Tag Archives: congregational song

How Should New Testament Worshipers Worship?

I’m teaching Introduction to Congregational Song this semester at TMU. This week we focused on New Testament Congregational Song. I’m reminded again that as we come to the Father through Jesus the Son, we no longer have to depend on a high priest to offer animal sacrifices so we can find redemption for our sins. No longer must we follow arduous sets of rules and worship practices. We have instant access through the power of the resurrection. Worship transforms us as we meet together to encourage, edify, and express our collective thanks to God in the name of the Lord.

In the New Testament there were no new or updated worship liturgies beyond what was established in the Old Testament. Must believe that Old Testament worship practices were adhered to for the most part until Jesus came. A few elements such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper became regular parts of corporate worship then. What we DO get from the New Testament is instructions to believers about their “posture” as worshipers. While there is much more to be said, but consider these three well-known scriptures that stood out to me from our reading that I think have some powerful reminders for corporate worship.

Ephesians 5:18-20- …be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 Colossians 3:15-17- Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Romans 12:1-2- Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

What do you see when you read these scriptures together? What stands out to you? Here’s what I see:

  1. We are able to worship TROUGH Christ because of the power of His death and the power of the resurrection.
  2. Worship is NEVER about us. It is Christ-centric; Christ is the object of our worship.
  3. Worship is never strictly vertical. While scripture is full of references to vertical worship e.g. “sing to the Lord,” scripture is also clear that we are sing TO and WITH one another in a horizontal fashion. Read these scriptures again. Every single one focuses on a horizontal element in worship. We are to sing to ONE ANOTHER…instruct ONE ANOTHER…admonish ONE ANOTHER.
  4. Worship is an opportunity for us to express our THANKS to God in THE NAME OF THE LORD.
  5. Worship is EXPERIENTIAL. We are to sing and make music from our hearts, offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, have a transformed mind et al. As we humbly offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, Christ transforms us to be more like Christ.
  6. Worship UNIFIES US. Because Christ is the object of our worship, we are called to peace, we are and are unified by the message of Christ.

Friends, let the truths of these passages remind you our purpose in worship. While our liturgies might vary to some degree, the object of our worship must be Christ who desires to continue to transform us to be more like Him. Soli Deo Gloria

Striving for diversity in congregational song in the intergenerational church

Colossians 3:15-17- And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Music surrounds my life! My boys find it strange that my favorite music to listen to in the car is so varied they never know what I’ll be listening to. I will admit, though, I often have something from Latin America playing; it’s always a fiesta in my car! Joking aside, as a musician, I find that all over the world music speaks to people in different ways. Paul knew the power of music as well as he admonished the Colossians to use all types of music to remember the gospel truth.

Having been called by God to serve in vocational ministry, I’ve devoted most of my life to promoting, teaching, and glorifying God through music. I feel blessed that I enjoy leading and worshiping in most music contexts that glorify Christ and articulate the message of the gospel clearly. I’m an anomaly, however. Most people I encounter do not like all kinds of church music. In fact some are more adamant that certain types of music are genuinely more worshipful and edifying to the body. Further, there are those that believe that the presentation of “their” idea of worship music is somehow more authentic and “holy.” Then there are folks who, given the choice in their churches, would rather simply just turn the worship team “off.” It is vital that worship leaders be sensitive to this me versus them mentality and strive to integrate a musical atmosphere that is sensitive to the various generations and cultures in our churches.

If you asked most American churches to describe their worship experiences, most would say their congregational song includes some variation of hymns and/or modern worship music. From a musical standpoint, other than the newness of the songs composition, there is little really very little diversity stylistic. It’s interesting how diverse we really think our music is that many churches create services specifically to homogenize the musical style, rather than provide opportunities for diversity! When I taught high school choir many years ago, diversity of the literature was encouraged strongly to promote unity in spite of the diversity. However, our churches who should be beacons of light for the gospel, struggle to even find unity in their congregational songs!

Our lack of unity is no stranger to contemporary culture. Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, knew that unity was important for the early church because sin would always creep in and cause division. Not only should worship be vertical (in praise to God directly), Paul asserts that unity could be achieved by singing the WORD of God to each other (horizontally) in a variety of types of songs. Paul knew that the early church didn’t have the printed Word of God that we enjoy today. These early Christians would need to remember the Word somehow…and singing scripture was an incredible way for the word to “dwell richly” in the hearts and minds of those early Christians. The songs we sing today should do the same thing. We must sing substance and the music should complement the text of Truth. Further, the various types of music available today should be reflected in our worship services. I encourage the writers of today’s congregational song to branch out into styles more reflective of the diversity of our communities.

Here are some suggestions to select worship music that reflects ethnic and generational diversity, while being rich in text.

