we can improve as leaders, with the result being more appealing and engaging worship services. It should never be about us; it should always be about Him.