Category Archives: About Worship

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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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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Seven Pointers for the Heart

Leading the People of God in worship is more than merely a musical venture. It is also a venture of the heart. Here are some pointers for the “heart”, that innermost seat of the emotions and attitudes.

 

1. Members of the PT are committed followers of Jesus Christ whose main desire is to glorify God with their voices and instruments.

2. Members of the PT desire to work together with and in submission to the leadership of the church.

3. Members of the PT will seek to preserve a spirit of unity within their group.

4. Members of the PT will see themselves as partners in worship with the congregation.

5. Members of the PT will realize that success depends on the blessing of God on their endeavors and will ask God for his blessing on their work. They will remember to thank God when he answers their prayers.

6. Members of the PT will maintain an attitude of dependence on the Lord while they lead the congregation in praise and worship.

7. Members of the PT will maintain an attitude of humility toward God and others when success comes their way.

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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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The Musician’s Greatest Love

Who should be on the Praise Team?

I believe that the Praise Team should consist of members whose greatest love is the love of God and of Christ.  Such members may love music, and be extremely skilled with their voices or their instruments. But their love for God and Christ is greater than their love for music or for their instruments. They may love performing on a stage or playing their instruments, or using their voices in front of others. But this is not their greatest love. Their greatest love is the love of God and Christ and their greatest desire is to see that the name of God and Christ is honoured and glorified.

Why is this so important? Why does this matter? Musicians who love God more than anything else are first of all interested in pleasing God. Their chief interest is not in pleasing themselves. Their chief interest is not in gaining glory and honour for themselves.

Musicians who love God love what God loves. They love Jesus Christ who is the Son of God. They love the truth, for that is what God loves. They will love unity and peace. They will love humility and the fruit of the Holy Spirit. They will be eager to give the praise to God rather than to seek praise for themselves. And they will hate what God hates. They will hate pride and self-promotion. They will hate drawing attention to themselves when this will result in drawing attention away from God and from Christ. They will hate anything impure and anything false.

What happens when the love of God and the love of Christ is not the greatest love of the Praise Team members? What happens when the love of self and the love of music and the love of performance is greater than the love of God and of Christ?

Whatever the musician loves most will be the central focus of his/her thinking and whatever the Team loves most will be their central focus. If the musician loves performance more than God and Christ, his performance will be the central focus. He will think about how he comes across and what others think. He will seek to make a good impression. He will try to put his musical skills on display and seek to impress others with them.

If the greatest love is music rather than God and Christ, then more thought will be given to how the music sounds, whether it is projected loudly enough through the amplification system, whether each musician can be heard adequately and things of this nature. While these things are not wrong in themselves, they will be the most important things on the minds of the musicians whose greatest love is music. These things will be more important than the issue of how the music will affect the worship, whether the music will help the worshipers in their singing, whether God is honoured through the music and whether the musician’s heart is focused on God during the worship singing.

The greatest love of the musician and of the Team will impact and affect the atmosphere of the worship.

Now there is no question, that because of the fallen nature of man and of what the Bible calls “the flesh”, various loves will constantly be vying for the place of pre-eminence in the heart of the musician. The temptation to put self on display, and to seek honour and praise for oneself will always be there. But musicians who seek to join the Praise Team and those who lead the Team, should have a settled disposition in their hearts that the greatest glory and honour belongs to God and to Christ and that the desire for the promotion of their glory is their greatest desire.

Musicians whose greatest love is God and Christ and a Praise Team whose greatest love is God and Christ will set a tone for the worship singing that may or may not be immediately obvious. But this disposition will impact everything the Team does and every note it plays or sings. Regardless of what can be said of the congregation that such a Praise Team is leading, when this is the Team’s settled disposition, we can say with certainty at least this much: Such a Praise Team is worshiping God with their singing and with their leading of singing. The perceiving members of the congregation will notice this tone, and it will be pleasing to them and inspire them in their worship in song. God will be pleased, and his Spirit will join Himself to such worship.

When such a Team prays for the congregation they are leading, they will have the right focus for their prayers, namely that the love of God and Christ be the congregation’s greatest love and the honour of God and of Christ be the congregation’s greatest desire. Should God be pleased to answer such a prayer – and why would he not, such a congregation will experience worship in song that will be a joy and a delight and will be worthy of the greatness and beauty of our God.

