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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).

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies 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. []