In past posts, I have spent much time discussing ways that we can hurt our church’s corporate worship times. You can find several of those posts here. I came across this article recently which describes many of the same issues in a fresh way. Take a look…
Advice to Worship Leaders
Today’s post comes from Philip Nation, Director of Ministry Development at LifeWay Research. The post originally appeared on worship.com.
Over the last two years, I have traveled quite a bit to speak for churches, conferences, and mission endeavors. Because of that travel, I have the opportunity to observe worship leaders in various settings. Though I’m no expert in music, I can (like you) spot when it isn’t going so well.
Now, I’m no musical expert. But I’m a guy who loves to worship. So, I’ve assembled some simple advice for worship leaders (no matter the style of your service). Please keep in mind that these are one man’s hopefully helpful suggestions.
1. Just sing the song.
Improvisation is great, unless you are leading others in singing. Then you just confuse everyone. Part of the genius to the hymns written in times past is that everyone knew the tunes to the music. The majority of people do not read music now so melodies need to be familiar.
The use of video screens in worship is helpful and appropriate for our technological context, but as a result we only focus our attention on words. Consequently, we have memorized the songs as they are most commonly sung. If you take off on a vocal riff, we don’t know what you’re doing and just wait for you (now singing a solo) to be finished.
2. We don’t sing La-La-La
For some reason, songwriters will substitute words with Ooh’s, Aah’s, and La’s of different progressions and combinations. Though it may sound really cool on the radio, most of us just feel stupid standing around singing La-La-La-La. And, anyway, it doesn’t feel like worship when I’m just cooing like a baby at God.
3. Open your eyes.
Keith Pipes – a good friend and worship leader – once described to me how odd it is for a worship leader to sing to God but look at people. I get it. But if you keep your eyes closed during the entire music set – it’s creepy.
But more than that, it tells the worshipers that you don’t really care if they are participating or not. Yes, it’s hard to sing to Jesus and look at me, but all of spiritual leadership involves a certain level of earthly awkwardness.
4. Stop singing in the key of “Tomlin.”
Let me say it plainly: if the worship leader is singing toward the top of his/her vocal range, then you have left everyone behind about seven bars ago. If you can sing like Jason Crabb or Chris Tomlin, that’s great. For you.
Speaking on behalf of the guys… Most men are baritones. They need music to be easy, middle of the road. From a guy’s perspective, we will more likely not sing than squeak like we’ve re-entered puberty. So, when you lead worship songs in a key only fit for professional singers, most men will simply not sing. I know because I look around while listening to you sing.
5. We only know 4/4 time.
Though we really enjoy hearing the David Crowder Band sing in their odd syncopated beats, none of us can actually keep that rhythm with David. Please keep it simple for us. Again, the brilliance of the hymns is that they were easy to sing. The simple music was contextualized to the style of their day. And, it has helped them stand the test of time as accessible to the masses. Lead music that we can all sing easily so the focus is on the content of the words and not trying to keep the beat.
6. Plan the transitions.
Just like you don’t like to see the preacher flounder for a transition between points, we feel the same for you. I’m not advocating a mini-sermon between songs, but at least have a plan. Hopefully, you and the speaker know what the theme of the service is to be, so speak about it in such a way that it values the scriptures and continually points us to Christ.
7. Turn up the lights.
OK – maybe this is more pet peeve than anything but here goes. I can sing by myself in the car, at home, etc. Only once (maybe twice) a week do I worship with thecommunity of faith. But, when the lights are turned down in order to highlight the cool set, Gobo lighting effects, and newest ProPresenter backgrounds, then I don’t know what the family in the row in front of me is doing. It’s not that I need them to do something in order to worship, but–I think–God intends for me to worship with them. I shouldn’t have to use night vision goggles to see them.
