Each and every year about this time I look back on the previous year and determine what progress was made, what progress needs to be made, and to set helpful guidelines and goals for myself in order to better serve the church in which I serve. Below I have copied over some of my own thinking about last year and how it impacts the way I do things this year. I hope if you are in a leadership position of any type in any place that you take time to evaluate and make this next year a more successful and meaningful year than last.
There is always room for improvement, and I’m always in need of a reminder. When it comes to being a Pastor that leads people and leads music sometimes I get pulled in many directions. What did we learn from last year and what are we going to do this year? Let’s think together!
Pull from the Well
We have all been at a concert or show where we only knew one of the many songs that was played. It just turns awkward… a bunch of people trying to sing along and making up words whilst looking around to make sure they aren’t failing alone. Sounds like late night college town karaoke to me!
Church shouldn’t be like that setting I described above. We will do a variety of music, some new and some old, but as a church family we’d like to collectively “own” only a certain number of songs from which we regularly draw.
We’d like for these to be “our” songs. Whether for a year or just for a season these songs can help shape worship services and speak to your congregation where they are and in the season that they currently find themselves in. These are songs that we love, that resonate with who we are, and that we enthusiastically engage as a church body. Worship Leaders, musicians, and Pastors almost always know far more songs than the churches they serve and are tempted to constantly introduce new ones. We need to throttle that down. I currently have an active list of about100 songs that I’d like to keep in rotation. I regularly add new songs at the pace of about one a month and rotate songs off the list, as needed.
Reminder… this isn’t YOUR list. It is your church’s list. You don’t get to head into a church and bring your list of songs while recycling theirs. Know your people!
Maybe you hate this idea of a list because it feels like you are always singing the same songs. However, remember, you constantly think about music. You listen to and write new music regularly, both of which are great things. The rest of the church, however, is not like you in that way. By the time you get to worship on Sunday, you’ve practiced at home, sung the songs as you prepared charts for the band, practiced with the band, and made changes in your head throughout the week. You know these songs well. The congregation, on the other hand, may sing them two or three times a year. Thus, it is important that we focus on our list of songs and shape it slowly and thoughtfully from there.
The music we play can shape the Gospel for our churches, so we must make sure they know what they are singing and proclaiming on Sunday!
Not everyone is a Musician
This may be one of the most important principles I constantly remind myself of, because it is not our desire that people just “see” us sing and the band “perform” with excellence. We want the church to join in and sing with one voice in worship.
Congregational singing requires that the congregation be able to sing the songs. That means that there are a lot of songs out there that, though they may be wonderful songs, are just not appropriate for corporate worship… at least not in their original form. That does not mean that you can’t use the occasional performance song (that is up to your discretion and context as a church), but the vast majority of what you choose needs to be singable by the average non musician.
Congregational singing requires that the congregation be able to sing the songs.
In that same vein, we must be sure to sing the singable songs we choose in singable ways. As a tenor sometimes that is difficult! There may be a lot of songs in the key of Tomlin that are solid and that might work, but they all need to be in a key that is reasonable for the vast majority to sing along with!
The congregation needs to be able to find and follow the prescribed melody. There is often a temptation for us as worship leaders who are gifted vocally to sing the “unwritten” parts and draw much more emphasis to them than the written song. Don’t get me wrong… we ad lib when led and sing spontaneously as the Lord leads, but we have to be aware that discernment is key and often these portions of our singing can leave the, primarily untrained, congregation without direction as to what they are meant to sing.
When people don’t sing they become disengaged and watch. We aren’t called to lead songs… we are called to lead people.
So be creative, but make sure the people know what they should sing. None of this is said to try to to stifle our creativity, but exactly the opposite. I am a HUGE proponent of Christian creativity and leading with beautiful Biblical excellence, and this inclusion of people in all contexts should actually drive our creativity to a new level.
Our primary concern should be for the whole congregation to be able to sing along. That means we tend to maximize congregational singing and minimize guitar solos, special arrangements, and even performances. It’s not that they are bad, it is that we have a limited time and want to focus on the congregation worshipping the Savior during the time we do have. A little of several of these things goes a very long way.
Recruit, Train, and Build
What does your team look like? What and who is it made up of? Are you raising up, equipping, and engaging your own people as volunteers to lead worship in your church?
I understand this always means more work for us. It’s easy for us to be content with what we have and close ourselves off to new comers, but who are we raising up to take our place? New volunteers will require a lot more time and energy to train and lead. I know we will have to work hard to build them up, but this is the direction we as a church need to move in order to truly “pastor” our people.
This year let’s commit ourselves to “expanding our net” in order to catch up more people for the Kingdom cause of Christ.
So what resolutions and reminders do you need for this next year?