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A Plea for Serious, Thoughtful Song Leading

Let us offer to God acceptable worship,
with reverence and awe,
for ou
r God is a consuming fire.

My fellow song leaders and pastors,

If we find value in having song leaders (and I am not certain they are always needed), must we make a mockery of the worship of our Lord by insisting upon comedy in the pulpit, physical gimmicks, boisterous cheerleading, and other irreverent antics?

At best, the benefit of a song leader is to keep the accompaning instruments together (the audience naturally follows what they hear rather than what they see, after all), modestly communicate appropriate musical cues suggested by the lyrics, and aid the congregation in giving careful consideration to the content and affect of that which they are singing.

His job is not to entertain.

His job is not to rev up the audience.

His job is not to help the congregation “have fun.”

His job is not to offer commic relief.

His job (if he is necessary at all) is to help the congregation worship our consuming God with reverence and awe.

Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors,
that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain!
I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts,
and I will not accept an offering from your hand.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

7 Responses to A Plea for Serious, Thoughtful Song Leading

  1. Can you elaborate more (if you want) on why you think song leaders are or aren't needed? I don't think they necessarily are needed. At the large church where we attended, there was a worship pastor, but he never led the congregation in singing. Everyone just sang, and there was no problem. Is having a song leader more of a tradition than anything else? I think if congregations tried doing without, they could quickly become accustomed to it. Personally, sometimes I find the song leader a little distracting–either beforehand if they preach a mini-sermon to go along with the song, or sometimes during when they break in to tell people to FOCUS or whatnot. (Present company excepted OF COURSE!) :-)

  2. I'm right with you, Alice. I think the primary benefit and need for a song leader is when there are multiple accompanists who need to be kept together, especially if they are amateurs.

    Otherwise, I don't see a real need for them. This is why (as you know) in Rockford, on Sunday evenings, SS, or Wed evenings, when only the piano accompanied singing, I never "waved my arms." I only did that on Sunday mornings when we had multiple instruments to be kept together. In the large church you attended (correct me if I'm wrong), typically only the organ accompanied the singing, and so no leader was needed (that model, by the way, is one that I prefer!).

    I also agree with you that many (most?) song leaders are distracting! As you also know, I usually introduce a hymn in order to help (1) direct the congregation's attention to the primary themes and to tie the service together (which, of course, others beside a "song leader" could do). Once the hymn began, however, I never (typically) interrupted the hymn to interject comments. I agree that such a practice is quite unhelpful.

    I recently planned the music for a worship service at a conference of conservatives in May. I passed out a service order and all the hymns to be sung. No one stood up front. We all followed the order and enjoyed sweet, deep, un-interrupted worship.

    That's the model I prefer.

  3. Yes, correct, there was just organ. I never thought of it from an instrumental standpoint. I guess I just like the seamless aspect of not having a song leader, not having someone tell us what page to turn to–just to flow through the service without interruption. To me, that's the purpose for the worship folder–to contain the order of service so everyone knows what they're doing. (And I never found you distracting.) :-)

  4. I prefer the seamless model as well.

    And (I forgot to include this in the previous reply), I do think that many churches have song leaders merely out of tradition, even when they are really unnecessary. It drives me crazy when small churches of like 20 think they need to have someone up there waving his arms. It's just not necessary. A large church with lots of instruments? Maybe. A small church? Probably not.

  5. Scott,

    Do you think it is possible that the song-leader could direct the congregation in certain dynamics, such as holding a note or slowing down on an appropriate verse that seems to merit in its content slowing down? Or is this something talked over by the instrumentalists before the service?

    If the instrumentalists are actually leading the worship, and they are two females, does that violate a scriptural authority issue?

    Let's say that the hymn has a particular militancy to it that might be communicated with some staccato or at least separation between notes. Could that be led by the song leader? This isn't manipulating the people to sing, but it is leading them in the way to match the music with the content of the words.
    .-= Kent Brandenburg´s last post: Majoring on the Minors =-.

  6. Amen, Scott. What we often see in songleading are the leftovers of revivalism.

    I do think that songleading done well helps the congregation to sing the text more attentively, breathing in the right places for the sense of the text, for example.

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