“Wow! I get to do this?”
That’s what most church musicians feel when it comes to accompanying worship. We have a keen awareness of our role in the body of Christ. David called it “serving the Lord with gladness.” Like Mary with her expensive bottle of perfume, we do our best to pour it all out, in this case our hearts, to our Savior in worship, dedication, admiration, reverence, awe and love.
This is Who We Are
Musicians are a strange bunch. All cut from the same cloth? Aloof. Artistic. Blessed. Caring. Colorful. Confident. Creative. Detail-oriented. Determined. Difficult to understand. Disciplined. Eclectic. Emotional. Energetic. Expressive. Fervent in Spirit. Focused. Genuine. Hard-working. Independent. Inspired. Involved. Kindred Spirits. Loving. Mindful. Ordered. Passionate. Patient. Persistent. Quirky. Real. Self confident. Sensitive. Servants. Spirit-filled. Tenacious. Thin-skinned. Unique. Worshipful.
This is How We Roll
Musicians just think about music – and we can hear and feel it deep inside.
Music is in our soul, it’s in our bones, and it pumps through our veins with a 60 to 100 bpm tempo.
Musicians help worshippers understand and feel the message in the music.
Musicians are simultaneously servants and leaders.
Musicians dance to the beat of a different drum.
Musicians don’t draw lines between traditional and contemporary, or guitar and organ. We understand and support one another in the worthy pursuit of praise.
Musicians have an attachment to music that goes beyond appreciation. It is a labor of love.
Musicians never stop learning their craft.
Musicians are drawn to creativity like moths to a light.
Musicians want to be part of something vibrant, exciting, lively and fresh.
Musicians live outside the box.
Musicians are thankful for who they serve.
“Like family we are tied to each other!” – Billy Joel
Performance vs Service
The most important quality of a church musician is to have a servant’s heart. We are to be servants and not performers. Humility is the heartbeat of the worship leader.
So church musicians are not after the approval of others. We know that God is listening and that His acceptance is freely offered to all who believe.
A performance mentality enslaves us to the opinions of others. A service mentality actually frees us.
A performance mentality pushes us towards perfection as we seek the praise of others. A service mentality allows us to do our best knowing that Christ has already accomplished everything for us.
“When you have a heart to serve and help others – it unlocks something in you.” – Reuben Morgan
Pastors, pray for your musicians. We pray for you!
Hymns, A Secondhand Emotion?
When you speak, I know when you are happy, or sad, or surprised, or angry, or any other host of emotions. It comes out in your facial expressions, your tone and your body language. You would be exceedingly boring without emotion. Singing is no different. In fact, singing with emotion is almost always better than singing without emotion. Good singers know how to convey the emotional power of a song. You will hear this comment time and time again on the various TV singing competition shows. The only precaution I will add is that emotions can go too far, like crying, that actually inhibits your singing. Adding emotions like joy, exuberance, passion, sadness, love and anger can turn good singers into great singers and great worshipers; because emotions come from the heart – where worship matters. More importantly, singing with emotion is the result of inwardly digesting the lyrics that are being sung. It is in fact making the song – your own. Which is what we all should be doing as lip service does not impress God.
One of the first things a singer needs to do when looking at a new piece of music is to identify the prevailing mood of the song.
Let’s look at some examples:
1. “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” – What a brilliant work by Mr. Isaac Watts! This song only uses five notes and if you were to accompany it on the guitar, the song requires only one chord. There is beauty in simplicity here. The lyrics are so well crafted they’ll take your breath away. This song requires introspective thought as you sing your way through it. It will take you on an intellectual journey from sorrow to love to deep appreciation. When I sing this hymn it feels like Jesus has poured liquid love onto me from head to foot.
“Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all”. – Isaac Watts
“Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength.” – John Wesley
2. “I Can Only Imagine” by Bart Millard. Written for his father as he was dying. This song brings you into the mind of a person who is contemplating what it will be like in heaven. Uplifting, joy, hope and elation come to mind. A refreshing song to stretch your imagination heavenward. For some reason I can reach a high G note in this song, yet I sing base in the choir! It’s the emotion.
