All posts by Dr. Will Whittaker

About Dr. Will Whittaker

I'm a local church Minister of Music from the Atlanta area with a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Church Music with specializations in worship and hymnology from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Contact me at drwillwhittaker@gmail.com

The 10 C’s of Musical Worship Part 2

Continued from last week. Part Two of the 10 C’s of Musical Worship.

  1. Conviction
  • Do we believe what we sing? It is affecting us and does it move us emotionally? Our emotions should be stirred because we really believe what we are singing.
  • It is not enough to sing truth, we must believe the truth. Hebrews 11:6 reminds us that “without faith it is impossible to please Him.” Our singing must be faith-filled.
  • From time to time the church should be challenged directly by what we are singing. This can be addressed before or after a particular song by giving a 30-60 second word of admonition or encouragement. It is helpful for those leading to sketch these words out ahead of time to avoid rambling.
  • Instead of saying “I just love this song,” it is more helpful to say something like “I love the truth that is proclaimed in these words,” and then briefly state that particular truth. Aim to let the affections be drawn to truth and not the songs by pointing directly at the truth. Songs don’t change people; the truth of God’s Word changes people. Focus on these truths.

 

  1. Comprehensive Themes
  • Are we covering the Biblical themes or are we just stuck on one or a few things?
  • There are many themes and we should cover all of them in proportion to the weight they are given in Scripture.
  • Examples: Baptism – we wouldn’t want all of our songs to be baptism songs as the Bible isn’t all about baptism. The character of God – we should sing about all aspects of His character: love, mercy, holiness, grace, goodness, faithfulness, wrath, etc.

 

  1. Cheerfulness
  • Is our music marked by joy? This comes not by just choosing upbeat songs. The joy comes when we really believe what we are singing and are engaged in the process by responding to the text and not just the style.
  • When we sing phrases like, “And bursting forth in glorious day, up from the grave He rose again,” we need to encourage joy-filled responses and not be afraid of them. While it is possible to be drawn away by excesses, this should not prevent the right use of physical expression (clapping, lifting hands, shouting, etc.) as a faith-filled response.
  • Even though there should be space allowed for times of lament, confession of sin and repentance, the lasting mood should be joy as we are drawn to remember the hope of the gospel and the forgiveness given through Christ. When coupled with the assurance of pardon, knowing and confessing our sins becomes a freeing experience. While we should spend some time in the dust, we are not to stay there as we remember that our sin debt has been paid in full.
  • Psalm 34:5 “Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.”

 

  1. Color
  • Is all of our singing of one flavor, or are we using many different styles? Are we using varied instrumentation that is faithful to the gifts that are possessed within our congregation?
  • We make style an issue when we make style the issue. However, we should be able to step back and see that there are many different styles being used in the worship of the church.
  • This is not done to please some of the people some of the time. It is done so that we can reflect the diversity with which God made us.

 

  1. Communal Love
  • Many churches are struggling over the issues of music and worship, and most discussions can be solved when we do as we are instructed in Colossians 3:14; “Beyond all these things, put on love, which is the perfect body of unity.”
  • This also means that we might have to endure some songs that may not be our “favorites.” If these songs pass the other criteria, then we must be willing to include them for the sake of the congregation at large and learn to rejoice as we sing them.
  • Chip Stam, former professor of worship at SBTS, would often remind his classes that “The mature believer is easily edified.” As we grow in Christ, we will find it easier to be edified as the body of Christ sings together even when our favorite song or song styles were not included in the service.

The 10 C’s of Musical Worship Part 1

For the next few weeks, I wanted to share with you a document that my friend Clay Layfield, who is Minister of Worship at FBC Eastman composed some years back. I think Clay’s words are important for each of us to remember who regularly plan and lead corporate worship services…especially services that are designed to be intergenerational in nature. His document include 10 C’s for Music in Worship, but because the document is probably too long for one post, I’m splitting it up into two blog posts. Today we will cover the first five:

