Musical Choice, Worship, and Excellence

Contemporary Christian worship in a Western co...

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One thing I stress with those who are leading worship or who will lead worship: strive for excellence. This includes the choice of music. For pastors especially this is critical in knowing your people and what is part of their ethos.

At one of my congregations, I would select hymns several months ahead (six month advance planning), picking hymns that I had known for decades. My assumption was that the people would likewise appreciate these “well-known” hymns. Our organist at the time was excellent in knowing what I wanted and what people could sing. He would practice on Saturdays, and usually about once every three months he would call me and say, “Pastor, the hymn text is great, but the people do not know that melody. Can I suggest this alternate melody?” Seems like a minor point, but what a difference it made for those worshiping that day.

I also took that as an opportunity to learn, namely if I wanted to introduce a new hymn/song, it was at least one month of “practicing”: 1) prelude, 2) choir number, 3) practice with congregation before service with choir, 4) sing it as part of worship. It worked very well.

When I first introduced contemporary worship, I went with the choices (after screening for theology). But I soon learned that the worshipers did not always appreciate the “usual” presentation of the songs. One example includes singing and repeating the same verses and choruses many times. Note that this is not the same as singing five verses to a song, where the melody is repeated; this is repeating the exact same words.

Lest we think this is a problem with just contemporary songs, consider some of the hymns that are great and have 15 verses. Is it wise to sing all 15 verses in the service? I learned the hard way that it is not wise to do that.

While there can be value to repeating words, there is also a saturation point, when the worshiper says, “Enough already.” Pastors and worship leaders need to know their people and know how this works out in practice. “What is the purpose of the repetition?” For some the repetition may be logical and even enjoyable; for others it may become irritating after the second repetition.

How can we strike a balance that enhances the worship life for everyone? This is where the issue of excellence comes into play. It requires the pastor(s), musicians, choirs, praise teams, everyone to be together, to meet regularly and review what is important and why.

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About exegete77

disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher, and theologian
This entry was posted in Oratio, Personal Reflection, Worship/Liturgy. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Musical Choice, Worship, and Excellence

  1. Pastordt says:

    “after all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach people what they need to know about Christ…”

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  2. exegete77 says:

    Yes, indeed. Thanks. I think we overlook the connection between worship, Bible study, and spiritual growth.

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  3. Kevin Sam says:

    Wow, 6 months planning ahead?! It sounds like a lot of work all in one shot.

    I enjoy worship using both the theological hymns and heart touching contemporary music but it’s too bad so many can’t appreciate both.

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  4. exegete77 says:

    I usually take 2-3 days to look over the readings to make sure I am familiar with them. Then I take a break for a week or two to reflect. Then I spent a little time looking at possible hymns/songs. But my main focus is on the texts and sermon titles.

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