This question came in from Dennis:
How would pastors and worship leaders best transition a church from merely stopping all our songs when the lyrics end, into the occasional practice of those “musical interlude” worship times that I have seen and heard done at your church and others?…In our present church, if the instruments kept playing after all the lyrics had been sung, the congregation would just stare at us and wonder what we were doing…I see some value in those times and would like to move towards doing so on occasion.
Musical interludes are like many aspects of congregational worship – not absolutely necessary to worshipping God in spirit and truth, but helpful in many ways. Here are four thoughts.
First, understand why you want to use musical interludes. They aren’t something to do just because you saw the church down the street do one and it seemed cool. If you don’t know what you’re doing, musical interludes can easily become musical manipulation. Ideally, they provide an opportunity for a congregation to respond to what they’ve just sung. That response is generally either celebrative or reflective.
Second, teach the congregation what you’re doing and why. You could say something like, “We haven’t used musical interludes like this before, but we want to provide more opportunities as we meet both to respond to and reflect on the biblical truths we’re singing.” Relevant Scriptures are Ps. 108:1 and Ps. 71:15:
My heart is steadfast, O God! I will sing and make melody with all my being!
My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge.
Remind them that worship doesn’t end when the song does. We can continue to reflect on God’s greatness and respond vocally with musical accompaniment. Many scholars think a selah in the Psalms was a time to consider what had just been said. Ps. 4:4 and 39:5 contain a selah that comes after a reflective thought, while the selah’s in Ps. 3:8 and 24:10 follow verse that are more exuberant in nature.
Third, train your musicians in motive and manner. The motive for musical interludes is to serve the congregation by providing an opportunity to respond more fully to God’s Word. It’s not meant to be a time for them to show off their musical creativity (although interludes can be creative).
The manner in which interludes are done depends on the goal. For responsive celebration, it can be helpful to have an energetic sustained chord, produced by repeated strumming on the guitar or alternating chords between hands on the piano. Vocalists can model what you want to happen during those times. For instance, the leader and/or other vocalists can proclaim both truth from the song and their response to it. It’s not as helpful to use vague responses like,”Hallelujah! Glory! Praise the Lord! We’re not simply being enthusiastic. We want people to see specific aspects of God’s Word, works, and worthiness. We are proclaiming the glory of God in Christ. For reflective interludes, musicians can play a chord progression that follows naturally out of the song. Options include chords from the introduction or turnaround, the chords under the last line of the song, or another simple progression.
Nothing needs to be said during reflective interludes, although they often lead to spontaneous prayer or Scripture readings. In our church people often receive or share prophetic words and impressions during times like these. But, don’t play quietly for too long. If nothing happens in response, move on.
Finally, begin slowly. Start with one song a week, or every other week. It will probably be easier to start with reflective interludes, rather than celebrative ones. You’ll find over time that if you’re leading your people well, these interludes will deepen the working of God’s Word in people’s hearts and they’ll go away more aware of God’s care and presence.
I could say more on this, but I have to get back to my book. By the way, our last live CD, Worship God Live, contains examples of both kinds of interludes. If you have any follow-up questions to what I’ve written here, or want to add your own thoughts, please do.
Under “teach the congregation what you’re doing and why”…my question is when do you take time during the worship service to instruct? Is it before worship begins or right before or even during the song? My tendency is to take a few minutes before worship begins to give instruction b/c it prepares the congregation and gives us time to “practice.” And my concern re: giving instruction during the worship flow is that it will interrupt and take the focus (however temporarily) in the wrong direction.
I’ve instructed the congregation at different times. Sometimes before we sing, sometimes during the singing, and sometimes during a message. Equipping people to understand what you’re doing while you’re singing is both an act of worship (it’s building up the church), and a means of worship (it helps people participate with faith). It may interrupt the musical flow, but that’s not the same as interrupting the Spirit’s work in our hearts. If what I say is clear and engages people’s attention, usually the flow continues. When I “feel” as though I’m interrupting the flow, I usually end up being timid or confusing.