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A Tale of Two Song Leaders

About a year ago I posted a piece on leading congregational singing; I compared two conferences, one in which I was privileged to plan and lead the services, and another I had recently attended.

I made some somewhat controversial statements about what I observed in the leadership of that conference. My primary contention was that the underlying philosophy of the leader was a linkage between response of the affections and physical responsiveness, and that he did what he could to stimulate such physical responsiveness through how he lead the music, even though the music itself was technically conservative. Bottom line: In my opinion, he was targeting physical responses with his accompaniment and leadership style, assuming that such physical responses were integral to true worship.

I recently attended another large, national conference. In many ways the worship at this conference was much different than the conference from last year, but in some interesting ways I saw similarities.

There were similarities in the content, tone, and philosophy of [at least one day of] the preaching in both conferences.1 The content was the gospel, the tone was serious and reverent, and the philosophy was to exegete a passage of Scripture.

There were some differences in the kinds of congregational songs that were sung in each conference. At the conference I attended last year, all of the hymns were rich both in doctrine and tune. At the conference I recently attended, there was a mix between really rich hymns, mediocre sentiments, and moderately shallow jingles.

There was also difference in the place given to congregational singing. At last year’s conference, the time of singing was thoroughly planned, deliberate, and serious. At this year’s conference, the congregational singing was, at best, filler. The church choir of the host church sang some very well-prepared, excellently-performed, quality anthems, but the congregational singing did not seem to be very important.

What really fascinated me, however, in comparing the worship of the two conferences, was the paradoxical similarities and differences between the song leading of both conferences.

The similarity was that apparent evidences of manipulation were present in both conferences. Again, I am in no way judging the motives of the song leaders – I do not believe that they intended to manipulate. I believe that they sincerely intended to motivate. But, because of underlying philosophy, their methods of leading exemplified ways of manipulating the congregation to feel a certain way, and, in some cases, move a certain way.

What was different between the two leadership styles was what, exactly, the leaders were trying to motivate.

In last year’s conference, I truly believe that the leader was trying to motivate:

  • reverence
  • joy
  • sobriety
  • wonder
  • awe
  • sorrow
  • praise

In this year’s conference, based on the leader’s own comments (“This one should be fun…”) and his physical gymnastics (jumping around stage, shouting, waving his hands in eccentric patterns), I cannot help but assume that the leader was trying to motivate:

  • fun
  • excitement
  • enthusiasm
  • happiness
  • silliness
  • laughter
  • entertainment

I do not believe that it is the job of the song leader to manipulate or even to “motivate.” That is the job of the Holy Spirit.

However, if I’m going to be “motivated,” I’ll choose the first over the second any day.

At last year’s conference, I was guardedly concerned.

At this year’s conference, I was sickeningly disheartened.

My friends, we worship a holy, majestic, transcendent, awe-inspiring, creating, redeeming, atoning, just, righteous, forgiving, justifying, judging, caring Lord. He deserves better than worship characterized by hilarity, irreverence, silliness, joking, cheerleading, pep, and physical gimmicks.

He deserves worship characterized by reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28-29).

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.

  1. I say “at least one day” because only the three sermons of the second day of the conference I recently attended could be described this way. []

7 Responses to A Tale of Two Song Leaders

  1. Hey Scott,

    Not a regular reader, but I have come across your pages from time to time. I find it interesting the points that you made. I worked at a camp 6 years through HS and part of College. I led the "congregational" singing from time to time. Sometimes the camp director would ask me to "liven" things up a bit and often would border on the second list that you gave. This could probably be forgiven given the fact that it was camp, not church, kids, not adults and an evening during what would turn into or already was a long week. However, it was interesting to see him lead music. In just about every situation he leaned toward the latter list. That is just to give a personal example, but I see this creeping in all across the spectrum. Churches trying to "liven" up the worship. The problem I see with it is that their motivation is wrong. "Worship" music ceases to be Worship music instead it could be a concert or a rec hall.

    While I think the latter list isn't proper by itself I don't believe that the two are mutually exclusive (which I know you aren't saying that). I think the real desire would be to wed the two. Worship needs to be out of reverence but can be fun at the same time. The former list does not preclude the latter.

    Interesting quote here: " Bottom line: In my opinion, he was targeting physical responses with his accompaniment and leadership style, assuming that such physical responses were integral to true worship."
    Integral? maybe not. Wrong? no. Natural? should be. Music by nature is physical. The essence of it causes the listener to react in physical ways. That is why when teaching music you often do so through physical activities. Can worship happen without a physical response? Of course, but would it not be enhanced with a physical response?

  2. Mark,

    A few quick comments.

    First, I do not believe at all that worship should be "fun," at least in the common use of that term.

    Second, I also do not believe that music should target the physical. Sure, music is all about emotion and it is indeed physical, but not all emotion is created equal, and not all physical responses, or at least the way that they are engendered through music, is not created equal.

  3. Scott,

    I'm wondering if perhaps you could write a piece on where you consider the border between encouragement/exhortation (biblical and beneficial) and manipulation (unbiblical and sinful) to lie.

    Whilst our musical tastes may differ, we both object strongly to manipulation and I would never want to be associated with it. But, as you said in this article, sometimes people are manipulative without realising that this is what they are doing.

    I'd hope you'll be able to say something more than "pop-influenced music is manipulative" because hymns and traditional music can also be used in the same unhelpful manner.

    Also, on this note, I'm sure I saw a brief mention on this site about Rick Warren's "IMPACT" model being manipulative. I can't seem to find it again – can you point me in the right direction?

  4. Anastasis, I'm actually working on a larger writing project right now on that very topic. The bottom line would that any music (or methods) that specifically target a physical response are manipulative.

    I do remember a discussion of IMPACT somewhere, but I can't find it either.

  5. Isn't that interesting? I look forward to reading it in due course. I would say, though, that focussing on the physical isn't the only form of manipulation. Targetting an emotional response is probably far more common and equally wrong. I've often though that the hymn "Just as I am" is a classic example of this.

  6. But that's exactly my point. What does emotion mean? If it means some kind of "feeling," then that's physical and what I'm talking about. If it means a spiritual affection, you can not stir the affections too much.

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