Does The Worship Leader Have To Sing?

For someone out there, this is going to be a mind blowing, revolutionary thought. So by all means, feel free to sit down for a moment and catch your breath.

For the rest of you, who hopefully get the playful spirit in which I wrote the above sentence, this is a valid conversation for us to have.

In some church traditions, this is a pointless conversation with an obvious answer: of course not. But for many evangelical churches, the question I posed would mean a complete paradigm shift. The worship leader is ALWAYS the person singing. Whether they sing on their own, or if they are also the piano player, guitarist, or even bass player, the worship leader always sings. I’m going to propose that maybe this thinking is why your church’s music ministry is struggling.

Continue reading “Does The Worship Leader Have To Sing?”

How I Pick A Song

How I Pick A Song.

The Bible makes frequent reference to singing new songs to the Lord. Psalm 33:3 is the verse I usually site, but it’s found all through the Psalms, in Revelation, and various other passages.

There’s good reason to sing new songs and to be intentional about doing so.

-Fresh expressions of an ever fresh faith.
-New songs written by new believers
-It’s easier to have slow transition in a church’s music than one great leap.
-Obedience to scripture.

And so on.

Recently someone asked me how I picked the songs I lead and I had a rambling answer that was only vaguely coherent, so I’ve been working on putting a better one together in my head, this is what I’ve got so far.

1. Passion
2. Lyrics
3. Music

Let me unpack

PASSION

This is probably the most vague of all my criteria in picking new songs, but a song has to have passion.

To me this means that it has to have a Passion for God. For His glory. For Jesus. For the promise of His coming. For the work of the Spirit. For the Death on the Cross. For the Resurrection.

The worship leader also has to have a passion for the song. It’s hard to lead a song if you don’t care about it.

The church has to have passion for it. One church loves a song, another church won’t. There’s not really a rhyme or reason to it. I’ve lead a song at one church and it really connected with the saints there. Then at a different church it was either hated or just not cared about. Basically in this case I’ll give a song a few tries and if its not really connecting with the people then I won’t force it.

LYRICS

Words matter. Unlike other forms of music, community worship is all about words.

-The Lyrics have to be biblical.

-The Lyrics have to do the job (call to worship, praise, devotion, not just any song will do)

-The Lyrics should be good. This is subjective I know, but we are called in Luke 10:27 to love the Lord with all our minds and I feel like poor grammar and cliché word choices don’t fit the bill. It’s personal opinion I know but I feel strongly about this point.

MUSIC

I break the last section into three sub sections.

1. Community
2. Sound
3. Personal

-Community

Does the music lend itself to corporate worship? Song worship in the church is essentially a sing-a-long. Some of my favorite songs aren’t good sing-a-long tunes, and while I might find great personal worship times with them, they won’t work in a church service.

Also, in community, is what is the community ready for? If you’re leading praises at a traditional church it probably wouldn’t be the best thing to jump into a modern sound next Sunday. How a church deals with transition will vary but music does have to be looked at with a view towards community.

Traditional church music appeals generally to an older group. Contemporary Christian music is actually geared to soccer mom’s in their 30’s and 40’s.

If you only do one sound or style then you exclude the whole of the community in favor of one part.

How I see this worked out at my church is that we have a wide cross section of people and an equally wide cross section of worship expression. My leading will connect with different people in a different way than the guy the next week and visa versa. I don’t like the music of every worship leader we have, but I love that they are there doing it because then the whole of the church is served.

-Sound

As a musician I can pull off a certain sound or kinds of sounds. I also know that some musical sounds I like but they wouldn’t work well for song worship or they are out of date.

So I ask: Can I play this song? Should I play this song? Is this a song that makes sense musically?

I knew a guy who went to a very “old school” church that did old Weselyan hymns for their song worship. Written with great passion for God. Solid lyrical content. Musically they were funeral dirges that were foreign to the times and culture the church operated in.

Humans connect emotionally to music. I put a lot of folk/rural/country music in my sound because I go to church in an area where the country music stations are constantly at the top of the charts. Rock and Pop stations do well. Experimental techno (which I enjoy) not so much. But a church in the heart of NYC or London would do well to have some kind of electronic expression of worship. If a person is connected to the music it helps them express their worship of Jesus.

-Personal

I recognize the people I serve with. Some are really talented musicians. Some are like me and just happy to be here. So the people playing affect song choice… and song choice affects the people asked to play.

What does it all mean?

All of these things enter into my thinking as I lead. I only teach so many new songs in a given year. This is just the summation of my thinking in how I try to be intentional about it.

Why These Songs?

Some thoughts I’d had recently on why I pick the songs I pick when I lead worship.

NEW SONGS:

The bible speaks in many places about Singing a New Song to the Lord.

I admit that I don’t like doing new songs. It just easier to go with the songs everyone knows or the songs other band leaders have introduced. But last year I was convicted of my laziness and our need to be constantly reloading our song lists and expressions of worship. So new songs have to happen.

OLD SONGS:

Music has a way of calling people to the Lord or back to the Lord as the case may be. If someone is sneaking into the back row for the 1st time in years than these will be the songs they know. These will be the songs they connected with their relationship to God. So i’m very intentional about having some other tunes in a set list.

REALLY OLD SONGS:

Hymns. Some people love them. Some people hate them. I don’t make a distinction between hymns and choruses other than one has more words than the other. Some Hymns are really good and I pick those and some aren’t and I leave those alone.

Hymns do come in really handy for a few reasons. Older saints tend to connect well with them. They also tend to be a little more open to new styles and expressions of music in worship when it’s done with songs they grew up with because at least the words or tune is familiar. Younger Christians are gravitating to the hymns because they often express the reality of our lives in Christ better than the songs on Christian radio do and the seem to lend themselves well to modern expressions of music.

So I go with what works.

“CONTEMPORARY” SONGS:

Like many in my generation I find little connection with “Christian music”. The music seems to have little connection with my faith, Christian life or preference in music. That’s fine, it’s not geared towards me anyway. But there are people in the church who love that music, they connect to it in a way that I don’t. I want to serve them so sometimes I do songs I don’t care for because it’ll serve the larger community and that is a good thing.

INTENTIONAL VARIETY

In a church with as large as demographic cross section as the one I serve at variety is the key.

I try to be intentional about the songs I pick. I try to be intentional about our “sound” (folk, pop, rock, country, etc) so that a broad range of tastes are covered.

No one type of sound, style or song should have a monopoly.

Jesus should have the only monopoly when it comes to music in the church.