Lecture 13: Leading Music
Lecture: Leading Music
It is important to choose theologically balanced songs with music appropriate for the people. The worship leader is an extension of the congregation and should prepare the material and the worship team so they can communicate effectively and appropriately.
I. Practical Considerations
Planning themes with a view to music. Most of us will be involved in churches where there is some kind of contemporary praise these days. A witty joke from Dr Kaiser about negotiating with music teams in our church. There are some issues involved in this and I wanted to share a few thoughts in regards to this. I wrote a letter to this praise leader once:
Dear so-n-so, thank you for sharing your gifts with us each week. I truly appreciate your giving heart and believe that you are gifted in leading us in worship. I believe in some way that every worship leader is a diamond is the rough; obviously there is much to learn and chances for growth and I would like to help you with that growth in the vital ministry aspect. Here are some specific suggestions in regards to our praise time. In this case, we were struggling with the songs getting longer and longer and cut into some other elements of the church. We were all being affected by the equation of music with worship. I think we should try to shorten generally this time, as we are trying to add a few other items to our worship that are biblical and important elements. I also had a word about starting in a timely fashion which we always had difficulty with. It was sort of balancing the music and seeing the praise music as one piece of the puzzle, rather than the whole. Secondly, before praise begins, please work as quietly and reverently as possible. We were also troubled by the praise team doing sound checks with musicians goofing around with their instruments after they were tuned up. This was happening as others were trying to gather quietly and gather for praise. Even sound checks should be done with sensitivity as people prepared their hearts for worship. Please discourage team members from frivolous behavior at this time. I would love to see an organ prelude before the actual service begins. It helps to set our hearts at quiet before the Lord and establishes the organ as part of the praise early in the service. Otherwise, the organ can sound like a foreign intruder if it appears later in the service.
In this church, we started with thirty minutes of praise and did all these other things. Then suddenly, out of nowhere comes the organ. I thought that if we could start with an organ prelude, this instrument would already be introduced as part of the family. So, when it comes back later, it won’t be a foreign visitor. It would also help us in our quietness. The third point; please consider ways how other team members might take part in leadership aspects of the praise time. Perhaps each one could take turns leading a prayer at a designated time during the praise time or even reading a Scripture that’s related to one of the songs. This will need to be coordinated well in advance and I believe it will encourage your team members. I go on in how this could be looked at in a team sort of experience. Four, if someone does lead a prayer or read a Scripture or say a word of encouragement, please stress the importance of speaking slowly and clearly. Often when I sit in the back during the praise time, I can’t understand your prayers or your words at all. This was especially troublesome because of the acoustics in our church. When people spoke quickly, sometimes what was said was lost. Five, personally I think fewer words are better than more words. Let the songs speak for themselves whenever possible. Don’t feel compelled to introduce each song by prayer or other means; allow a flow to develop by singing several songs in a row without any comment at all. When you do speak, choose your words carefully and use them occasionally.
Six, I also believe that it is very possible to stay stuck on one song too long. When this happens, we are guilty of subtraction by addition. Generally speaking, I think repeating all the verses of the song more than two times can become tiresome; let the songs speak and then move on. Not that there can be exceptions. Subtraction by addition happens sometimes when things are just right, but because we have prepared seven songs, we are going to do seven songs. This is even though we may have had five and be then ready for the message; there is a place where flexibility would be right. We may have planned to sing a song three times but there is a sense where two times was right. In the seventh point, I also mentioned to them to see themselves as an extension of the congregation. Watch out that whatever is happening in our hearts as praise leaders overwhelms the congregation. In this case, if the praise leader was in a bad mood, we were all going to be in a bad mood that day. Instead of seeing himself as an extension of the congregation, we were an extension of his experience. The mentality should be that this was a cooperate experience. Eight, I strongly encourage the use of more ‘we’ songs and fewer ‘I’ songs. Remember that this is cooperate worship, so please use ‘I’ songs sparingly.
