Monthly Archives: October 2011

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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The Audience of the Worshipers

Who is the congregation singing to? Who is it singing for? Who is the audience of congregational singing?

Is it the pastor? The praise team? The congregation?

My contention is that the audience of the singing congregation is God himself. Singing is an act of worship (we will discuss worship at a later time). God is being worshiped by the things we are singing to him or about him.

The primary focus of the congregation is not on itself, nor on others who are present. It is not about how we come across to others, or whether others like our singing. The audience that needs to matter most to us is the one we are singing to and about, God.

This is easier said than done. Many things can stand in the way of this important focus. Praise singing can become routine. We sing because this is what we always do during this time in the service. We stand up during the singing because we always stand up during the singing. The songs are familiar. We have sung them many times.  We know what they say. We sing mindlessly – our lips are moving, but perhaps our thoughts are on our surroundings more than they are on God. We are thinking about the way the Praise Team members look, how they are dressed.  We may have arrived at the church distracted. Or we are distracted by thoughts about the past week or the coming week. And so on.

Of course on a more serious note, there could be patterns of sin in our lives, or confusion about who God is and doubts about whether we matter to him. Our faith may be a mere formality. We may have a reputation of being believers, but in our heart God matters very little if at all.  To sing with enthusiasm about something we do not believe in is difficult at best. At worst it is a form of hypocrisy.

All of these things can stand in the way of a focus on the audience that really matters during congregational singing – God himself.

These realities are important for the Praise Team to consider. The Praise Team must share the conviction that the audience of the singing congregation needs to be God.

God is also the primary audience of the singing and the playing of the Praise Team. It would be easy to think that the congregation is the primary audience of the singing and the playing of the Praise Team. This is not so. It would be so if the Praise Team were performing. But this is not their task. They are not performers but leaders. And one of their tasks of leadership is to help the congregation, the people of God, to direct their focus to the one and only audience that really matters, the living God himself.

There are different ways in which this can be done. God willing we will look at those at another time.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Participants of Congregational Singing

The Congregation

Let’s think a bit about the congregation. The congregation is that group of people that has gathered together (congregated) on a Sunday morning (or some other time of the week) to worship God.

Who are these people? They are believers who identify with the message of Christ, who have received that message and have taken their stand on it (1.Corinthians 15:1-11). Of course there may be visitors, friends, and non-believers present also. But when I use the word “congregation” on this site, I have in mind those in the group who make up the body of Christ, the local church, those who have confessed Christ as Lord and Saviour.

Let’s take a closer look at who they might be. Chances are they are from various walks of life. Different nationalities, different ethnic backgrounds, different income levels and age-groups. Some are new Christians, some have been around for a long time. Different levels of maturity are present. Some are healthy, in the prime of life, some are frail and struggling with illnesses of various kinds. And of course one will find various kinds of musical abilities.

Let’s think about that for a minute. Each church is going to be unique in this regard. Some churches will be loaded with musical talent, whereas in other congregations such talent may be hard to find. Some enjoy singing and do it whenever they have the opportunity, for others singing only happens on Sunday morning in church. Some can carry a tune, others can’t. Some have a good memory and can recall songs and hymns from years ago while others will struggle to remember the tune they sang the previous Sunday. Of course there will be a variety of preferences for different styles. Some will like it fast, others slow, some loud, some quiet; some will prefer lots of accompaniment, others will be content with piano or organ, or less. Some will like to sing loudly, while others will feel embarrassed to let anyone hear them sing.

I believe that it is important that those who lead congregational singing are aware of the limitations that may be present in the congregation with respect to musical talent and ability. It would be safe to say, that in most congregations, the skill level of the congregation is lower than that of the praise team members. This should not to be equated with a lower level of enthusiasm. Many of those present may be eager to sing and to praise their Lord in song. It would be discouraging for them to be faced with music that is technically, or rhythmically beyond their skill level. And should this happen week after week, it would soon lead to an automatic shut-down/tune-out response which could be characterized in the words: Let THEM do the singing, I am not good at this.

Praise Teams who care about the congregations they lead will want to see as many participants as possible involved in that beautiful experience of worshiping our God in song. The more people are able to sing the songs, the better. And in this way more enthusiasm will be generated to do it all again the following week. For this to occur, the worship team may need to forgo choosing some of their favourite selections. But this act of selflessness will serve to increase the enthusiasm of the congregation to participate in the singing. And would this not be worth it?

 

 

 

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Congregational Singing

Congregational singing is a pretty unique event. Where else do you find large groups of people gathered in one place, singing about and to God?

We are familiar with large groups of people singing the national anthem at sporting events. And of course there are various kinds of choirs that perform various kinds of music in various kinds of settings. But  there are few occasions where large groups of people, regardless of their musical abilities, sing together.

So what gives? What would cause ordinary people, who may not sing a single tune all week, suddenly to open their mouths along with others to sing songs together once they are inside a church building?

Let’s think about the togetherness factor for a moment. Christians sing together. What is that all about? Why not just sing a solo at home? Why sing together with other Christians? Because this togetherness is an expression of the bond of unity that exists between Christians. Christians are united with each other through the bond of the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 4:3) They belong together. The Bible calls them members of one body. And congregational singing is an act that expresses this unity among believers.

Christians also have many things in common, such as the same God, the same Saviour, the same Spirit, the same salvation, the same forgiveness of sins, the same destination and so on. (see Eph. 4:4-6)  We share a common faith. So we can talk about the same things and we can sing about the same things.

And the singing part – why do Christians sing? Why not just chant to God as a group, or read a psalm or the words of a hymn together? Is it not because song (music) is the means of communication that gets closest to our emotions, our feelings? And so it is the most deeply felt way in which we can communicate our feelings? Is it not because we can put more feeling into our song than into any other form of verbal communication?

So singing allows the Christian to pour out his true feelings about God and his relationship to God. And songs that are well written (we will say more about this some other time) allow the Christian to put his feelings into words, and express them to God directly. And in a congregational setting, Christians are able to to this together. What a beautiful thing!

Some of us will have had occasion to have been part of large gatherings of Christians singing together. Big is not necessarily better, but it is a powerful thing when a large group of believers joins together in songs of praise and worship to the one and only God. And this is a precursor of that time when all believers of all ages will sing songs of praise to the living God and the living Christ together – where everyone will be singing with overflowing amazement at the awesome grace that was given to us in Christ.

Congregational singing is a beautiful practice of the church of God. Whether it is a satisfying experience or not depends on the circumstances. On this site I hope to discuss some of the factors that influence those circumstances.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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