 

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Pointers about what to sing

Each week the Praise Team faces the question: What songs should we select for the following Sunday. A number of factors come into play in answering this question: What will fit with the theme of the sermon? Are there directives from the pastoral staff to consider? Do we want to learn a new song, or do we want to stay with the music we know? What music is suitable for the musicians? Does the music match their skill level?

The question that I would like to consider here does not focus on the Praise Team or on the pastors but rather on the congregation and it is this: What songs are suitable for the congregation? Or, to put it another way: How well is the congregation able to sing these songs?

Sometimes it is helpful for the Praise Team to sing a song acapella (without musical accompaniment) in order to listen in to see how well the congregation is managing to sing a particular song. Ordinarily the voices and the instruments of the Team may obscure the sound coming from the congregation and as a result the fact that participation in the singing is limited may go unnoticed. The reason for limited participation may well be that the congregation is finding the music too difficult to sing.

Here is where the focus of the Praise Team is different from that of a Christian band performing in front of an audience. A band is not primarily concerned about whether those present are able to sing along. They have come to minister to the congregation in song. The congregation/audience is there primarily to listen rather than to participate. In such a situation the difficulty level of the music is limited only by the skill of the musicians.

But the situation is very different  in the arena of congregational singing. In congregational singing, everything focuses on the congregation. Is the congregation able to sing along? Does the majority of those present find the music singable? The focus of the Praise Team is: How do we enable more people to participate in the singing?

Congregational singing is the congregation’s opportunity to offer their praise and worship to God in song. The music is a vehicle for the words of the song. If the congregation finds the music too difficult to sing, their effort at expressing their worship will prove unsatisfying and discouraging. So one of the ways the Praise Team seeks to enable the congregation to offer their praise to God in a satisfying manner is by ensuring that the songs they have chosen are singable.

What factors should the Praise Team consider when seeking to determine whether a song is singable? Here are some suggestions.

1. The range of the music – There will be those people in the church who can easily reach high notes, and those who can easily reach low notes. Everyone else will be somewhere in between. Except perhaps for the occasional note, the range should be within easy reach of most of the worshipers. It is an unpleasant and unsatisfying experience for those with untrained voices to have to consistently strain to reach high notes.  

2. The rhythm of the music – It is my view, that a song chosen for congregational singing should have a rhythm that is reasonably easy for most people to learn. This is not to say that the rhythm needs to be boring. But the more predictable the rhythm of the song is, the more quickly the congregation will be able to learn to sing it.

3. The steadiness of the melody line – Melody lines can either flow steadily in one direction, staying on the same note and rising or descending at a steady pace, or they can fluctuate wildly, with wide gaps between successive notes. Many wide gaps, and significant fluctuations in a melody line will leave the worshipers wondering what the next note might be. Such melody lines are more difficult to memorize and may present a source of frustration.

The Praise Team will greatly promote joy in congregational singing if they build up a repertoire of songs that can be readily sung by the majority of the worshipers. The proof will be in the pudding. If the congregation is singing the songs, then they are singable. If after many attempts at singing a particular song, the singing is still tentative and the sound barely audible, the song may be too difficult for the congregation. An effective Praise Team will seek to ensure that most of the congregation will be able to participate in the singing of most of the songs most of the time.

 

 

 

 

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Pointers about Songs and Singing

 

We have seen that the heart attitude of the participants in congregational singing is the most important matter. If the heart attitude of the participants is not right before God, it really does not matter what else is right with the singing and playing of the Praise Team and the singing of the congregation. If the primary audience of our singing is not pleased, what is the point of our singing?

Having said this, we should not understand this to mean that heart attitude is the only matter of importance in congregational singing.

The act of worship originates in the heart of the worshiper, but it is the music, the songs and the singing, that are the vehicle by means of which the worshiping congregation offers their praise to God. This process of transmission of our worship to God can be impacted positively and negatively in a number of ways.

What are some of these tangible ways that may impact the transmission of our heart worship to God in song?

Well, there is the song itself – for example, is it singable? Not all songs are equally singable.