8. Dress like it is worship that matters.
Leaders need to contextualize, but only to the point that you blend in with those you are seeking to reach and lead. For some reason, those of us on the platform (preachers included) feel the carnal need to be the coolest/best looking in the room. Thus, Target and Macy’s is making a mint off of ministerial professionals buying shirts with graphics emblazoned across the shoulders. But that is not the definition of contextualization. Don’t try to be the grungiest one who is “free” to wear blue jeans and go bare foot in church. And don’t try to be the sharpest dresser just because you are “up front.” Instead, be driven by the mission of who God has given you to reach and lead.
9. Love Jesus more than music.
All leaders face the temptation to love their work for God more than God Himself. It is our own temptation toward idolatry. To speakers, I would say that they should love Jesus more than their words about Him. For worship leaders, love God more than the music about Him. No matter what else happens on the platform, it will be obvious where your passion rests.
Please share your comments.
Thanks for your thoughts, Philip. I agree with most of your points – and hear your heart in reminding us that we are worshiping the God of all creation!
Just a couple of my own thoughts….
We do sing la-la-la, or at least oohhhhhh—-. This is the musical version of Selah – a word-pause while the music continues to reflect on what we just said/sang. This is often the loudest part of the song at our church. I equate it to praying with the groans of our hearts (Rom 8:26).
Please don’t perpetuate the myth that hymns are easier to sing. And Can It Be jumps all over the place with a range of Tomlin+. (Tomlin songs are high, but their range is usually less than an octave. Hymns often cover more than an octave, so it doesn’t matter where you pitch them. Someone won’t be able to sing the lowest and highest notes.) A Mighty Fortress Is Our God has time signature changes in every line. There are MANY other examples of hymns even more difficult. The difference between them and current songs? You probably grew up singing them and are super-familiar with them, so their difficulties have become familiar. Additionally, there are hymns that are easy to sing (Holy, Holy, Holy, for one), but there are easy new songs, too.
We don’t have gobo lights. We turn out lights down because more people sing when we do. I think it’s because they feel more freedom since everyone’s attention is toward the front. Just a guess, but my point is that the reason we turn off the lights in the congregation is for the congregation – not because of cool lighting.
Perhaps you are assuming you know the reason behind why some choices are made – when you don’t. At east not for every church.
All that said, my favorite is #9 – We can ALL agree on this! Jesus is the one we worship, not the music, not lights-on or lights-off. A room full of people who gather to praise Him – on stage and in the congregation – is our sacred purpose and trust. As a worship team we seek to provide an environment most conducive to facilitate this, and we ask our congregation to worship Him even if (maybe even especially if) their individual style preferences are different. We would love to get it right for everyone, but in a group activity, we can’t please every person. Humility, mutual respect, and a commitment to unity in worshiping God are essential. He is worthy of all our worship – and worth every effort in this endeavor.
Very refreshing to hear. I hope this is spread abroad and shared in training/classes. God bless and thanks.
Not sure what I think about the lighting thing. I think seeing silhouettes of the family in front of you might be enough. Lights down low emphasizes intimacy and can be appropriate for some times of worship.
Also not completely convinced by the “key” thing. There are a large number of alto’s that just love singing along in the key of Tomlin. And if Tomlin sang in the keys you are talking about, the music would not have the same punch or conviction at all. I’m not sold, but I’m thinking about it. I might have to experiment with this.
And I think there is a place for la la la la. Maybe not very frequently, but there is a place. If you have ever been in a packed house with David Crowder singing “We’re gonna sing/dance/… like the saved”…. it can be a righteous dance party that is fully engaging and glorifies God, I believe. I think this is more of a generational/cultural thing. In the same way that instrumental solos don’t have words, but can be appropriate at times, so can la la la la and improvisational times.
Anyhow, in general I agree with your great points here. Just wanted to give a little bit of push back feedback for your consideration.
very well written. i always imploy the K.I.S.S. method of leading worship….and i praise God leading it.
A-men!!! Hope all worship leaders read this!