  1. Cross-Centeredness
  • Our songs must have as their central theme the same theme as the Bible: The Gospel.
  • This is what the singing in heaven is going to be about: those who are redeemed will sing to the Redeemer about redemption.
  • We need to sing often about salvation and about how God purchased our redemption. Otherwise we will not be able to distinguish our worship from every other religion.
  • Colossians 3:15-17 says that we are to sing with thankfulness in our hearts. What should be at the top of our list for which we are thankful? Salvation. This should be a recurring and central theme.
  • As we look over our collective body of songs, do they exalt the God of the Bible who sent His Son to die for our sins (“In my place condemned He stood”) or do they present a vague view of Christ and only in generalities or emotional responses?
  • In Scripture, worship is ALWAYS a response to God’s direct action. We should make sure that the songs that are response-centered and frequently use the “I” pronoun are connected with songs that declare what God has done through Christ.
  1. Content-Driven Music
  • The lyrics are the most important thing when selecting music. When making evaluations regarding using a particular song, we need to ask whether the Word dwells richly in it. If not, perhaps the song should be passed over.
  • Is this content faithful to scripture and is the context faithful to scripture? Even if there are Biblical-sounding phrases, are they faithful to the context in which those phrases are used in Scripture?
  • What is the weight of the lyrics? Are they too heavy, too light or somewhere in the middle and are they appropriate for the situation?
  • The lyrics are being sung, but they are also being prayed as well. It is good to think of singing as sung prayer. Thinking about it in this way allows us to evaluate whether these songs will strengthen our prayer life.
  • “Show me a church’s songs and I’ll show you their theology” (Gordon Fee)
  • It matters what kind of musical diet we are on as a church. Strong, God-centered, God-drenched lyrics will help produce strong, God-centered, God-drenched Christians.

 

  1. Complementary music and lyrics
  • Do the melodies, harmonies and rhythms match the lyrics?
  • Does the message of the lyrics sound like what the music is trying to convey? Does the tempo and style of the song match the text?
  • The songs should combine words that are theologically substantive and tunes that are musically satisfying.
  • The lyrics and melodies should be memorable, not forgettable.
  • Example – it is possible to combine the words to “Amazing Grace” with the melody from the theme song of “Gilligan’s Island”. While it technically works, it is probably not wise to include this combination in corporate worship.

 

  1. Congregational Focus
  • The primary choir is the congregation. All who have been redeemed have a song to sing. The healthy church at worship is seen when the gathered church is all singing rather than just a few participating.
  • When we fail to sing because we think others will not like our voice, we are likely living in the fear of man instead of the fear of God. This attitude must be rejected at all levels and at all times, especially by the leadership of the church. Avoid making excuses for the quality of your voice or for any lack of perceived musical knowledge. When excuses are made by leaders, it will be easier for the congregation to offer the same excuses when it comes to non-participation.
  • Care should be given to make sure the congregation is not lost in the singing. We need to sing new songs, but not all at once.
  • I suggest that it is helpful for the congregation to hear the new songs several times before they are asked to sing them on a Sunday morning. It may be best to introduce them on Sunday evening or to have them played as offertories or preludes first or sung by smaller ensembles. (I compile a prelude CD of songs that we are learning or about to learn as a congregation and ask our sound technicians to play the CD on “shuffle” before each service.)
  • The best songs are ones that are easily learned and sung by the congregation. Musically the songs need to be rhythmically and melodically accessible (rhythms not too complicated and melodies not too high or too low). Those in charge of leading music may find it helpful to become with Finale in order to modify the keys or rhythms to best fit their congregation.
  • Musicians need to careful here because they can personally handle very complex music and usually have greater vocal range, but the music for congregational worship should be on a level that most, if not all, can achieve comfortably. When this is not given consideration, it can communicate to the congregation that they were not meant to participate. While this may be denied as a goal, it can certainly become an unintended consequence.
  • This also means that not every song is good for congregational use. Just because it is played on the radio does not mean it is good for us to use as a church. Here is a helpful rating system that has been offered by Bob Kauflin:
  1. We shouldn’t use this song
  2. We could use it personally
  3. We could use it in corporate worship
  4. We should use this song

 

  1. Clarity
  • It is the song clear? Or does it present a muddy view of God and the Christian life at best, or a wrong view at worst?
  • Example: “At the Cross” – The conclusion of the chorus states “now I am happy all the day.” That could be sending an unclear message that the Christian life will be one without problems. I suggest changing that phrase to be: “Now I will praise Him all the day.” This gives a clearer picture of what we are to do as believers: live to praise Him in all circumstances.
  • There are other songs that have references to Biblical statements, but these are often confusing and obscure (example: “Here I raise my Ebenezer”). If these exist, then some words of explanation should be given so the congregation can sing with understanding.
  • Lest we think I am being too picky here, notice that in Colossians 3 we see that we are teaching through our songs. Are we teaching the right things? Do the people understand what we are teaching in our songs? This is vital. Let’s be 100% clear.

