Last month, prior to having the joy of participating in the Getty Sing! conference in Nashville, I chatted with Sol Fenne at a lunch sponsored by 20Schemes. Sol is a church planter, musician, and songwriter who has a passion to see the gospel transform lives in the poorest housing projects of Scotland.
One of Sol’s passions is to discover how the gospel enthusiasm and musical excellence from the Sing! Conference could be applied in the contexts of Scotland’s poorest schemes, or housing projects. So he sent me a follow-up email asking if I’d be willing to write a blog post addressing this question:
How we can encourage our 8-chord guitarists facing 10-20 musically impartial believers to strive on in tough circumstances where there is little to no encouragement and new believers who come from zero congregational singing cultures?
A Common Problem
You don’t have to live in one of Scotland’s schemes to identify with the issue that question raises. The majority of churches aren’t working with a stable of professional musicians leading a congregation of enthusiastic, engaged worshipers. We’re trying to get by with:
• Unskilled musicians and/or leaders
• Attendees that check their emotions and ability to move their bodies at the door
• A soundboard that’s limping along on its last legs
• A tight budget that never seems to include equipment
• Musicians that can’t figure out the chords on the album
And on it goes.
Some Ideas to Implement
We regularly find ourselves leading under less than ideal conditions. How should we respond? Here are a few thoughts.
Recognize that the gospel, not music, is the power of God (Rom. 1:16).
When our musicians, instruments, lighting, and technology aren’t impressive, we can wonder why people would come to our church. They come because we have something the world doesn’t: the amazing news that Jesus Christ died in the place of lost, rebellious sinners to reconcile them to God. Music, no matter how great it is, can’t raise a dead soul to life. The gospel can and does. Your church may never come close musically to what the church down the street does or what people listen to on their iPhones. That’s okay. Faithfully preach, sing, and explain the gospel and you’ll see lives changed.
Trust in God’s Word more than your own words (1 Thess. 2:13).
Trusting in God’s Word more than our own means featuring and treasuring the content and meaning of Scripture in our songs, prayers, sermons, visuals, sacraments, and conversations. I say featuring and treasuring because we’re not simply providing information. We’re proclaiming life-giving, faith-imparting, direction-changing, mind-transforming truth. People should be able to see how much we love the word of God and the God of the Word, with or without music.
Pray for and expect God’s Spirit to work in people’s hearts for the glory of Jesus (1 Cor. 2:12; John 16:13-14; 1 Cor. 12:4-7).
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that God’s Spirit prefers working in a church of 5000 or 500 more than in a church of 50. Where Christians gather to sing, pray, hear God’s Word, and celebrate the gospel, God’s Spirit is there to do what only he can do. Bring conviction. Comfort the grieving. Give hope to the hopeless. Satisfy the spiritually hungry. And he loves to work through ordinary, dependent people like you and me.
Teach your people the purpose of congregational singing (Col. 3:16-17; Eph. 5:18-20).
People often base their understanding of why we sing more from their own past experiences than from the Bible. We have the joy of teaching them what God says about singing. That can be done in a sermon, brief comments, on a website, or in conversation. Among other things, the church sings to remember the gospel, to teach and admonish one another, to communicate our affection for God, to express our unity in Christ, and to prepare for heaven. Even though my church may not look much like heaven now, every time we meet we’re joining in with the worshipers around the throne (Heb. 12:22-24). We aren’t putting on a performance. We’re participating with saints throughout the ages offering praise to God through the finished work of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:4-5).
Make it clear that instruments are only there to support the main event: faith-filled congregational singing (Ps. 71:22-23).
When your church doesn’t have the musicians you think you need, it’s a perfect opportunity to let people know their “worship” isn’t hindered. Instruments can support congregational singing, but they can never replace it. Use a hymnal. Sing a cappella. Find some simple choruses with great words.
Pick the best songs and sing them more often (2 Pet. 1:12; Phil. 3:1)
Sol told me that his church has a repertoire of about 25 songs. I think that’s wise. If your church is musically illiterate or inexperienced, learn fewer songs and sing them well (In Christ Alone, All I Have is Christ, It is Well, Behold our God, etc.). But make sure your few songs cover a lot of theological ground. And remember that musical simplicity doesn’t negate biblically thoughtful, gospel-focused lyrics.
Encourage your musicians to improve and provide resources if you’re able (1 Chron. 25:7).
Whatever the skill level of our musicians now, they can grow. Cultivate an attitude in your instrumentalists that says, “I want to get better on my instrument so I can joyfully serve the singing of the church more effectively.” Resources and teachers might include other band members, YouTube, books, and musicians outside the church.
Ask God to bring musicians to your church (Mt. 6:8; 2 Cor. 9:8).
Without minimizing anything I’ve said so far, pray that God adds skilled instrumentalists to your church, either through conversion or from another church. Although great musicians aren’t necessary to worship God, he can certainly use them for the good of his people.
So while we continue to pursue greater musical proficiency, we never have to wonder if God’s purposes are being thwarted by our below average musicianship or lack of a band. His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).
Besides, our limited resources are all he ever has to work with. And they’re all he needs, because his grace, mercy, and power are limitless.
You might also enjoy A Salute to the Average Worship Leader.