Category Archives: About the Words

Pointers about Style

When we think about the style of a piece of music, we are thinking about an identifiable pattern according to which the piece of music has been constructed. Many of these patterns have names. We talk about jazz, classical, swing, hip-hop, rock, blues, country and so on. All these terms have to do with the pattern according to which a certain piece of music has been constructed.

When we apply the word style to “Christian Music” we often talk about traditional versus contemporary styles. One traditional style of Christian music is the hymn. Hymns are pieces of music that are constructed according to a certain pattern or format. Contemporary Christian musical pieces resemble a different pattern. A contemporary style resembles a musical pattern that is more current.

Everyone will have a style preference. Generally the preferred style is the one that we are most familiar with. It may be the style that we grew up with, or the style that is currently popular in the media, or that is being used by an artist whom we favour. We prefer the musical style (pattern/format) that we are most comfortable with or that we can most easily relate to. Sometimes our preferences change with the times; what was once a favourite style is set aside in favour of one that we now like more, or perhaps one that our friends like more.

Another thing to consider with respect to style is the instruments that are usually associated with a given style. Organs and pianos may be associated more with traditional kinds of music, whereas stringed instruments, amplified and electrical instruments and percussion instruments may be associated more with contemporary styles. There is no hard and fast rule here. Any instrument can be associated with any style.

In order to answer the question “How important is style in worship music and singing”, we need to ask ourselves what the relationship of style is to worship. In no particular order, here are some questions to ask:

1. How important is style to God? Does it matter to God, the one whom we are seeking to worship with our music and songs, which style we use? Does HE have a preference? I think the answer is pretty obvious – God is more interested in the heart of the worshiper than in the style of the music with which we worship God. The style with which we chose to worship will not make up for the things that are lacking in our heart.

2. Is one style of music more spiritual that another style of music? As a general rule I believe that style is neutral. Style does not make the music more spiritual or less spiritual. The spirituality of worship music resides in the content, that is, in the words of the music and in what the worshiper does with this content and with these words. The content of a song is what makes the song spiritual or not so spiritual. Spiritual has to do with the Holy Spirit. If the words are in agreement with the Holy Spirit, and the Scriptures which he authored, then the music/words are spiritual. If the words are not true in what they say about God, or the Christian life, then they are not spiritual. No amount of style can make a song spiritual if the words are not spiritual.

3. Does the style of music have an impact on the worship experience of the worshiper? I would say yes. Our lack of comfort or familiarity with a certain style of music may serve to lessen the ability that we have to focus on the words of the music and so to focus our heart on God. This will be especially so when we feel that a certain style is being forced on us. We may have to battle a sense of resentment and this battle will be a distraction to our worship. Just as we are most comfortable to worship God in the language of our mother tongue, so we will also be most comfortable and it will seem most natural to us to worship God in the style with which we are most familiar. So, as a basic rule, style does matter in that it increases or decreases our level of comfort or distraction.

4. If we allow for the theory that style does impact our worship, does it follow that we should separate into different groups during worship time in order to accommodate sections of the congregation according to their favourite style of music? My answer is that this does not follow for the following reasons:

1) The style of a piece of music can never be the most important thing about a piece of music. Style is much more like the wrapping of a gift than the content of a gift. It is the content of a song and the content of the heart that sings it that is by far more important than the style in which this gift of worship is offered to God.

2) The unity of the fellowship of the worshipers is more important than the style of a piece of music. To give up something important (unity of the body) for the sake of something less important (the nature of the style of worship) is to give up the blessing of fellowship for the sake of a personal preference. Being together as the body of Christ ought be more important to us than preserving the pleasure of singing and worshiping according to our preferred style.

3) The variety of style-preferences in a congregation provides a beautiful opportunity to practice love and acceptance and tolerance and patience – in short, the fruit of the Spirit. The Bible calls us to think of others more highly than of ourselves – to regard not only our own interests but also the interests of others. To separate a congregation over what are our own interests would appear to be in conflict with this desire of the Spirit in our lives. Differences in style preference give occasion to the leadership of the church and the Praise Team to ask: How can we show love to one another by accommodating the different style preferences that are in the body, while maintaining the unity of the body. Differences like this provide the members of a congregation with an opportunity to grow in their walk with God by considering not only their own preferences but also the preferences of others.

5. Is it possible to learn to like or to adapt to a new style or an old style of music? I believe that this is within the realm of possibility. Often style has to do with familiarity. Increasing familiarity may lead to increasing tolerance for, and acceptance of a different style of music. We can learn to develop new tastes in clothing or food. Why not in music?

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Pointers about Repetition

It is the opinion of this writer that there is meaningful repetition and meaningless repetition.

Repetition can be used to reinforce a point that the song is trying to make. By repeating a line in a song, or a stanza or even a whole song, the worshiper is given the opportunity to reflect more carefully on the words he/she is singing.

We all have experienced times where we were singing a song without thinking. We simply sang because that is what everybody else was doing, and perhaps our mind was on other things. In such a situation repetition can lead the mind of the worshiper back to the song. We are brought back mentally to the thing we are presently doing, namely worshiping God, and suddenly our mind reengages with the song and the music. So repetition can be meaningful because it calls the worshiper to concentrate on what he is doing and saying in his song.

