For Worship Leaders: On Modern Worship Music Songs

Worship leaders. Song writers.

When I’m with a group of Christians who already started going to church 25+ years ago, or when I’m with my Christian aboriginal friends, or friends from the Philippines, Samoa, Papua New Guinea or some such country – we can enjoy singing and praising together, harmonizing for hours on end – we could go all night if we wanted to – singing spontaneously, without needing to look at the words. It’s great!

But try singing spontaneously with a group of Christians who have known only the contemporary Australian Church, in a setting where you’re away from the rehearsed band on the stage and away from the PowerPoint words projected onto the big screens. You can’t do it!

It seems no-one knows more than a few lines of the lyrics of most of the contemporary worship songs.

Recent converts don’t know many of the old easy flowing songs that we’re blessed to know – so they can’t easily sing along with you.

Result: spontaneous singing is no longer much a part of the Christian experience of the contemporary Australian Christian. Not much at all.

Does it really matter?

I think they’re missing out! Big time. We’re all missing out.

I should probably address this to pastors as well as to music directors, seeing music directors are really only doing what their pastors are expecting them to do.

It seems we’ve come full circle. Some years ago during the Charismatic Renewal the Holy Spirit gave the Church new praise and worship songs with easy lyrics and nice melodies that enabled us to easily flow with one another and with the Holy Spirit without needing to hold a hymn book in our hands.

It was really anointed! Remember how much you looked forward to the praise and worship in those days?

Now we’ve come full circle, only this time it’s not the hymn book that we can’t do without – it’s the PowerPoint projection on the screen that we can’t do without.

So once again there is a need today to introduce songs that are easy to sing and remember.

Songs that let the congregation close their eyes and get caught up in worship without needing to look at the words.

Songs that have a touching melody line.

The type of song you can still remember the words to when you get to your home meeting on Wednesday night.

The type of song you wake up in the morning singing. And I don’t mean just singing a few lines and then you have to hum the rest of it because you can’t remember the words. I mean singing it all the way through, then over and over again, because it blesses you so much!

These are the types of songs you can sing spontaneously one after another in a group, expressing the Holy Spirit’s work in you, without anyone needing to look at the words.

In a home meeting. Down the beach. On the mountaintop. Out bush. In the car. On your own. In a group. Away from a flow sheet. Easily flowing with the Holy Spirit.

We can benefit from being able to do this not just on Sundays where we’ve got the big screen but also in smaller informal groups, and when we’re by ourselves with the Lord.

I’d love to grab a guitar and go down the beach with you sometimes and be able to sing spontaneously together to the Lord.

Or in the car on the way to a meeting. Someone starts singing. We all join in and keep singing all the way to the meeting – and we all know all the words to every song. That used to be normal.

But nowadays even if we play a CD or plug in someone’s iTunes playlist, people still can’t really sing along. No-one knows the lyrics to contemporary songs well enough.

Sure we can soak in the Spirit while a CD is playing contemporary music. I’m all for having extended times where we aren’t singing and instead receive from the ministry of the Holy Spirit. All for it!

But able to sing the words of a song also helps you to “…be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph.5:17,18).

Singing together in a group helps us to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col.3:16).

And it’s nice to be able to get that uplift in settings where it isn’t possible to look at the words. Where you can be spontaneous about it. And not just in church. To do that in a group it helps to know songs off my heart.

See, our role as singers and songwriters is not just to showcase the full range of our own creative abilities. Of course there’s a time and place for that in our meetings too. I love it when a band lets loose on occasion and someone sings with their full vocal range!

But part of the role of a church music director is to equip the congregation with songs they can sing easily – not only at church but also during the week by themselves or in small groups.

It’s not just about what the trained full-time songwriter is capable of performing on the stage – it’s also about what the congregation can sing when they’re away from the band, away from the PowerPoint projector, away from the stage lights, the smoke machine, the backing CD, the DVD with lyrics, or the leader’s iTunes playlist.