“A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.” – C. S. Lewis
3. “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” by Martin Luther. A bellwether of strength and confidence. Sing this one when you are tempted to sin, when you need reassurance of God’s word and his sovereign power or just as a faith builder. Courage, confidence, reassurance, and boldness all are involved in singing this masterpiece.
“Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy. Emotion without truth produces empty frenzy. What’s needed is a balance of the two crucial elements.” – John Piper
4. “Amazing Grace – My Chains Are Gone” by John Newton, John P. Rees, Edwin Otthelo Excell, Chris Tomlin and Louie Giglio. A little bit of the best from both old and new writers. This hymn is over 200 years old and has been recorded by just about every popular singer you can imagine. It’s as popular now as it was 200 years ago; and it’s all because of Jesus and the incredible power of the Holy Spirit.
When I sing this song I cannot help but think about the slave trade history that was part of the background of the original hymn writer. John Newton was “the worst of sinners.” He personally ruined over 20,000 lives selling 20,000 young Africans; that’s 20,000 people created by God, in His image, and Newton sold them like cattle into a life of unending slavery. He never knew their names, never cared to know their names, in fact history tells us that Newton simply referred to them all as “grunts.” Newton was guilty for grievous crimes against humanity. But God used this huckster to change the course of History. John Newton was lost; but now He’s found, He was blind; but now He sees. Newton was writing about himself. Newton was the wretch. He came full circle. This is a story of one man coming to faith, renouncing the life that he once served. Newton actually died a blind man. Perhaps he sees now while in heaven.
Sing it with righteous outrage. Sing it with relief. Sing it knowing that you are no better than the slave trader himself. Sing it to feel the freedom that grace provides. Sing it to feel the freedom that your sins have been forgiven, regardless of their severity.
On Good Friday, some 2000 years ago, a Roman soldier plunged a sword into the side of a dying innocent man. In fact, this innocent man was God himself. Quite a sin you must be thinking, right? But guess what covered that sharp tipped sword when it was removed from Jesus’ side? It was literally covered by the blood of Jesus. I don’t know if that Roman soldier ever came to faith in Jesus; but if He did, that sin was covered and paid in full. That’s amazing grace!
“My chains are gone. I’ve been set free. My God, my Savior has ransomed me. And like a flood, His mercy reigns, unending love, amazing grace.” – Chris Tomlin and Louie Giglio
5. ”How Deep the Fathers Love for Us” – by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty. Deep sorrow, anguish, toil, shame, undeserved love, release and relief all rolled into one bouncing rhythmic ball of emotion. “Behold the man upon a cross, my sin upon his shoulders. I hear my mocking voice call out among the suffers. It was my sin that held him there, until it was accomplished; His dying breath has brought me life. I know that it is finished.” ( Verse 2) Simply incredible! It pains me just to know that most traditional hymn-based churches have never even heard of this.
This is what God thinks of emotionally constipated, stone faced and comatose singing:
“Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.” – Amos 5:23
6. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” – by Monks of the Middle Ages??? Perhaps one of the oldest songs in our hymnal, yet fresh sounding enough to be on modern radio. Every time I sing this I am brought back to the 400 years of silence; the anticipation of the promised Messiah. It is with unabandoned joy that I sing the refrain “Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel, Shall come to Thee O Israel!” And yet, it is set in a haunting minor key. Expectation and anticipation! I am grateful to our ancestors for this piece.
7. “Now Thank We All Our God” – by Martin Rinkart. Oh, the strife this man went through! Martin Rinkart served as Pastor during the 30 years war and during a great plague. It is reported that he was presiding over fifty funerals a day, including that of his wife. Yet in the midst of this, Rinkart was a prolific hymn writer, writing 66 hymns. The exact date of “Now Thank We All Our God” is in question, but it is known that it was widely sung by the time the Treaty of Westphalia was signed in 1648. It was commonly sung as a grace following meals. Since then it has become a “Te Deum” for Germany, sung on occasions of national thanksgiving.
