Tag Archives: Congregation

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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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 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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