It’s about equipping new converts with songs they can easily sing spontaneously without having to look at the words, in their own prayer time and in small groups.

If you can sing spontaneously because you know lots of older songs off by heart – then you could hardly imagine what it must be like for recent converts who haven’t been equipped with the capability to do that.

Similarly many of today’s new converts who don’t know many songs off by heart wouldn’t know what they’ve been missing out on either, unless they experience it.

Since so many of our church-friends these days don’t know many songs without looking at the words, we just don’t go there any more. Spontaneous communal singing has therefore pretty much become a thing of the past for all of us in contemporary-style churches unfortunately.

Perhaps you feel contemporary congregations generally are really getting into the worship quite full-on. Well you should have seen what the level of congregational participation was like during praise and worship in the Charismatic Renewal days!

I must confess that some modern popular songs give me a fail-to-launch feeling in worship. I feel very little to no anointing on some songs. It just doesn’t do it for me. Often I stand there trying to overlook what I’m feeling – or rather what I’m not feeling – and just try to launch into worship anyway despite the song. Looking around at the congregation I think others might be having the same trouble.

In comparison to the Charismatic Renewal days, the level of congregational participation in a lot of today’s praise and worship sessions remind me more of an audience waiting for what’s coming next on the program. They congregations don’t look all that engaged. It’s like they’re being sung to from the loud band on the stage more so than being heard singing audibly themselves.

When the Holy Spirit moves in a special way during a meeting and the pastor or evangelist takes over from the song leader and begins to lead with an unscripted song – have you noticed in those moments that the pastor seldom chooses a contemporary song. He almost always goes with one of the old simple anointed songs he knows.

Yet look what happens. The volume of the congregational singing crescendos. Hands start going up everywhere. Eyes are closed. Faces are uplifted. For a change you can actually hear the congregation singing above the volume of the band, as a wave seems to sweep over the crowd.

Why is that? Well a little while ago I got together with some friends in their lounge room. I picked up a guitar and began to sing. A worship leader from a contemporary church was there, and afterwards she made a comment which I felt was quite telling, and I’ll finish this Post with her words. She said:

“It’s so easy to worship with the songs you sing”.

Now this doesn’t mean I don’t like any contemporary songs at all. It’s not to say we should stop singing contemporary songs altogether. It’s not to say we should have stayed locked into a single music style.

When the Holy Spirit gave us new songs to sing during the Charismatic Renewal, it didn’t mean we completely stopped singing hymns. We mostly sung the new songs, but we also still sang the old ones sometimes.

So it doesn’t mean we need to stop performing all contemporary-style songs just because we can see benefits in introducing some simpler songs. There is good in almost any style – and we can enjoy it all.

Just because I’m asking for chocolate topping on my ice-cream doesn’t mean I’m against the ice-cream. I just want to make it taste even better!

I just we’ve reached the place where there is something to be gained now by once again introducing some anointed, melodic, simple songs to the church.

Songs like:

Lord You Are More Precious Than Silver: and

As the Deer Panteth for the Water,

have a melody and lyrics that are almost timeless. They can still be made to sound quite okay in a contemporary setting. And they’re really anointed!

So singing some of those old songs again – it’s not like you’d be singing something so nerdy that you’d loath it.

And perhaps some brand new songs with simple words and pleasant melody lines can be written too.

Written by songwriters who are living right.

Who would rather choose not to do something that they might consider permissible than offend another believers’ conscience.

Songs birthed out of an anointed moment where the writer’s focus was God-ward, rather than sitting around a table trying to meet a producer’s deadline – not that there’s anything wrong with that either.

Add some new, anointed, nice melodies with easy words into the mix. Without necessarily throwing out everything good that we already have.

For “…the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old” (Matthew 13:52).

I wonder if anyone else out there feels the same way I do about it?

What do YOU think?

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