If you need to feel blessed and thankful, this is the song for you. You can even use this song on Mother’s Day as Rinkart voices thanks for mothers in the song.
“It is doubtful that God can use a man greatly until he has been broken deeply.” – CS Lewis
8. “How Can I Keep From Singing?” – by Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman and Ed Cash. This is my anthem. This song always puts me in the mood to praise God. Doesn’t matter how blue I am, what’s going on in my world, nothing seems to matter when I sing this piece. It’s joy, happiness, praise, worship, in good times, in bad times, in sickness and in health. This song just picks me up.
“To play a wrong note is insignificant, to play without passion is inexcusable.” – Beethoven
9. “Oh Sacred Head, Now Wounded” – by Bernard of Clairvaux and Hans Leo Hassler. Oh my! What weight. What grief. What pain. What sorrow. Singing this hymn is like walking the road with a bloodied, beaten, Jesus carrying the cross. Honestly it is difficult to make it through this song if you are plugged into the lyrics and what is going on. Good Friday just does not seem like Good Friday without this piece.
10. “The First Song of Isaiah” – Jack Noble White. Sing this song once, and you will be singing it for the rest of the day. Joy and praise Old Testament style. Foot tapping; you might even find yourself swaying to the music even if you are a Lutheran. It reminds me of a driving contemporary praise song.
A Few Words on Hymns vs Contemporary Songs
We should sing these above mentioned songs as if it were our last day on earth! We should live them out.
In my experience, the deepest emotions come out with hymns, not as much with the newer music, although the Spirit certainly can make us feel these in our heart as well. And the strange thing is that the traditional hymn churches tend to shun emotions, even though their music is drenched in it.
I believe that hymns stirred our emotions and continue to do so. When I sing a hymn like “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, I just want to say “I love you lord with all my heart for doing this”, but the hymn doesn’t give me that opportunity. I am left with the emotion, which is fine. The newer songs build on this, and use the feelings in the lyrics and melodies to unlock something fresh within us. In fact, most redone hymns have been updated with the addition of a chorus that expresses our reaction to those incredible verses. Newer songs do use lyrics like “I love you Lord”, “I long for you”, “I need you Lord”. This is the reason that many in the traditional churches claim the newer songs to just be love songs. The contemporary artists are building on the one thing that the hymns were lacking. Hymns were written in a time when it was considered to be a sign of weakness to show one’s emotions. This is no longer true.
A few Biblical precedence for doing this:
Psalm 18:1 I love you, Lord, my strength.
Psalm 116:1 I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.
Isaiah 5:1 I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyardon a fertile hillside. (From “the song of the vineyard”)
Psalm 73:25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
Psalm 61:4 I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.
Psalm 119:174 I long for your salvation, Lord, and your law gives me delight.
A secondhand emotion is an emotion that has gotten worn out over the years and is no longer felt. Hymns, should not be a secondhand emotion. We should be saving our most profound emotions for our Lord and these hymns of faith are one of the best ways to express it!!! And, the newer songs are the best way to put it into words!!! You should sing both!!! Your Lord deserves it!!!
- I Enjoy the Music of Chris Tomlin (sjbrown58.wordpress.com)
- Contemporary Christian Music As Outreach! (sjbrown58.wordpress.com)
We are not robots, so don’t worship like one.
Caution! Reading this article may stir your emotions.
Should we strip all emotions from our worship? Some denominations might still answer “yes”.
It is Biblical
King David’s worship was dripping with emotions – emotional displays that would be uncomfortable to me and to you, but apparently not to God. And Jesus had emotions as well. For crying out loud God wept! He rejoiced. He raged in righteous fury and He felt compassion for the crowds. And the Gospel writers thought it important enough that we should know about it. Given such evidence, it would be difficult to argue from Scripture that emotional expression is out of place in the worship of God.