Using Praise Teams in Intergenerational Worship Services

I’ll admit it; I use Praise Teams in my church and my church is VERY pro-choir. I see  praise teams as an extension of the choir and not a replacement of them or an elite group better than the choir itself.  I use praise teams to augment congregational song, but I don’t currently use them to augment the choral anthems we sing, although it is a practice in some churches that I’m not philosophically opposed to. According to my research, my colleagues use praise teams for enhancing the choral sound for practical reasons, not simply to make sure only “quality product” is heard. I think many of the reasons to use praise teams for practical reasons can line up with the philosophy of being intentionally intergenerational. Let’s look at what I found in my own research and then I’ll offer some personal insight on the subject.

Many of those I interviewed use praise teams in services for a variety of reason, such as enhancing congregational singing.  However, only 15 percent of the church leaders I interviewed used praise teams to enhance the choral anthems they sing. Before you begin thinking that these leaders must be anti-intergenerational philosophy, remember that I only interviewed those who lead intergenerational worship ministries.  Further, all but one leader had intentionally sought to learn more about intergenerational worship in addition to leading an intergenerational ministry. These leaders believe, as I do, that enhancing the choral sound is not necessarily contrary to intergenerational philosophy. Here is some other interesting data on these leaders’ churches and choirs:

  1. 2/3 of the leaders’ church had average attendances of 500 or more in worship
  2. Almost 56 percent of these leaders’ choirs had average attendance of 26-50 persons. The larger worship attendances indicated in the leaders’ interviews suggest that the worship centers of these churches are fairly large, while the choir sizes are not necessary as large. By the way, all of these leaders had one choir in one worship service.
  3. NONE of these leaders led choirs with average attendances of more than 76 persons
  4. 2/3 of the leaders indicated the praise team functioned to provide guide vocals for the choir while lending vocal support and enhancement to the sound.
  5. All but one of these leaders use orchestra in their worship services and many indicated that the orchestra was just too loud at times for their choir attendances so they use the praise team to enhance and augment sound. So, when used in practical ways…ways that DO NOT negate the importance of the whole choir and its function in worship leadership, praise teams can enhance the vocal sound of choral anthems when the need arises, no matter the size of the choir. 

 

However, praise teams have, and probably will continue to be used, in contrary ways. There are many ways that the praise team is mis-used in worship services. Beware of some of the dangers and avoid them if at all possible.

THE DANGERS OF USING PRAISE TEAMS ONLY IN THE INTERGENERATIONAL CHURCH:

Using praise teams in general can be tricky if certain criteria are not engaged. Many churches have replaced the choir entirely in favor of the praise team, which often functions like a choir, but smaller and more flexible. These churches may involve multiple praise teams that rotate, but because most vocalists are probably auditioned, the moderate level or developing singer is most likely never selected. Some leaders (although they might never admit it) are subconsciously listening or looking for a “young, pop-sound” in their vocalists, which means many older singers are simply left-out. This is in direct contradiction to intergenerational philosophy.

Not much academic research exists on the benefits of choir vs. praise teams. Most of what is written on the topic is in trade magazines and internet articles/sites. In the one academic study I could find on the topic, Tara Christiansen (see citation at the bottom) affirms that leaders utilizing choirs have the greater potential to involve more people in worship leadership when given the “primary” role in worship leadership.