Another value of repetition is that it allows for the worshiper to ponder the words he/she is singing more deeply. Good worship songs have words that are meaningful. They express certain truths about God and the Christian life. Sometimes it takes a while to understand the meaning of the words and the intent of the songwriter. Repetition allows for reflection on the content of the words and their meaning. And when the meaning becomes more clear to the worshiper, he is able to sing and worship with greater understanding and meaning. It would seem unnecessary to say that greater worship takes place in the heart of the worshiper when he understands what he is singing that when he does not understand what he is singing.

Another positive reason for repetition is that it provides the opportunity to repeat a certain truth back to God a number of times. When this truth is centered on a certain attribute of God, such as his holiness, or his love, it may be rewarding to the worshiper to repeat his adoration of this aspect of God’s character or work to him a number of times, because of the depth of feeling he has toward God concerning these truths. So in these ways, repetition can be meaningful.

Is there such a thing as meaningless repetition? I believe so.

There seems to be a belief “out there” that repetition is useful for its own sake. In other words, worship singing becomes better when there is lots of repetition. But is this so? I do not think so.

Lets ask first of all: What is meaningless repetition?

Meaningless repetition happens when the purpose for repetition has been accomplished, but the repetition is still ongoing.

For example, when repetition of a line or stanza or song has successfully focused the attention of most of the worshipers in the room on a line in the song or a stanza or the whole song, it is no longer necessary to continue with the repetition.

Or, when the repetition has led most worshipers to enter into greater understanding of the content and the meaning of what they are singing, it is no longer necessary to continue with the repetition. If a song’s meaning is reasonably clear, most people (believers) will “get it” after a couple of repetitions.

Also, when the depth of a believer’s feeling for a certain truth has had the opportunity to be expressed multiple times by means of repetition, it may be time to move on to another truth, or another aspect of God’s great work for us in Christ. However, I would not make this a hard and fast rule. There are times that a congregation of worshipers can actually be overcome with the awareness of a particular truth, so that there is actually a desire in the congregation to keep expressing this truth over and over again. But this is different than repetition for repetition’s sake.

When repetition continues for its own sake, because it is seen as something good “in itself”, it may actually lead to less worship happening, rather than more. Why? Because after a certain amount of repetition, the minds of most worshipers will say “I get this”, and go into a “state of rest”. In other words the mind will become inactive. This does not necessarily mean that the emotions of the worshipers will become inactive. But it does mean that now the emotions of the worshipers will no longer be grounded in the words, but in other things, such as the environment in which they find themselves, the sounds that they hear, the instruments or other things. When the mind “cancels out” worship does not become more, but rather less. And the mind cancels out when it finds repetition to be without purpose.

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12 Practical Pointers for Praise Teams

If I were to summarize what the most important factors in making for an enjoyable experience of praise and worship are, I would list the following:

 

1. Please keep the beat!!!!! 

2. Try not to let the volume of the playing/singing of the PT dominate the congregation’s singing. It is beneficial for the congregation to be able to hear not only the singing and playing of the PT, but also its own singing.

3. Teach the congregation music that is singable. Try to avoid complex rhythms and melody lines. Remember: The congregation is not made up of musical professionals.

4. Chose songs with texts that are meaningful and theologically accurate.

5. Avoid meaningless repetition.

6. Remember to balance the learning of new songs with the singing of better/well-known songs. People get more pleasure out of singing songs they know. It is hard to put one’s heart into songs one hardly knows.

7. Be more concerned about the content of the songs (the words) than about the style of the music. God is more concerned that we worship him in spirit and in truth than that we worship him according to the latest style. Teach the congregation this principle.

8. Seek to approach the singing and worship time with an attitude of reverence and awe. We are worshiping the Holy One.

9. Discourage “showmanship” by the musicians. We are not here to impress anyone, but to lead others in worship.

10. Seek to avoid dress that draws the worshipers’ attention away from the music and  to the musician. God should be the primary focus of everyone present.

11. Remember the elderly when standing for long periods of time. Show solidarity with them by adopting a sitting posture from time to time. Let them know that you are aware that it may be difficult for them to stand with the rest of the worshipers.

12. Let everything be done in love.

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Pointers about the Lyrics

How important are the words of the songs that the congregation sings? It is my view that the words are very important.

The words of the songs are the means the congregation is given to express their worshipful thoughts and feelings to God. Words can stir hearts and minds to worship. Words have the power to influence the thoughts of the congregation in a certain direction. The content of the words of songs will determine whether the worship that is being offered to God is in spirit and in truth or not.

It is important to realize that the Holy Spirit will only empower songs that consist of words about God that are true. He bears witness to the truth and not to fanciful imaginations of men. Truth will inspire the hearts and the minds of the worshipers and fill them with thoughts about God that are worthy of God.

So one of the important questions to ask in choosing songs for worship is: Do they convey truth? Are the lyrics filled with truth? Do they say things about God that are true?

Another principle to consider when choosing songs for worship is the loftiness of the lyrics. Are the words that are being stated about God expressed in a way that is worthy of the subject that is being sung about? The Bible deals with lofty subjects, with majestic themes, with matters that have to do with eternity. Do the lyrics convey a sense of the grandeur of these themes?

I believe that the more fully and accurately the song-writer is able to express the great realities of our salvation and of our Saviour in words that convey the worthiness and loftiness of these realities, the more likely it will be that these words will resonate in the hearts of the worshipers and bring forth feelings of joy, awe and conviction, as the Holy Spirit bears witness to their truthfulness.

 

 

 

 

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