Lot’s of Questions; No Answers
So why are we supposed to shun our emotions in worship? Why can’t we have emotions while singing hymns? While praying? While receiving the Lord’s Supper? While just contemplating? Why shouldn’t worship be emotional? Why shouldn’t singing be emotional? Why can we be emotional towards each other but not towards God? Why did God give us emotions? Will our worship in heaven be joyous? Joy is an emotion!
Now I’m Really Getting Angry!
So let’s talk about emotions. I am talking about joy at Easter. I am talking about sorrow on Good Friday. I am talking about remorse during the confession of sins and joy and relief during the absolution. I am talking about tears. Anger. Confidence. Frustration. Elation. Delight. Peace. Awe. Love. Fear. Sadness. Anticipation. Shame. Grief. Surprise. Sorrow. Wonder. Excitement. Hope. These are all natural responses that flow from a genuine relationship with the living God.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:21)
Look at Me! Look at Me!
I am not talking about making a spectacle of oneself, being a hindrance or a distraction. I am talking about being real. I am talking about being yourself. I am talking about being a person and not a stone. I am talking about emotions motivated by truth.
We should all worship God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength. This includes all our emotions. Half-hearted worship is no worship at all. Worship is the highlight of my week so my emotions will naturally be higher than during the week because God is to be desired above all things. I am not the type of person that compartmentalizes my secular life from my church life. I listen to the same music in both places and if I have emotions at home I will also have emotions in church.
The difference between music, and the written word, at a fundamental level – is emotion. Music evokes emotion. Music moves me. Music should move you. It should stir your heart and pull on your heart strings. Music without emotion stinks because God designed it to be emotional from the get go. God invented major keys to be happy and minor keys to be sad. That’s just the way it is. Don’t fight it.
So don’t hide your emotions in worship. Don’t leave them at the door. Every hymn or song has an unwritten direction that should be written under the writer’s name. It should say “Sing with emotion.” Some of our songs do have little instructional notes like “sing joyfully” or “with great feeling”. Don’t be afraid of this. Embrace it. Your music will sound better. You won’t miss that penultimate note that the artist intended for you to sing. Your worship will improve. There’s nothing worse in worship than to hear a deadpan, lifeless, expressionless group of believers droning out a dirge-like tune as if the words mean nothing to them. God detests this kind of worship. He got an earful of it in Amos 5.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep! – Romans 12:15
The Dreaded Frenzy!
I have heard some in the traditional church claim that the contemporary churches use the newer music to “whip our emotions into a frenzy.” This is preposterous. This has not been my experience and we’ve been using contemporary music for almost a decade. The motive is not to deceive people or to manipulate, it is to honor Christ, to show our love towards Him and worship and glorify Him in the best ways we can. These claims are hypocritical and judgmental and are hurting the church at large. These accusers have gone off-course. They have turned grace into condemnation and truth into judgment. The church has enough enemies and mockers without us believers throwing bombs at one another trying to guess what each other’s motives are.
It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds; in reality our best work is done by keeping things out. – Wormwood, the Devil (C.S.Lewis)
Us old timers, self included, have been taught to hide our emotions. This is not the case with the younger generation. In fact the opposite is true and they can see right through our facade. We need to understand this if we are to grow the church.
So some of us will sit in worship like an ancient Reformation era tombstone because God made us that way. Cool! But let’s not judge the heart of those different than us because that’s God’s job, not ours.
God deserves our highest, purest, strongest emotions.
How much time does your musical team get together to practice? Our band currently has four members (two guitars, one keyboard, and one who plays light percussion and adds harmony background vocals), we all like to sing, and we lead the music on a monthly basis (one Sunday per month). In preparation for this monthly service, we try to get together about three times a month (taking one week off) for about one hour each week. This equates to about three hours of group practice for one hour of leading musical worship. To me this seems just about right because you can hear the songs really coming together by the end of the second or the third practice depending on the complexity.
