It’s the age-old question that perhaps every worship pastor and worship leader wrestles with at some point in their ministry. A question with no clear-cut answer, no formulaic solution. It’s up for debate and strong arguments could be made on all sides.
Actually, it’s not just one question. It’s several questions:
How often should we introduce new songs to our congregation?
What should those new songs be?
How do we know which songs are connecting and which ones aren’t?
How do we know when a song is becoming “burnt-out” to the point it’s time to give it a rest?
How often should we repeat or rotate songs from week to week?
The list goes on. I know I’m not the only worship leader who wrestles with this. In fact, I wrestle with it so much that I’ve analyzed it to death. I’ve built spreadsheets and tables and charts listing every song we’ve used every week, kept a tally of how many new songs we introduced this past year, and how often each song was used in services throughout the year. What can I say? There is an inner nerd in me who loves details and data and information and finding ways to use all that wonderful research to improve what we do and how we do it.
On any given Sunday, our church will host approximately 6,000+ worshippers at our three north-Atlanta area campuses. That’s a huge responsibility, but the fact of the matter is, whether it’s thousands, hundreds or tens of people gathered, this is a responsibility that should never be taken lightly. And that is why I am driven to ask such questions.
Our worship staff has had many meetings, conversations and group discussions about this whole “song usage dilemma”, and while there is no clearly defined answer to any of the questions listed above, I have come to my own personal conclusion:
Let the people sing.
As simple as that may sound, I believe this to be the main goal of music in The Church.
As worship leaders, we can get so bogged down in the day-to-day “work” of planning and preparing for upcoming services, that we can no longer see the forest for the trees. We can become so consumed with songs and styles and tempos and relevance and who’s leading this or who’s playing that to the point we are totally missing the point.
The answers to the above questions are not what ultimately matters. Rather, our goal as church staff and worship leaders is this: to create an environment for people to worship Jesus with all their hearts. Period.
We do this by engaging people’s hearts and imaginations, eliminating outside distractions and pointing their attention to Jesus.
Every day that we live and breathe on this earth we are incessantly attacked by the worries, frustrations, stresses and trials of everyday life. They bombard us and weigh us down, to the point we start to forget the goodness of God. We start to doubt His faithfulness and His unfailing love for us.
That is why we gather with His people. To remember. We all need to be reminded regularly, lest we forget the wondrous things our God has done.
It is because of this great tendency to forget that we must sing. We don’t sing because we feel like it. We sing so that we will feel like it. Sometimes we must use our minds via our mouths and our songs to remind our hearts how to feel. Psychological studies have proven that it is not our emotions that determine our thoughts and actions; quite the contrary. It is our actions and thoughts that determine our emotions. When you choose to worship, despite how you feel, you will in fact begin to feel differently as a direct result of your act of worship. When we sing truth about God or sing words of adoration to God, we are telling our hearts how to feel. We are changing our perspective. We are willing ourselves into thinking, acting and feeling differently.
This is why singing is so important. God Himself considered it of such importance that we are commanded to “sing praise unto God” at least 209+ times throughout the Bible.
What matters most is not how many new songs we use or how often we rotate songs or whether we lead them in hymns or even a Gregorian chant if that’s what floats your church’s boat. What matters most is that we let the people sing.
When I put a worship set together, I ask myself, “Will they sing this? Will they know this song well enough to truly sing this?” Or, if we’re introducing a new song that week, then the question is, “Is this song accessible enough for them to learn it quickly so that they can sing this?”
I have yet to find a sound more encouraging, energizing and inspiring than the sound of a crowd of Jesus-lovers singing together. There is nothing else like it on earth. It’s a small glimpse of eternity. I mean, really: what greater accomplishment could we as a worship leader have than to fill people’s hearts and imaginations with a glimpse of eternity?
Let the people sing!
Shelly E. Johnson
Shelly E. Johnson is an exclusive LifeWay Worship songwriter and serves as worship leader at First Baptist Church, Woodstock, GA. Visit her official website at www.shellyejohnson.com. Her new project, Your Kingdom Come, is available on iTunes.