So let me guess: Someone recently complained about the music at your church.
It doesn’t matter what style of music your church features or how traditional or edgy your music is; complaining about music is almost a universal phenomenon in the church today.
Some of that is generated by church shoppers (I outlined 5 characteristics of church shoppers here), but the problem is more pervasive than hearing from a few church shoppers.
It’s endemic to human nature and to our consumer-driven culture that basically says everything revolves around me. While I think consumer Christianity will die in the future (here’s why), we’re not there yet.
Before we get started, please know this isn’t a slam against any particular style of music in the church.
In fact, I admire all churches that are innovating to become more effective in their mission.
But here’s the challenge.
Many leaders have almost spilled blood getting their church to change in the area of music (or making sure their church doesn’t change).
And yet, despite the battles fought over music, many churches are still not much further ahead in reaching people because of it.
Why is that?
There are five problems I see church leaders struggle with when navigating the sensitive and emotional issue of worship style in church.
1. You Become So Focused on Pleasing the People You Have That You Lose Sight of the People You’re Trying to Reach
“Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.” – John Wesley
If one was to begin a new Sunday morning feature on ones blog, especially a feature called the “Worship Quote of the Week,” a quote from John Wesley would be a good place to start.
This quote – number three from Wesley’s well-known “Directions for Singing” – has always been the most interesting to me. Not number four, “Sing lustily and with a good courage.” Not the one perhaps most often cited, number seven, “Above all sing spiritually.” With our modern concept of gathered worship being dominated by language of taste, preference, personality, I return to these words in my preparation, in my writing, and in my own approach to Sunday worship.
We all sing. We all pray. We all work.
A mainline congregation I was once associated with recently posted a photo of a rock band on its Facebook page. The caption says, essentially, “Do you like contemporary praise music? Our more relaxed contemporary service has some of the best around.”
As a musician, the goal of excellence is implicit in any mention of music-making. That’s not the issue for me. The problem is this underlying tone of enjoying music in worship. To me, enjoyment is never the supreme objective. I want to facilitate music that preaches, challenges, afflicts, inspires. Music that puts God’s story on people’s lips. Music that conveys a sense of urgency to the Christian life and worship. Music that gives the congregation a job.
If they enjoy it, splendid. But if that’s the goal, why bother with any of it?
Sometimes work is fun. Often, it isn’t. The reason we worship isn’t to have jesusy fun. This is serious business, and though measures of joy, peace, exuberance, elation, humor all certainly have a place, we don’t participate because we feel like it. Worship is work, and sometimes it isn’t enjoyable, emotionally positive, or imminently fulfilling.
I’m not pontificating here. Not at all. I’m saying this humbly, repentantly. I’m saying this because of the challenge, the constraint it places on me to remember this truth myself.
When I like the hymn, I sing. When my voice is sharp and clear, I sing. When I feel confident, I sing. When my faith is strong, I sing.
Not because I want to, but because I need to.
Here are some things you might want to consider.
• Don’t waste the Lord’s money on someone (male or female) who will just be leading songs. Surely someone in the congregation can pick out some some songs and start the church singing.
• Obviously, a vocally and instrumentally talented person adds a lot and will usually be an integral part of the determination. However, it is not as important as the person’s character and understanding.
• Find someone who is a worshipper. This may be hard to determine. Most leaders may think they are a real worshipper. A real worshipper will know what real worship does for himself — and will do for people — how it enriches, challenges, humbles, strengthens, and prepares people for life. Paxson Jeancake spoke of this in how he prepares to lead people in worship. In The Art of Worship he writes: “As a worship leader, it is my priestly duty to help retell the gospel story and message. Each week, it is my job to craft, write, select, find, uncover, and borrow: prayers, themes, texts, lyrics, melodies, and images — all for the purpose of helping us experience and express the beautiful, paradoxical truth of he gospel. What an awesome privilege. What a serious responsibility. … Sharing personal testimonies in corporate worship is a powerful way to communicate the gospel. …In our congregations, as part of the liturgy, we should regularly share the present stories of faith and conversion as an important facet of the ministry of the word”. Does you candidate have any idea of the power of the gospel in his own life and how that can be translated into the congregation’s experience? If not, he is not a worshipper, let alone a worship leader. Find someone else.
• You need someone who knows the difference between singing songs and worshipping. Worship leaders are much harder to find. There is so much more to worship, we cannot develop it here, other than to mention it involves Scripture, poetry, testimonies (both personal and congregational), challenges, enthusiasm, excitement, creativity, anticipation, and more.
• Find someone who has creativity to have people come expecting to see and hear a challenge to worship. Leaders who show no creativity are not able to accurately represent a creative, active God and lead people into an ever-deepening worship experience with Him. Such leaders are robbing the people of a growing realization and awareness of God, his creativity, his holiness, his grace and his “awesomeness”. Picking songs, using a set formula to fit songs into, using some tried-true pattern is not leading worship; it is merely song leading. People should come with an expectation that they will hear something new from and about God and it will be exciting. If you don’t have a such a worship leader, you are cheating your people. Keep looking.
• Find someone who is excited about worshipping. If the leader isn’t excited about his own worship, continually expanding in his worship experience, it is unlikely he will be able to lead the congregation into an ever-enriched worship experience. Does the candidate looks excited as he leads? He doesn’t have to jump nor yell, but if doesn’t make contact with the people, smile and portray that worship is an emotionally exciting and powerful time, keep looking.
• Will visitors find your congregation excited about worship? Will they see your people enjoying and enthralled by the awesome love and grace of God that actually is touching the lives of your people? You want a leader who is leading them into that experience. Keep looking.