If you just read the comments on my last Together for the Gospel post, you might be tempted to think that things went flawlessly. Not the case. Practically every time I lead I learn something new about what I’m doing, even though I’ve been leading worship for over 30 years now. I pray that I’m always learning something.
Here are some of the things I learned, put into practice, or remembered this year.
You can experience and express strong emotions for God while singing hymns.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone say that hymns are dry, academic, lyrically dense, and inappropriate for “passionate worship.” That may be true in some people’s experience, but it certainly wasn’t the case at T4G. The times of singing were characterized at various times by awe, gratitude, wonder, joy, sorrow, celebration, and bold faith. I was filled with tearful amazement when we sang Isaac Watts’ “How Sweet and Aweful.” Definitely no connection between hymns and a lack of emotion.
The ideal congregational vocal range (at least when it’s mostly men) is about from an A to a D.
When I was preparing for the conference, I noticed that a number of the hymns were pitched in keys that were higher than I normally use. Melodies frequently got up around E and F. So I raised the keys of many of the songs. The first night we sang All Hail the Power in the key of G, which put the high note at a sustained E. After straining my voice and hearing a lot of guys drop to the lower octave, I went back to my original keys. Higher notes do make you sing with more passion, but when they’re too high, it’s just painful.
You don’t have to sing a lot of songs in a row to engage with God while singing.
Worship leaders sometimes say that you can’t really “worship” unless you’ve sung for at least twenty minutes. Nonsense. We didn’t have any problem engaging with God at the conference even though we never sang more than two songs in a row. It did help that some of the songs had six or seven verses.
Even hymns have complicated melodies.
More than once people have criticized modern worship songs for being too complicated. Hymns can be difficult to learn, too. “My Song is Love Unknown,” is a beautiful hymn, but very hard to pick up, even though I sang one verse by myself and the song has eight verses. “And Can it Be” is another challenging song if you’re unfamiliar with it.
Christians of diverse backgrounds and preferences can sing God’s praise together, because their unity is in the Gospel.
I’m sure there were guys at the conference who would have preferred using additional instruments and vocalists. I know because I’m one of them. But when we gather to celebrate our unity in Christ, musical preference becomes a secondary issue. I’m happy to sing with anyone when we’re magnifying the greatness of the Savior.
It can be more challenging to lead worship with a single instrument than with a band.
When I lead with a band I don’t have to carry every song musically. That means that leading by yourself in a small group can be more difficult than leading in a large congregation. On the other hand, I loved being able to use alternative voicings and chords whenever I wanted to.
When lyrics are projected, the person running them is a crucial part of the team.
I forget this too often. A good projectionist has experience, reviews songs in advance, and has equipment that works. Although our lyric operator at T4G was new at the task, she did a great job. After the first session she learned to put up the words just slightly before we actually sang them. We also reviewed the lyrics before I led. A number of songs had wrong, missing, or additional lyrics. Unfortunately, the computer she was using wasn’t operating properly, which resulted in us having to sing the last song (Crown Him with Many Crowns) with no projected lyrics. Oh well…
Leading musically doesn’t mean I can’t direct people’s faith towards God’s Word.
Although I’m sitting at a piano when lead, I’m most conscious of wanting to direct people’s hearts and minds to the truths we’re singing. To help me remember that fact, I always have a Bible with me on stage when I lead. Whether or not I use it every time, it makes the statement that we value God’s Word more than musical experiences.
There are many benefits to planning songs with someone else.
Planning the songs with Mark Dever was a joy. We started with a list of songs to choose from. I submitted my thoughts for the songs we should sing and it took 4-5 email exchanges for us to come up with a final list of songs and tunes. At Mark’s urging I wrote a new ending for the 4th verse of Come Thou Fount, as well as an alternate chorus for Come Ye Sinners. I also learned a few new songs, including My Song is Love Unknown.
I’m sure the next time I lead worship I’ll have plenty to learn again.