Our band is made up of all seasoned musicians with a combined 100+ years of musical experience at our respective instruments so one might think that we don’t need much practice. But the thing is, each month we have new songs to learn so it’s important to get together to divide up who will be singing which parts, who will be driving the arrangement, what key signatures to use, how we will introduce the song, who will take solos and where (if at all), and most importantly to get the feel of the overall groove of the music.
When a band practices together to hone their craft, the result is a coherent musical offering that invites congregational participation and helps in the overall flow of the worship service. Group practice allows time for the bass guitarist and drummer to work together to build the groove of the song and for the guitars and keyboards to provide the body and melody of the music.
In addition to this week night practice time, we each practice solo at home and we listen to our monthly songs performed by the original recording artists on our individual MP3 players and email youtube versions of each song to one another. Finally, we meet together about a half hour before the worship service to check our balances and to run through that difficult part once more.
In the end, we know each other very well. We can interpret looks from one another during worship. We know each others signals when something isn’t quite right; maybe the tempo needs to be adjusted based on the congregation’s singing, or maybe one of us is singing off-pitch (usually me). We are not only a band – we are friends who support one another and pray for each other.
The bottom line is that bands need to spend time together because the worship life of the church improves when this happens.
Heart Tune Up
You’ve warmed up your voice, got through sound check, your strings are in tune, now it’s time to get your heart in tune.
Laying your sins at your savior’s feet before leading the congregation in song.
Be at peace with yourself, your fellow band members and the Pastor.
Spend a few moments alone in prayer.
Make an effort to get into a worshipful mood.
Be bold but humble with your instrument playing.
Anticipate and look forward to the Holy Spirit’s lead and involvement.
Focus on pleasing God.
Try a Little Variety!
Do you use the same singing routine week after week?
- If you use only hymns – try a few contemporary pieces.
- If you use only contemporary songs – try a few hymns.
- Try singing a familiar congregational song acapella.
- Try a “call-and-response” type song.
- Ask a few talented singers in the pews to sing in parts during a congregational song.
- Break up a multi-versed hymn with an instrumental interlude.
- If you always use acoustic guitars, try an electric guitar.
- Try singing along to a music video that has projected lyrics.
- Try a song that includes a spoken part of scripture.
- How about writing a unique song for your congregation to sing, whose lyrics are suited to your unique situation in God’s kingdom?
- Accompany a hymn with the piano or keyboards instead of the organ or vice versa depending on your norm.
- Guitarist, there is probably more than a delay pedal on your pedal board!
- Keyboard players, you have more than an “electric piano” sound; try adding some strings or brass!
- Limited on musicians? Try MIDI, a drum loop or some backing tracks.
- Be daring, have someone tap a tambourine in time with a hymn.
- Try some dynamics, ask the congregation to sing the verses in a quiet voice but to belt out the chorus.
God has given us so much variety to enjoy in our lives; He is the author of creativity:
Look at the dazzling array of colors.
Look at all the types of animals, fish, insects and birds.
Look at the beautiful flowers, trees, nuts, plants, fruits and vegetables.
Look at all the different cultures, languages and people in the world.
Look at all the differently shaped snowflakes. They are infinite.
Look at all the different fingerprint designs. They are also infinite.
Look among a sea of faces. Each one is unique.
Look at all the stars, planets, moons and galaxies in the universe.
Look at the four seasons.
Doesn’t He deserve a bit of our own creativity and diversity (which He gave us) in our worship towards him?
Just do it. He has already seen to it that the musical variety is out there and readily available through the Web. You probably have the talented people who can pull this off; He has seen to that as well. You have the diversity in your membership; again, thanks to Him. So enjoy it and marvel in Him who has blessed you with endless creativity and variety.
Variety is one of the best ways that I know of to prevent worship leader burnout.