Leading Worship With Joy, Part I: The Value of our Heritage

Leading music and worship in a local church setting serves as one of the most rewarding and the most challenging of all the roles in the church.  The worship leader/team seeks to lead people who live in a consumeristic society into the Throne Room of God by way of music.  The congregants who populate our consumeristic society bring their subjective tastes into the worship service whether we realize it or not.  In fact, the worship leader, no matter how objective he tries to be, brings his own subjective tastes as well.


Thus, the challenge. And what a challenge it is!  Everyone brings their ideas and their experiences into worship to where they walk out the church door thinking, “Wow, I really worshiped today!”–even if they cannot articulate what it is or why they worshiped well.  Was it the rhythm and instrumentation of the song?  Was it that they sang a favorite song from childhood that brought back some precious memories?  Was the gospel clearly proclaimed while riding on the vehicle of song?  At the risk of getting philosophical and analyzing something that many deem to personal to analyze, I believe we should take time to mine this out.

The Four Musical Lanes in Which Congregants Travel
When it comes to music used in worship services, you will find (at least) four musical lanes in which congregants travel:
  1. Those who can worship to anything, it doesn’t matter.  Ira Sankey and Fanny Crosby along with the Gettys and Chris Tomlin, I’m in like Flynn.  As long as it exalts Christ and encourages others, bring it on!
  2. Those who love newer music.  The instrumentation is key.  Piano and organ?  Soooo 1950s.  Synthesizer/keyboards?  Sooo 1980s.  How it sounds on the radio is how it should sound in worship.  We live in 2015, not 1515.  Not 1915.  Not even 1995. Or 2014, for that matter.
  3. Those who love classic hymns.  (No, I didn’t say ‘old’ hymns, I said ‘classic’–for a reason!).  “A Mighty Fortress,” “
  4. Those who would love for music to go away.  After all, wasn’t it Spurgeon who said that when Satan fell out of heaven, he landed in the choir loft?
Among these groups are subgroups, but identifying those are for another day.  The fact is that every person sitting in local church gatherings bring with them ideas and experiences about their expectations regarding said worship gathering.

A Worship Leader’s Conundrum

As someone who received a bachelor’s and master’s in church music (B.S., Palm Beach Atlantic University, 1994; M.C.M., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1997) as well as leading music ministries for over 10 before going into full-time lead pastoring, I remember well the conversations I would have with members of our congregation.  And you know what I remembered?

I never walked away from a Sunday with everyone in my choir, much less my congregation, completely happy with the music.  When I was first serving as a minister of music in a small church in Kentucky, I remember being very intentional to include every genre:  A Watts hymn, a Fanny Crosby hymn, a new chorus, and one other–this was 1995, so my memory fades.

It was at that point that I realized that everyone has their ‘lane’ when it comes to music and worship, and feel comfortable and ‘worshipful’ when the songs stay in that lane.  But what happens when we get out of that lane? Can we still worship?  

This question is quite tricky, because we’re talking about worshiping our risen Savior.  I don’t know if in the first generation of the church, when Paul told the Colossian church and the Ephesian church, “Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” that we had conflict over which one the congregants preferred.  “We sang the psalms last week–can’t we sing some more spiritual songs?”  “I like the hymns, for they are so New Testament.  Do we have to sing those old psalms?”  I’ll only understand it better by and by when we all get to heaven.

How Does Music Help Strengthen the Great Commandment? 

Simply put, when differing camps with differing preferences comes together in the body of Christ to worship, it shows the world that we can come together in unity to sing with each other, even if it doesn’t immediately minister to us.  That cannot happen outside the gospel.

Singing the ‘old’ songs.  Why? For instance, take times in our church when we sing what’s deemed an ‘old’ song.  Not ‘classic,’ mind you.  Old.  Antiquated words (with ‘thees’ and ‘thous’), biblical references not immediately clear when first sung, and an instrumentation that may not be the most modern.  Why, oh why, why, why would we sing that?

Granted, we live in Denver, so culturally, unless you’re from the South, that song won’t elicit any memories from the worshiper.  So unless that well is there, what good reason do you have sing it?  It has zero connectability with anyone outside the church, and even the younger generations may not know the song.

As my associate pastor and I were having our pastor’s meeting and hashing this out, I remembered from my music ministry days a reason I gave to sing the old songs: heritage.  Now, hear me out on this:

We sang “Marching to Zion” a couple Sundays ago.  That would be in the category of old/classic song–a song with a styling that you wouldn’t hear on K-Love, that’s for sure.  It has a boom/chunky feel to it that hearkens back to the days of yore.  We could tell that some did not care for this song.  How I would respond when these songs may come around every so often is this way:  think about the fact that Christians in generations past sang this song.  Not only sang it, they were encouraged by it.  If nothing else, we can hang our hat on this!

Look at the words:

Come, we that love the Lord, 
and let our joys be known; 
join in a song with sweet accord, 
join in a song with sweet accord 
and thus surround the throne, 
and thus surround the throne. 

2.Let those refuse to sing 
who never knew our God; 
but children of the heavenly King, 
but children of the heavenly King 
may speak their joys abroad, 
may speak their joys abroad. 

3.The hill of Zion yields 
a thousand sacred sweets 
before we reach the heavenly fields, 
before we reach the heavenly fields, 
or walk the golden streets, 
or walk the golden streets. 

4.Then let our songs abound, 
and every tear be dry; 
we’re marching through Emmanuel’s ground, 
we’re marching through Emmanuel’s ground, 
to fairer worlds on high, 
to fairer worlds on high. 

We’re marching to Zion, 
beautiful, beautiful Zion; 
we’re marching upward to Zion, 
the beautiful city of God. 

Now, dissecting this hymn (by the venerable Isaac Watts no less, 1674-1748), we do not use the phrase ‘sweet accord’ (v. 1), nor do we immediately understand the phrase in stanza 3, “The hill of Zion yields a thousand sacred sweets.”  “Immanuel’s ground” is another portion of this hymn that is not immediately understood.

But we do have enough in this hymn to hang our hat on, yes?  In stanza one, you see the invitation to come and love the Lord and let your joys be known.  When we sing together as a congregation, we surround the throne on our pilgrimage to Zion, the heavenly city!  In stanza two, if you’re not a believer, refuse to sing; but if you’re a Christian (“children of the Heavenly King”) speak it out!

I could go on.  Yet, do you see how, even when these older hymns are sung, they’ve been sung to different music for the last 300 years.  We are reminded that Christians have a heritage, a legacy, that dates all the way back to the time of Christ.  We are joining saints of the past in singing the same truth.  Even if you don’t like the music (and to be honest, I don’t always), you can hang your hat on the fact that you’re continuing a gospel legacy of singing truth.

Yes, But… But the time must come when we hold to the truth, but that doesn’t mean we always hold to the music that carries that truth.  Each tune, melody, and harmony were written for a time and place that fit that culture.  And this is what we shall address soon!


One thought on “Leading Worship With Joy, Part I: The Value of our Heritage

  1. Pingback: Leading Worship with Joy, Part 2: In Harmony with Christ and Culture | Lead With Joy — drmattperry.com

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