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Music: an effective instrument for worship

By John H. Morton

A cacophony of worship models bombards the local church. With so many options, we must grow beyond our traditional models approach to worship.

We have to ask the questions, "Which approach is most effective for my situation?" Specifically, "How can music be used effectively in the worship service?"

1. In planning the music for the worship service, consider your audience. A nursing home service and a preschool children’s church demand radically different yet equally important approaches. Consider such variables as age, physical limitations, vocal ability, attention span, emotional and spiritual status, and individual taste. Let’s face it, though basal and amoral, taste is a significant factor in worship through music. The southern gospel fan feels the power of "Because He Lives"; the classical fan is moved by Mendelssohn’s "Hymn of Praise"; the traditional fan stands tall at the singing of "A Mighty Fortress." Desirable as it may be, it is idealistic and naive to expect all Christians to rise above personal taste and find expressions of worship in all musical styles. We can slowly and tenderly broaden our congregation’s taste while being considerate of their needs.

2. Develop a well-rounded order of music. Consider the flow from beginning to end.

• Plan smooth transitions for: (1) Keys–limit key changes, progress upward, move to related keys, change with a purpose. (2) Tempi–avoid extreme contrasts between consecutive songs, create overall motion by going from fast to medium to slow or vice versa. (3) Ranges–keep it comfortable and accessible and consider the warm-up time of the voice. (4) Styles–avoid radical contrasts between consecutive songs; for instance, singing a gospel rock song and immediately going into a high-church hymn would be disastrous.

• Avoid disruptions. Keep introductions to a minimum, speaking only purposeful words. If a song needs an introduction because of weak text, don’t sing it.

• Use diverse forms in each service. Some possibilities are hymns, songs, choruses, readings, choir specials, solos, ensembles, and instrumentals. Be creative. Avoid using one form exclusively. Consecutive services should use, varied forms. Strive for a balance between repetition and variety. Repetition provides continuity, and variety provides interest.

• Plan music so the whole person (intellectual, emotional, and physical) has opportunity for spiritual expression. A well-rounded order of music will accommodate individuals and encourage participation.

3. Avoid worship speed bumps–habits that inhibit the worshiper:

• Be sensitive to the discomfort of prolonged sitting or standing. While it is true that people seem to participate more while standing, avoid extremes.

• Avoid key changes to unrelated keys and to lower keys. Going up gradually in key s gives the feeling of motion and a subtle emotional lift.

• Be aware in selecting music for worship. Many have stereotyped hymns as profound and choruses as trite. This is obviously not true. Unwise selection habits have propagated this stereotype, not actual song material. Use music that is relevant, interesting, and singable. A text need not be a literary masterpiece to have impact. Consider Handel’s Messiah and the chorus "Hallelujah" with its limited libretto.

• Avoid redundancy of music selection. Using the same song too often will be perceived as being in a rut. The exceptions are for very popular songs (be careful because overuse can destroy popularity) and for new songs. Repetition is critical for memorization.

• Avoid singing unfamiliar songs without visual materials. Use hymnals, songbooks, slides, transparencies, song sheets, bulletin inserts, etc. People participate when they are confident of the words. Everybody knows "Amazing Grace," right? Never assume. New Christians are frustrated in worship because they are learning 10 to 15 new songs every Sunday.

• Avoid extreme posture. Assume a posture that commands respect and dignity. Communicate the message of the song with body language. Use relevant and purposeful gestures. Be sincere, not showy. Model appropriate behavior that you expect from the congregation.

• Many congregants are uncomfortable with their singing voices. One may be inhibited in worship if he feels he is being heard. Fill a room with the sound of worship and most will want to be part of it.

If we remove the common speed bumps, we create an atmosphere conducive to worship. We can become worship facilitators. Pray for direction. The Holy Spirit will guide your efforts. Yes, He anoints the leader planning at his or her desk on Thursday morning as well as the leader standing on a platform Sunday evening. He leads as He chooses. Be sensitive to listen for the voice of the Spirit in planning the order of service. He already knows what He wants to happen and will direct your plans accordingly. If God gives you a plan, He seldom changes it. When He does, follow it wholeheartedly.

The final consideration is to leave the results to the Lord. The leader facilitates; the worshiper initiates; and the Holy Spirit anoints. Worship is a choice. The individual chooses to propel himself into the presence of God through worship. We must never manipulate or cajole the worshiper. Our perspective is too limited to judge worship’s effectiveness solely on visible results. Physical worship is an important part of corporate worship, but it is not the only part. The Lord sees the heart, and that is the unseen birthplace of true worship. Self-evaluation is important for personal growth. Remember, however, one should evaluate himself as the facilitator, not the initiator.

The Assemblies of God has a rich heritage of exciting praise and worship. We expressed ourselves to the Lord when it was not popular. Today when such expression is popular, we should rejoice in our heritage. Music is a living and effective instrument for facilitating and experiencing God’s presence.