As worship leaders, our priorities are in this order:
- To give God glory (Ps. 106:47; “Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.”)
- To draw the congregation into God’s glorious presence (Ps. 42:4; “These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.”)
- And to express our creativity and style passionately through excellence in musicianship (Ps. 33:3; Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.”)
When you think about the congregational melody of a song you want to do, think of the tone-deaf person who can’t sing, and doesn’t like to sing! Can they sing it and learn it? If not, don’t do it. If you remember anything from this little essay, remember this- Always consider the least common denominator. Think of the person who wandered in and has never been to a church. Think of the outcast in the corner that feels marginalized by Christians. Think of the stubborn religious person who doesn’t want to express any emotions to God. If you plan your worship set and approach worship leadership with people like this in mind, you will likely reach everyone else also. This doesn’t mean focusing only on the least common denominator, this means including the least common denominator as priority, and not a throw away, in your worship planning. A good school-teacher doesn’t just cater to the smart people in the class, no! A good teacher captivates the failing student who is a class clown, and inspires them to learn and earn a good grade. So it is with worship leaders. Inspire the least of them, and you will more likely reach the rest of them.
Yet when you’re up there on a Sunday morning, I’d recommend focusing on the people in the congregation that are the most excited to be there! They will minister to you while you’re up front. Look for the person/people who is/are really engaged in worship with their eyes closed, belting it out. Or maybe the person that has their hands raised or is doing a little dancing. This focus encourages a worship leader to be excited to be there. If you look at the person that is sitting down asleep, or the one who is standing up with their arms crossed and a grimace on their face, then you’ll get discouraged and potentially feel that God is not using you, or you’ll get frustrated and potentially say something to the whole congregation that is offensive. It may be in an effort to challenge people towards greater worship passion, but remember, it’s probably the least common denominator!
When putting together a set of music, think of the variety. Would a 10 year old boy be engaged in any part of this? Would a 93 year old lady enjoy any part of this? Would a 53 year old ex rock n’ roller be engaged by any of this? Blended worship is a shotgun approach to congregational worship. If anyone sticks to any one preference too much, they’ll alienate certain people in the congregation. For example- if you do all stuff that young people like, then older people will feel excluded. But it you do stuff that all older people will know, young people or people who grew up outside of the church will be excluded.
I would add that it’s wise, maybe even imperative, to only do one new song a week, and then rotate that song (unless it totally flops) for at least two more weeks after, maybe even three or four depending on how well it’s received. After you intro a new song, it then becomes part of the repertoire, and can be pulled out again at a later time if desired. All the other songs done on a Sunday besides a new one should be a part of a repertoire that you’ve developed. It’s not wise to assume that “everyone will know this one!” Remember the least common denominator! What about people who have never heard it? What about people who are Christians but don’t listen to any Christian music? You’ll never engage the majority of the congregation until you learn to patiently teach them songs slowly but surely. The great thing about a powerful worship song is that when more people are singing it, there is more power in it as an offering to God. When shy singers sense that everyone around them is lifting up a joyful noise, they may be more inspired to belt out some notes as well!
With planning of every service, think of these things;
- Will a new person that’s never been to a “church service” be engaged in this set of music?
- Will a person that is totally uncomfortable singing in a worship service be compelled to sing? Even just a little bit??
- Will a new believer who doesn’t know music well, especially Christian worship music, be engaged in this and inspired to sing?
- Will people who have been in the church since the 1950’s feel that they are included in this song selection?
- Are people spectators at a performance, or are they being led into the presence of God?
- Is the set too boring and low tempo? Or I’m sorry… “reverent”?
- Is the set nothing but up-tempo with the potential to make everyone break into a sweat? Or I’m sorry… “passionate”?
- Are the melodies too repetitive?
- Are melodies too complicated to follow?
- Are any of the songs corny and irrelevant? Obviously some hymns and oldies are worth preserving and redoing, but some are ok to throw in the trash. J
- Are all the arrangements of the songs based on the same formula? (V, Ch, V, Ch, Bridge, quiet chorus, loud chorus, tag, etc…) Keep things interesting and it will keep you on your toes as well. It’s ok to challenge yourself!
Please remember always- leading congregational worship isn’t a chance for people to come and listen to your sweet music skills. It isn’t a chance for people to think that you’re deeply spiritual as their worship leader. It isn’t a chance for people to hear your favorite worship songs and how awesome you do at leading them. It’s about them encountering God. The job of the worship leader is to make that as easy as possible. Worship is easy melodies to sing that are rich with biblical, theological meaning. Worship is low distraction presentations of music that point to the awe and wonder of our King. Worship is not boring, but highly engaging and excellently done with creativity, variety, tact, and taste.
Live in all of these tensions constantly as leaders of worship! It’s definitely a process of learning. That may be the best thing about it! You never arrive, and can only constantly be refined and made to be more effective!
- Ten Traits of an Effective Worship Song by Marty Nystrom (nwchristianwriters.wordpress.com)
- Preparing to Worship (pjcockrell.wordpress.com)
- Ed Stetzer – Church Music Conflicts: Have We Really Always Done It “That Way”? (godanalytics.wordpress.com)
- Church Is Boring (chineduwrites.wordpress.com)