There is the content of the song – do the words make sense to the worshiper? Are the words expressing thoughts and ideas that are consistent with the truths of our great salvation, and with who God is and what he has done? Do they express what is in a worshiper’s heart?

There is the speed of the music – is the song being sung so fast that it is hard to even realize what the words are saying? In other words, is the worshiper unable to formulate thoughts in his/her mind because of the speed in which the words whiz by the worshiper? Or are the songs being sung so slowly, that the worshiper is distracted from the words?

Is the rhythm too difficult for most of the worshipers? Is the beat being kept?

What is the role of the instruments of the Praise Team? Is the way the instruments are being used serving to underline and lend support to the message of the song or is it serving as a distraction from the content of the song?

All of these issues are matters of importance. They are important because they affect the process of the transmission of the worship of the congregation to God. With time, I hope to look at some, or all of the factors mentioned, in order to examine more closely what bearing each of them has on the singing congregation.

No doubt there will be differences of opinion about what constitutes an aid or a hindrance to worship. My hope is that at least some of the things I am saying will resonate with the reader, and that he/she will find in them something worth considering or even adopting.

 

 

 

 

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Measuring Success

How do we know when our worship in song has been successful?

I believe that the simple answer is, when God is pleased.

We have already indicated that God is the primary audience of our singing. So the question is, what does God think about our singing, our worship? What is it that pleases him about our worship in song?

This is a very weighty question! Of course it is hard to get direct feedback from God. But that does not mean that we do not have a whole handful of indications from his word about what might be pleasing to him in our worship and what might not be.

If my answer is true, and God’s pleasure in our singing is the ultimate key to success, then we can infer from this, that everything else is secondary.

We have already seen that true worship is a matter of the heart (see “A Serious Word about Worship“). The quality of music, and of the performance of the music and the singing, the style of the music, the outward enthusiasm of the worshipers, all these things are secondary to this great question: Is (was) God pleased?

Let me give an example, a “for instance”. What if a congregation is seriously divided? Let’s say there are factions in the congregation. Certain members in the congregation no longer talk to each other. There is bitterness and hostility. Yet on Sundays, everybody stands up and sings. The Praise Team puts a lot of effort into their practice and prayerfully selects the music for the worship service. And the congregation sings. And after the singing, the factions, and harsh words and anger continues. Would such singing please God, even if every note was played flawlessly, and everything went off without a hitch?

We know that God loves unity (not uniformity) among his people.  We know this from passages such as Ephesians 4:3, Philippians 2:2, Romans 15:5,6. Of course not everyone will be drawn into the disunity and discord. And God may well be pleased with their singing, since he sees the heart. But where there is this kind of disunity in a congregation, the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, is grieved (Ephesians 4:30-32). The congregation may be singing well enough, but God is not pleased.

What is the effect on a congregation, when God is not pleased? There will be a lack of joy. There may still be enthusiasm but it would be of an artificial kind. The music may still be beautiful, and the sound may still be harmonious and glorious, but where the Spirit of God is grieved, the enthusiasm that he generates will be quenched.  The problem will not be the Praise Team or the music, but the disunity.  While there may still be a certain kind of success, it will be in secondary matters.

I believe that where a congregation pleases God (in matters of the heart) the congregational singing will experience an infusion of joy given by the Holy Spirit to the worshipers, and there will be a sense among the congregation that they have met with God in their singing, and that they have truly worshiped him. This joy cannot be manufactured artificially. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit to a congregation that pleases God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Role of the Praise Team

On this site, when I mention the Praise Team I am thinking of those individuals who stand in front of the congregation (the people of God) during the congregational singing and who are leading the singing.  They may be using instruments and their voices, or just instruments, or just voices. They accompany the singing of the congregation with their instruments and/or voices.

There are of course many situations where only one person is leading the singing, (with or without instrument). While one person does not make a team, many of my comments will also apply to them.

The question we are asking is: What is the role of the Praise Team? What is their function?

Let’s ask another question: How does the Praise Team view itself? For example: Does it view itself as an essential part of the worship experience? Let’s put it this way: Would there still be worship going on if there were no Praise Team on the platform? Or if there were no worship leader? Well, conceivably someone could still stand up and suggest a song or two, and the congregation would then try their best to sing those songs. If the songs are familiar, the singing should go fairly well. Without the support of the Praise Team, some in the congregation might stumble along, trying to find the right notes, perhaps by listening to those around them who are more musically inclined. Would this still be worship?