Here are some dangers in sum…

  1. Praise Teams may be seen as elite and “better than” the choir member. I’m sure a LONG list of how this is played-out in churches could be made. But, anytime one group is perceived as more important than another, problems may arise.
  2. Because praise teams are auditioned, the moderate or developing singer is likely not given a place to serve.
  3. Leaders are often looking for singers that have “young” or “flexible” voices. Sure, who doesn’t, right? But your best tenor in the choir may be a 70 year man, who is starting to get a little wobble in his former lovely voice. Might be better to go with the 25 year old rather than include that generationally diverse option?
  4. Not considering faithfulness over talent. This is a tough one, folks. Sometimes your best singers are not always the most faithful ones. Early in my ministry at Ivy Creek, I lost an incredible male singer because I wouldn’t use him due to his lack of faithfulness to the choir. It was hard, but I had to set an example that faithfulness was more important than simply being a good singer. Let’s remember who we are as teacher/musician/ pastors and choose Praise Team members who will represent Christ and model worship the best with their hearts. Go with that…

 

HOW TO USE PRAISE TEAMS IN THE INTERGENERATIONAL WORSHIP SERVICE:

  1. Praise Team members MUST be active in your choir if you have one. There are always some extenuating circumstances to this, but if the other choir members sense that praise teams members are “divas” or only there when they can be on the front of the platform, then feelings get hurt and you as a leader are not showing value to each member. The praise team is basically an extension of your choral ministry. Faithfulness over talent…every time.
  2. Praise Teams members must be committed believers and active in other areas of the church. As up-front leadership, these vocalists are representing the choir and orchestra and should have represent Christ and the body of believers at that local church.
  3. Praise Team members should be selected from all active adult generations in the choir.
  4. Praise Teams should be used strictly for enhancing of choral anthems and/or congregational song as long as these praise teams include generational diversity. Granted, every team might not include a person from every generational cohort, but figure out who sings well together and do your best. Make the effort! Praise teams should never replace the choir altogether long term. 
  5. Praise Teams should be open for new team members by audition at regular intervals. As new members join your music ministry, there should be opportunities for them to become a part of the leadership. Vocal auditions, as well as a spiritual evaluation, should be included in this process.

 

At Ivy Creek, we use praise teams ONLY for congregational song to add depth and rich harmony to the overall sound of the congregation. At present time, we do not have to enhance the vocal sound with the praise team for choral things; we are fortunate to have enough choir members balanced with our orchestra not to need to enhance the choral sound with individually enhanced voices for choral anthems. I prefer to only use the choir as a whole for choral things anyway, but if we had balance issues with the choir and orchestra like some of my colleagues do, I probably would use the praise teams to enhance the choir for that reason only.

You might find it interesting that due to our Sunday morning schedule, in order for us to use the choir and orchestra in BOTH of our morning worship services, our whole choir is only in the loft for the first ten or so minutes of each service. It’s not ideal, but it’s the trade-off we must employ in order to have most of our choir present for both services. The praise team (and remaining choir members from each service) continue to lead in musical worship.

In addition to the overall suggestions posed, I employ a few more criteria when selecting praise team members at our church.

  1. All praise team singers must read music, but also have a good ear for harmony. We use musical scores for 90 percent of our songs, but often we will change things on the fly based on what might fit better. I need members who can go with the flow quickly and can read another part (alto might read tenor part, for instance.)
  2. All praise team members must be willing to sing/lead portions of the congregational music alone. We do a variety of music at our church. Some songs I choose to be led by the female voice over mine or another male voice for variety or other aesthetic reasons. Our singers know to be willing, and able, to lead a verse or whatever, when the time comes.
  3. All singers must do some prep work for each week. Our praise team members must make sure they are familiar with every song on the set list for the week.
  4. All singers should be able to communicate when singing with appropriate facial/body expression without bringing attention to oneself specifically. The goal is to model expressions of worship.
  5. Our praise team members are also encouraged to wear clothing on praise team that is not too distracting, stand-out, or bring too much attention to oneself. I actually bring this up with the choir members (we do not wear robes) as well, but it is even more important when singing on the front of the platform area.

 

 

Tara Dawn Christensen, “Choirs vs. Praise Teams: A Historical and Descriptive Account of Worship Practices in Large Evangelical Protestant Churches in America,” (M.M. thesis, University of Missouri-Kansas City, 2002), ii.