  1. Text is most important factor in selecting worship music. Period.  Worship music should include vertical and horizontal expressions of worship where the people of God sing to God as well as one another the truth of the gospel. For more information, see this previous blog post Building Community in the Intergenerational Church through Music- Selecting We-Centric Songs
  2. Use black gospel as well as southern gospel music, especially if you have African-Americans in your congregation. We Georgians are well adept at singing southern gospel; our people are familiar with it. However, if we are to reflect our communities, we need to sing black gospel also. There are numerous wonderful songs out there to sing. However, I’ve found the best places to find these songs is by looking into literature written for schools and/or community choruses.
  3. Investigate music from Latin America. I love syncopation, especially the habanero and other cross-rhythmic beats. We have a severe lack of latin flavor in many of our churches. Just be sensitive if the presence of congas and a cowbell make some folks in your church squirm! Again, school literature often has more variety in terms of literature.
  4. Integrate music from Asian cultures. In our county, the Asian population is exploding. Traditional Asian music utilizes a limiting pentatonic scale, but there are some interesting things out that can be used if you investigate.
  5. At the very least, utilize worship leaders (players and singers) who are not ethnically the same as the majority of your congregation. Example, I have a wonderful Korean young woman in my choir who studied opera in South Korea. She is an excellent singer, but didn’t know many songs in English she could use in worship. I suggested she look at some oratorios she might be familiar with. She wound up singing “He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd,” one December and it was a glorious offering of worship.

The key is strong text, varying music types, and utilizing folks from various generations AND cultures. Doing so can really make the difference in the worship experiences for ages to come. I believe this is exactly what Paul was referring to when he was encouraging the Colossians to be unified…bring your various experiences and abilities and be unified in PURPOSE and the Lord will be glorified.

Familiarity is the Key to Selecting Songs for Worship

About a year ago, I had a conversation with a church member who, among other things, wanted to know how and why I chose the songs for worship here at our church.  I asked more specific questions such as: what are some of your favorite songs for congregational singing and why? Do you like newer songs and if so, why? What I usually get in response may be boiled down to one word: FAMILIARITY! In the course of the conversation, I learned that this man wants to be able to participate, but doesn’t always know every song we sing. Isn’t this true of all of us? I don’t think people are necessarily opposed to learning new songs, but what they really crave are songs that are familiar. I think this word should guide the worship planner/leader in choices that are made when selecting songs for the intergenerational church. Here are a few points to consider regarding choices in worship planning for congregational song:

  1. Familiar songs may be new or old. Familiar songs do NOT necessarily mean time-tested hymns. Familiar songs are songs that are sung enough that most in your congregation knows them well enough to participate. Further, familiar songs for one congregation may not necessarily be familiar in another context. Some songs have special meaning to a congregation that might not be on the radar of another congregation. Songs used for special occasions or at special times in the life of the church can have powerful meaning not found in any other congregation. Just remember your context and be sure to include worship music that has special meaning to the congregation often.
  2. New songs should stand the test of time. There have been many new songs that I’ve taught our congregation over the course of many years as worship leader here at the church. In my conversation with the man who asked me about my choices for worship music, I explained that the newer songs chosen for worship here at the church have been very intentional and told him to stick around, he’d know it well enough in time.
    I try very hard to pick songs with memorable text, melodies, and harmonic interest. I told him while there are some very popular songs in our evangelical world, many of them will not become part of what I call “time-tested hymnody.” I always aim to use songs that I believe will be sung by our children and grandchildren for years to come. One more note about this: I try to stay current in what new worship music is out there. Most of the time I wait some time to see if a song is going to “fall off the radar.” By the time we sing the song, it’s usually something that will last.
  3. Familiarity may be taught.  When I introduce new songs, I try make sure we sing it often enough for it to catch on. Many others have offered wonderful ideas for introducing new songs. Have someone sing the song as a solo, have one of your choirs or praise teams sing the song, have the children sing it first, etc. Once the song has been heard, try to sing it with the congregation. The tune should be easy enough to catch on by the end of the song. Continue to use the song judiciously in worship so it becomes familiar enough. If your pastor does sermon-series, or if you have a revival or something where a new song can accentuate that series, try to introduce something then. I’ve found revivals are a wonderful time to introduce  new songs because if it’s used in all those services, the people will have many daily interactions with the songs. Some of our favorite songs here at Ivy Creek were “learned” during this intensive times of worship.
  4. Familiarity may be gauged by watching the congregation. One of the things I do every week is look at our people as I’m leading. Are the people singing? While I expect time-tested hymnody to have greater participation, I’m watching to see what’s going on with different generations. Here’s what I’ve noticed:

    *Unless your people are die-hard listeners of Christian radio, they are not likely to know the newest songs. PERIOD. There is no age stratification here. This is why I’m not convinced that specific generations like specific types of music.
    *The songs in which more people participate are the ones that have been around longer. Okay, I get it; this is axiomatic, but I want to clarify. We sang “How Great is Our God” with the chorus of “How Great Thou Art” yesterday in worship. The former song is thirteen years old. I remember when I heard the song for the first time…I remembered thinking, “this one will be around for awhile.” As I watched, the majority of our people (young and old) sang along to both songs. We also sang an even newer song, “Lion and the Lamb” yesterday and I watched as not quite as many sang along. We’ve only sung this one for a few years, but it’s becoming more familiar.

POINT: BE CAREFUL TO “MARRY” VERY FAMILIAR SONGS WITH SONGS THAT ARE EMERGING IN FAMILIARITY! I recommend there be familiar song(s) to most people in your congregation every week. I hope no one in our congregation leaves without being about to participate if they wish to.

I don’t think worship leaders, especially in intergenerational contexts, should strive to arbitrarily insert some hymns and new worship songs into worship services and call it a day. While there is much to be considered in terms of the sermon, the theme (if you have one for the day), the key is to consider YOUR church context when selecting songs each week. Because there are SO many songs from which to choose for worship, be choosy worship leader! If you’re intergenerational in make-up as we are, stop trying to select songs based on your preconceived notions of what each generation prefers.