I think we would have to agree that, depending on the attitude of the participants (see “A Serious Word about Worship“), this would still be worship.

Would the presence of a Praise Team make the worship experience more successful? This depends on certain variables, which we will discuss at some other time. But, all things being equal, the Praise Team provides support to the congregation, by helping them find the tune and the right rhythm of a tune. In this way they enable the congregation to actually sing the tune, and to concentrate on the meaning of the words. Stumbling and fumbling one’s way through a tune can distract both the mind and heart from the primary audience of the worshiper (see “The Audience of Congregational Singing“) and thus make worship in song a frustrating experience.

So the Praise Team is a musical aid to the worshipers. It functions as a support system to the congregation. It provides for smoothness in the worship experience by removing as many distractions to the worshiping congregation as possible. The more the congregation is enabled to focus on the song itself, the more it is able to present it as a worship offering to God.

One more question for the Praise Team: Does it view itself as separate from the congregation or as part of the congregation? Does it see itself as being “over here” and the congregation as being “over there”? I believe that the Praise Team needs to see itself as part of the congregation. It is seeking to enter into the same worship that it is seeking to lead the congregation into. The believers in the Praise Team join the believers of the congregation they are  leading, as members of the same body of Christ in worship of the one true God.

 

 

 

 

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A Serious Word About Worship

Is it possible that a congregation can sing songs of worship but not actually be worshiping God? Yes, sadly this is possible.

Singing is an outward act. Worship is an inward act. If there is not worship in the heart, there is no worship in the singing of a song either.

Jesus said that those who worship God must worship him in spirit and truth (John 4:24). We can see that singing, or the voice, is not mentioned here. Rather worship is described as something that comes from within – it happens in spirit and in truth.

What does Jesus mean by the word “spirit”? I believe that he uses this word in apposition to ritual. Ritual has to do with external acts. “Spirit” has to do with the “heart”, the thoughts, mind, feelings and emotions that are within a person. It is the person, the “I” of the person, that needs to be doing the worshiping. God looks at the heart, not so much at the external actions of worship.

Let’s think about posture for a moment. We may be kneeling before God, but our heart may be filled with pride. This is not worship. Or we may be standing during the singing and clapping our hands, but inwardly we may be thinking sinful thoughts. This is not worship. Whatever our outward posture might be during the act of singing, our heart needs to be in a position of kneeling before God in submission to his will, in repentance for any sins committed, in humble supplication for any help we may need from him and in humble gratitude for the many gifts we have received from him.

What does Jesus mean by the word “truth”? How do we worship in truth? We need to worship in accordance with who God is. Our understanding of who God is must constantly and increasingly be brought in line with how God is revealed in the Bible, his Word. We do not want to worship a “God” of our own making, a god who does not really exist. Also, we need to come to God by means of the way which he has provided. God has made it clear that there is only one way of approach to himself that pleases him, and that is through his Son, Jesus Christ. It is only through faith in Jesus Christ that the stain of our sin is removed from us, and that we can freely come into God’s presence. Singing songs of worship without knowing Jesus Christ as Saviour is not the worship that God desires.

So here is the question that every participant engaged in congregational singing needs to ask himself when he/she stands up (or whatever other posture is taken) for the singing: Am I worshiping in spirit and in truth? Is my heart engaged in this? Do I know what I am talking (singing) about? Do I understand what the songs are saying, and am I in agreement with what they are saying? Are my thoughts centered on God right now? Am I coming to him through Jesus Christ or in a way of my own making?

What we have said here is foundational to worship actually taking place while we are singing and the Praise Team is leading us. If there is no worship in spirit and truth taking place, there may be lots of good singing, lots of good playing, lots of clapping and beautiful voices making harmonious sounds, but there will be an absence of worship.

In my view it would be better for a congregation to be silent and to have a time of soul-searching and getting right with God than to persist in “worship-singing” that is not in spirit and truth.

Like I said,  a serious word about worship.

 

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