I am a huge music lover. I have played piano since I was five and am a decent amateur church pianist. I look forward every year to hearing the sounds of traditional holiday music, both church and some secular.
For years, I played with the church praise and worship team. One of my essential requirements for playing with a team was that the team chose songs with meaning and songs that the rest of the congregation could easily sing. What does this eliminate? Most of the radio versions of popular Christian music. Why does this eliminate them? Because most of the songs on the radio aren’t singable by average churchgoers or a group of amateurs. Not to mention, some of them have little biblical reference or, in some cases, provide a skewed theology (that is a topic for a different post?).
Even if a worship team chooses a traditional hymn, the teams often lead the congregation in “popified” versions of hymns with unknown rhythms and odd syncopations. Beyond that, worship teams are often led by a lead singer who chooses to perform the song in their most comfortable key, which is more often than not too high for most people forcing even the musically inclined in the congregation to drop an octave lower and attempt to sing uncomfortably below range.
The result of both of these scenarios is a large group of people in the audience standing around and listening to a couple of people at the front of the church enjoying praise and worship. Don’t get me wrong, some of these songs are quite beautiful, and the musicians who perform them are incredibly talented. But, I don’t think that is the point of praise and worship.
Psalm 95:1-2 says, “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!” The psalmist clearly asks for participation in singing to the Lord. He doesn’t say let us listen to the musician sing to the Lord, he says let US sing to the Lord. Corporate praise and worship should be presented to allow all to participate and engage. Meaningful words. Simple rhythms. Keys that suit the majority of ranges and allow easy harmonizing.
Talented musicians, you have been given a gift of musical talent. Keep those beautiful solo pieces coming but keep them as special music. We want to hear your talent highlighted. However, during praise and worship, be of service and provide a space and time for everyone to sing to the Lord. I am not advocating that we never learn new songs! By all means, teach us new music. But, use that talent to be sure the music is meaningful and presented in a key and rhythm that engages all.
I have, over the years of playing, been a frustration to some very talented musicians as I have stuck to my convictions over this very topic. I have been guilty at times of wanting to include a beautiful piece of music but in a style that doesn’t support congregational praise and worship. I have also learned that some pieces never really work as congregational pieces and some will eventually find their way to praise and worship. Regardless, being a part of praise and worship isn’t about me and what I would prefer. Leading praise and worship is about serving the larger body of Christ in a way that engages most, not just a few.
Contributed by Liz Hunt