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Are you using your song list to preach or worship?
Topic Started: Dec 7 2009, 09:18 AM (2,967 Views)
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"more is more"

If you are the person in your church that leads the music team and has the privilege/responsibility of choosing the song list for your services, you are in a position of unique influence. By our selections of music, we can say powerful things that can shape the course of the service. So it is important to examine what our motivations are in our weekly choices.

Here's a question I think we as song leaders have to ask ourselves periodically:

Am I using my song list to preach or am I using it to encourage and to worship?

It can be very tempting to try to get our personal theological points across through song choices, and I think sometimes it can be happening without our even being aware we are doing it.

So, you might ask, how would one know if this was happening, and is it a bad thing?

Let's take the second part of that question first. So what is our charge as song leaders? I believe our job is to make a musical environment in which the Body can enter into a time of connection with God. This can happen when our songs are primarily focused to God. There is a time of "washing" and musical encouragement that helps prepare for the connecting part, but our goal is always to provide a platform for believers to meet with God. Unless we keep this goal in mind, our song list can become something that prevents that connection, rather than supports it.

Songs that are too theologically complicated, wordy, or introspective can pull the singer's attention away from pressing into that God connection. There is a time for analytical consideration of those things, but it is not in the corporate worship time. If you are listening to a CD, or in a concert hall, you have the time and intent to enjoy and absorb complicated lyrics and ponder the ideas presented in story, testimony or self-searching songs. In your church service, you really do not have the luxury of indulging that sort of reverie from a time standpoint, nor do you want to encourage a spectator type of format. What you want for your congregation is involvement, either in giving worship to God or in receiving ministry from God.

In visiting various "worshiping churches" I have often seen music used as a corporate "worship vehicle" that might better be presented in a concert format. Possibly because it is currently popular on radio stations, or is from a hot new worship leader/artist that is admired, or the music team likes being "up to date" and fresh. Whatever the case, the songs are apparently added in without really looking at their scriptural integrity or at their appropriateness for corporate singing. These types of songs can be prime vehicles for us to slip into the preaching mode of song leading, because they are often sentimental and grab our imaginations. It seems we are saying something important, when we are really only indulging emotions and romantic ideas.

So we might use them to get across how we were feeling this week, or how we think our congregation should be feeling this week. Or to get people to think about a certain issue that we think is important. It is a subtle deception. We can be convinced that we are just choosing things that support the message of the day or the pastors sermon series, but be actively trying to lead people to our own understanding or thinking. I have been in services where I felt this manipulation through the song list, and it creates a spiritual disturbance and distracts me from focusing my attention on entering into a state of worship.

I do think that most of the time, this is done without any malicious intent or even awareness. But being the fallen people that we are, we can easily succumb to using powers that we have for less than the highest goals. That is why it is good to look at our motivations and our practices in an objective way and really see what we are doing with the power that we have.

How might I know if I was doing this?

Look at the songs on your list. Are they directed to God? Are they what the scriptures say about God? Do they encourage, exhort, or celebrate in a scriptural way using scriptural concepts and truths in a simple, straightforward way? If so, you are on the right track. However, if songs on your list wander through a bunch of musings, stories, feelings or have strings of complicated ideas and lots of words, they can distract from the goal. If the worshipers are trying to grasp a bunch of clever phrases or word pictures that come at them every line of the song, are we really giving them a platform for connecting with God? Maybe we are we trying to teach them something about our personal theology, or we want them to sing a song that we think is cool without thinking through whether it is the kind of song that will advance us into worship.

You might say, well, what about the great hymns of the church? Are they not theological treatises? I would say, yes, the great ones are. But they are great because they are focused. They don't ramble through multiple subjects or get bogged down in sentimentality. They are true to scripture and the idioms are clear and precise. You can learn solid theology from the great hymns. Even so, the great hymns can help prepare us for worship, but they are not always vehicles of worship in themselves. And there are bad hymns and bad or weak songs as well. I think we have to sort out the difference and also be able to characterize songs into their primary focus area of adoration, petition, repentance, self-examination, exhortation, ministry and declaration. And then, be able to use them in their right places in the service.
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Helena has made two points that I want to address in this observation.
Dec 7 2009, 09:18 AM
Songs that are too theologically complicated, wordy, or introspective can pull the singer's attention away from pressing into that God connection.

This is true of any work of art that gets too artsy, if you will. And I would add musically complicated, as well. :piano:

If I have to spend my mental capital paying so much attention to the uber-syncopation, four-word-to-the-beat melody, can the words penetrate? It can be a huge barrier, another glass panel in the aquarium from another recent post in one of the members only forums. As musicians, we really do have to be careful about why we choose music.
You might say, well, what about the great hymns of the church? Are they not theological treatises?  I would say, yes, the great ones are.  But they are great because they are focused. They don't ramble through multiple subjects or get bogged down in sentimentality.  They are true to scripture and the idioms are clear and precise.

:lecture: It's true. Some of the great historic hymns leaned perhaps a little more toward teaching than worship or praise, but then, so do the Psalms. Look at "Holy, Holy, Holy." Perhaps one of the top four or five classic hymns of all times. It teaches trinitarian doctrine and the holiness of God, but it also directly addresses Him: "Only Thou art holy, perfect in power, love, and purity."

We also have to remember that during the time when those now great hymns of the church were new, the people who were singing them were often under-educated or uneducated. Just as the stained glass windows were teaching tools to the illiterate, the better hymns were actually catechizing the faithful, singing true truths and sound doctrine into their spirits, service after service, week upon week. They learned the songs by heart and they learned the fundamentals of the faith through the truths taught.

Good post!

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