When I first became a church member of a Christian, Bible-based church about a couple of years after high school, the first thing that impressed me about its church service was the music. Every week the service would be led by a worship leader with a suit and tie behind a podium that looked very similar to the image on your right.
I soon realized the songs sung were songs only that church sang. Most of them were hymns composed only by and only for that denomination and therefore not known among the mainstream Christian
As I recall (and recently calculated) roughly
10 percent of the hymns in the hymnal sung
in that church were well known classics.
America The Beautiful
Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken
Onward Christian Soldiers
The remaining songs we sung were unknown
compositions mostly based on the psalms of the Bible.
To me they were very beautiful and very
meaningful songs to sing.
A few years later, in the 1990s, lo and behold, I became one of the worship leaders rotating with the other worship leaders! I do not remember how that happened! But here I was one day wearing a suit and tie and leading the saints of the church in worship singing. It was a wonderful experience.
But soon something unique happened….
… But, before I get into what happened,…
One of My Favorite Hymns
The short hymn below was one of my favorite hymns that I often led the congregation as a song leader years ago. It has only two verses and is based on Psalm 143. Again, all of orthodox Christianity do not know this hymn. I also do remember how often I personally used to sing it by memory as private prayer to God whenever I was dealing with certain difficulties and hurts:
The congregation was very familiar with about 70 to 80 percent of the hymns of that hymnal. Sometimes we would sing them by heart. Sometimes a worship leader would introduce us to a hymn we had never sung and would repeat it in subsequent services. It was how we learned more songs from that one hymnal.
Changing to New Songs
Then it happened. In the mid 1990’s, that same church I was attending drastically changed her basic doctrinal beliefs. Most of her doctrines were systematically dismissed as having errors. These changes had already been going on for a few years prior, but in late 1994, the church headquarters announced drastic reforms. As a result, more than 50 percent (some sources say close to 70 percent) of the membership left the fellowship or started splinter churches in order to continue observing the original teachings.
I was one of those who delighted in the changes and did not leave. But soon, locally, about 20 percent of the members remaining began focusing on home groups, they were then called “cell churches” which I became heavily involved. And, and, AND and, new worship songs were being sung in them! Songs like: I Surrender All, This is the Day, and Give Thanks (With A Grateful Heart) gained popularity.
I then was leading songs for both the main, local congregation (which sang from the old hymnal), and also the home church (which sang contemporary Christian songs). It was at this time that I began devotedly listening to Christian radio station, WIHS 104.9 FM, in order to learn the mainstream Christian songs – both the contemporary Christian ones AND the classic hymns.
My Current Church
Currently, I now attend a Christian church that worships using the contemporary style of music. No
hymnals are used. Large overhead monitor screens,
on opposing corners of the sanctuary in front of
the congregation, are evident. Instead of a worship
leader asking the congregation to turn to page such
and such, the lyrics of the worship songs are displayed
for the saints to follow along. Basically, the members
are reading the lyrics and guided in melody
progression by the worship team and band on stage.
Please note: I am not complaining here. The advantages of singing from the screens overhead are good. Large amounts of time flipping pages for the correct song is avoided. More songs can be added to the service because of the time saved. The saints’ hands and arms are free to be raised praising God without any hymnal book to impede them. All that are just tremendous advantages for worshiping.
The Silence of the Lambs
But often, during the worship singing, I try to listen to the saints actually sing (both on key and off key). I hardly can hear them. Why? Many of the saints, including myself, I believe, are much too often not familiar with the songs. At almost every church service I have attended, many of the songs sung I did not know – and still do not know. And I am a very, very frequent visitor of that church!
Anyway, what I often see and hear are worship teams on stage singing with electric guitars blazing and drums pounding. Again, I am not trying to be critical here. All I am saying is that just about every week most of the songs sung are fairly new to me and to many of the brethren. And because they are unfamiliar with them, the worship team comes across too strong. Any of the songs that have been sung before were sung many weeks, if not months, previously.
This, of course, is not true with all contemporary style churches. And I am not saying that the worshipers are not singing or praising God. I believe they are, but they seem to come across as being silent rather than being heard. Nevertheless, I also do know the Holy Spirit is moving strongly among worshipers who participate. He is making a big difference within them.