Nine, every song should reveal something of the truth of God. Choose songs that have substance to them, not just songs that help us feel good. It would be helpful if you could seek out ideas from the speaker each week about the theme for that day’s message. Watch out that you don’t exalt one characteristic of God to the detriment of others. We got onto this discussion about love and holiness and righteousness. Ten, I also ask that they work on the transparences that they may be consistent. Some were looking really nice while others looked very sloppy and it was very distracting. Another thing was concerned with the volume; this is another place where we enter into another cultural arena. The young people’s culture like it loud and louder the better. I have a real problem with that in worship. This is not entertainment; a concert should be the model, where you blast everyone out. The model should be in speaking to one another with songs and hymns and spiritual songs. In the cooperate worship experience, the music should be only as loud as it makes the leadership clear that you can hear what’s happening and you can follow the melody and hear the words articulated. But not so loud that the voice of the congregation is drowned out. People desperately need to hear one another; not just some professionals upfront. This means to watch out for the volume level of the instruments that they don’t drown out vocalization. Sometimes, I think it is good to shut all the instruments off where this becomes the most powerful time of the praise experience. Acapella where everyone backs away from the mike with the congregation singing. Those are often magical moments. This is what Scripture says to do; speaking to one another and hearing one another. This is seeing the good things of the Lord. In the past, I would go and turn the volume down, but two songs later, it was turned back up.
The whole notion of realizing that this was entertainment, not performance in that sense; this is assisting the congregation servants to be able to do what they are called to do in music. This was to sing praises to the Lord. As a principle, the burden of praise is something that we share as a whole body. I want the people to be able to praise and to hear each other praise and not to have any excuse, not to praise. Sometimes when it’s too loud, people stop singing and just listen instead, for there is more than enough noise to go around. I also think the preparation of those songs needs to be handled like the preparation done by the preacher’s sermon. It needs to be done so carefully and prayerful and so thoughtfully. But, just like the preacher in the pulpit when they sense a new direction, they will go that way; this should be the same with the praise. We need to try to cultivate this sensitivity. This should happen especially when the song leader isn’t really tuned in. In regards to access; older members of the congregation will have a hard time with transparencies. Even if you get the font right; they will have a hard time. So, if you can have some way of communicating to them that we love them also and that they are also welcome by giving them a both/and. Have some of the same songs that you use put into the bulletin. Their choice of having everything in a bulletin was a nice default; a good general plan where everybody can follow the program all the way through.
It is important for praise team leaders to choose praise team members that are qualified spiritually and musically, then encourage and guide the team members effectively.
II. Praise Teams
So many churches now consider the praise team as part of the life of the church. All the church committees are wonderful opportunities for community in the life of the church. It addresses an issue of how overcommitted people are to things. If we have people serving on committees, we should turn that committee into a community; a small group within the group that function in the face of accountability in a place of nurture and ministry. The praise team is a wonderful place for this. Spiritual maturity is important for a praise team leader because I expect this person to nurture others on his team. If I have people on my team, I can’t just treat them as employees and they have a job to do. They are sheep that need to shepherded. I was pleased that people were invited on the worship team with no experience at all. They wanted to serve so they were brought onto the praise team. There are lots of things a person like this can do on the team. They may not be a key musical person but they could be a member on the team. The last things that you want to do is to make a person feel like an employee by just being measured by their work. In general, this has concerned me about praise teams; for a praise team leader, often a church will get a person that is more musical oriented to be in charge. I would be concerned with overall spiritual maturity and theological education of such a leading person. This doesn’t mean that they have to have a seminary background but a serious student of the Word who has demonstrated their commitment to Christ. This person will be one of the key teachers of the church as our songs are educational messages in themselves.
So, I would want someone who is theologically astute, spiritual mature, and third, musically gifted. Being musically gifted would not the first on the list. This is similar to teacher recruitment in the church. I think this is a two-edged approach. Perhaps there is an issue on how a person got onto the team and so we have to address recruitment policies. I would follow a process by which there would be a mutual observation period. As a leader of this particular ministry, I would be searching for such a person in the church. Someone may be watching and become interested. If a person says that they really want to do this, we would have a trial period of three months observation perhaps. It would be understood that there would be an observation period. This is a trial period from both perspectives. I might even ask that person to demonstrate servanthood in some other capacity first. We end up evaluating from both directions. If I am thinking pastorally about this person, I might decide that this isn’t their primary area of giftedness, but there are other things and places they can serve. I might even be able to place them into a position in this particular area. There are ways to handle it that have both a front and back end. The front side involves a time of observation and care and if it is a spiritual matter that emerges, we may not automatically reassign them another ministry in the church.