Yet, once again, I often hear, for the most part, only the worship team with their instruments on stage. They are excitedly singing and praising God with passion! Of course they are! That is great! They have no choice but to sing that way! Why? Well, haven’t they repeatedly rehearsed their planned repertoire of songs several times prior to leading the service? As they did so, didn’t they grow to know “every inch” of the songs? And of course, the songs usually chosen were those the worship leader already knows and loves. Right?
So, that leaves the congregation mostly reading the lyrics on the monitor screens and reacting to the singers and the rhythms of the amplified, musical instruments. At one time during the worship singing I asked myself, “am I at a rock concert”? Why? The music was loud as the singers on stage poured out their hearts with harmony onto the audience. And while the guitar was
bellowing out riffs, I was tempted to answer
“yes, this appears more like a rock concert than
a praise service.” But I knew that was not what
truly was happening among the saints of God
at that moment.
What happens during rock concerts? Well, the
audiences know very well the lyrics of the songs
they hear. They came to see their rock idol sing
songs they cherish. The lyrics are often NOT
projected on screens. But with outstretched arms
waving side to side and with strong voices
they sing out loud along with the band on stage.
No, of course, my friends, the church worship portion of the service is not a rock concert. But I must ask, should the worship leaders/singers always be the only ones who know the songs as they lead the congregations?
I know that I have focused so far solely on contemporary churches and this may not be true all the time with all of them, but what do I suggest? My suggestions are actually tips both the leaders of contemporary and non-contemporary churches can implement in their churches. Yes, as a former worship leader myself, here are some tips I would like to offer you worship leaders. Please note – I said tips. I am NOT stating these are must actions to do.
Have the saints grow to be able to sing the planned songs by heart. In other words, lead the congregation knowing that if at any time the electrical power goes down they can sing other songs – songs that many know.
What am I getting at? You may have noticed earlier the percentage numbers I was using. They closely aligned with the 80/20 ratio that I discussed in a previous post. (Click on: The 80/20 Principle. I would like to therefore suggest to you leaders to somewhat apply this principle to your Christian churches. Here, then, are my tips for you worship leaders:
I) For Contemporary Style Churches
a) 60% = Sing known contemporary songs
b) 20% = Introduce new contemporary songs. Let the saints first only hear the melody a couple of times before they sing them.
c) 20% = Sing classic hymns. Let the church sing these. Learn them beforehand, of course, if you are not too familiar with them. Introduce them to the saints. Give the brethren a brief history of each hymn presented to them: the names of the authors and composers, when it was written, and why it was written. Often – I say now – often sing it until it becomes well known by most of the congregation. Examples:
- Amazing Grace
- Rock Of Ages
- How Great Thou Art
II) For Non-Contemporary Style Churches
a) 60% = Sing known hymn classics.
b) 20% = Introduce “new” classic hymns. Let the saints first hear the melody a couple of times before they sing them.
c) 20% = Contemporary Christian Songs. Let the church sing these. Learn them beforehand, of course, if you are not too familiar with them. Introduce them to the saints. Give the brethren a brief history of each song: the authors and composers of it, when it was written, why it was written. Often – I say now – often sing it until it becomes well known by most of the congregation. Examples:
- Your Grace Is Enough
- More Precious Than Silver
- As The Deer
The more your church membership understands what you, the worship leader, is doing, the easier, I believe, the saints will adapt. Nothing is certain, of course, in our age, but give it a try.
Here are some more tips:
i) Allow the church membership to be able to sing worship songs acapella, without any instruments (no pianos, guitars, drums, etc.).
ii) TURN DOWN THE VOLUME you contemporary worship teams
iii) You classic hymn churches – Leave the volume the
same or go a little higher.
(If you use huge pipe organs, you may need to lower
the volume as much as you can – use discretion here).
iv) Not just lead, but also accompany the brethren with your instruments! Do not drown them out. Let each saint be able to hear his brothers and sisters, near and not-so-near, singing to the Lord.
v) Have a choir often behind you. Let them also not drown out the voices of the saints. If at all possible, if you do not have one, start and develop a choir in your church. Why? Because it is from there – I say now – it is from there where many a worship leader came from.
These are just a few of my tips. Reflect and meditate on them. I pray you be a worship leader who wants the congregation to even more adoringly sing to God both at services and personally at home as each member deals with the day-to-day challenges, trials, and temptations that come his way.