Christian Praise And Worship Songs
Having been a worship leader for many years, and trained numerous people in how to conduct various forms and styles of worship, I decided that it would be a good idea to produce some sort of publicly and easily available source on praise and worship songs, both using, and choosing which ones were appropriate and, more importantly, why.
I am currently a worship leader, a musician, I have established 5 church bands in different churches in the last twenty years, and have taught guitar, worship style piano, bass guitar and vocals to many of them. I have songs published on mainstream UK cds, and they are played in churches. And I am a trainee minister. Please forgive the establishment of my personal credentials, for some people it is important. This isn’t supposed to be the definitive guide to Christian praise and worship songs, if it were then I would make it a book and charge money for it! Rather I hope over a few hubpages to be able to introduce the subject and open up this area for others by avoiding information you don’t need, and focussing on that which a worship leader will need. I offer it humbly, as is appropriate to the worshipping of God.
A definition of praise and worship
Before we get into the purpose and use of songs, it is worth defining praise and worship. Someone, I forget who, said that to praise someone you can do so mutually, and that they are on the same level. So I can praise someone for achieving something, and they can do the same for me. Worship is something else entirely, since it expects that the one who is being worshipped is on a higher ‘level’ than the one doing the worshipping, and that the one who is the subject of the worship cannot ‘reciprocally worship’, so to speak.
In which case let’s clear something up now: praise does not mean that the choice of songs is all bouncy, and that worship songs are quiet and reflective. Getting the terminology correct is important!
We can happily sing praises to God, saying how great he is, and commending him for his works. This is praise. We can also use words that combine with music which stirs the emotions and our thoughts to greater acts of service, and indeed reverence, to God, and this is worship. Both can be boisterous or quiet, it depends on what you are trying to achieve.
Mood and music in songs of praise and worship
So is it right that one should use certain types of emotion stirring music? Music is, in the same way as words, greater than the sum of its parts. We don’t quite know what music works in the way it does to stir emotions but it does. Perhaps it is that music connects with parts of our brain which record feelings and times. Perhaps the rhythm connects with some deep seated empathy we have for such things. Whatever, we are unable to really prove any point. What we DO know is that music certainly has a power to it, and it ignore it we run many dangers; to abuse it is foolhardy since it takes our eyes off of the God we worship; and to avoid it we are missing out on something so wonderful it goes beyond words.
Music is around us continually from lift music to radios. It is right that we should sometimes have silence and certain of the Christian mystics believed that worship was best done in silence. For me, well created words and a powerful melody stir my heart to respond to God, and stir me into action for the times I am without fellowship.
So what is the right way of using music? First we should consider the purpose of music, besides it’s ability to stir, and moreover worship.
Purpose of worship
God deserves our praise, and more so our worship. It is a simple fact. But he doesn’t deserve it only when we are together. When the local body of Christ meets it is important, and a special time. What God REALLY wants though is for our worship to continue in our daily lives. By this we offer him Romans 12 worship every day. That means that the worship we perform together on a Sunday which is the public expression of our love for God should serve another purpose, and that is to make sure that we are able to perform right living and right belief (called ortho-praxis and ortho-doxy) at other times. Thus, the type of music, and particularly when it comes to contemporary praise and worship songs, needs to reflect these purposes as well as give worship to God, provide corporate encouragement, and help the church to understand who it is.
For that reason, it makes it quite hard to sing songs that actually are better off performed than used as a corporate karaoke. I have a few of these CDs for personal listening and they are excellent for personal times with God, but they are unsuitable for use with others. They might have hard rhythms, or tunes. They might have to wide a vocal range or have difficult concepts. The songs might even sound really good until you pick apart what they are saying and you begin to realise what they are saying is precisely nothing.
Songs of worship which inspire living for the glory of God are not those which are best sung by experience professional performers, but rather can be sung by a group of people who have no particular skills and, in fact, find the whole idea of singing together slightly unnerving. Perhaps this is why the songs that were used before the vicotorians were played by the local men, who usually played in the taverns, and came to church only to be the band. When people say they want to get back to tradition often they mean the organ: actually tradition is folk tunes and a wassailing band from the local tavern! (bring it on!!!)
How to you go about using popular praise and worship songs?
So long as they have fulfilled the above, then I suggest a very simple pattern.
- Imagine walking out of a busy street into the outer courts of God’s temple. Here there is a lot of activity, but it is focussed around God.
- Next you move into an area which helps you to focus actually on the purpose you have arrived. It will be clear about what you are there for – the worship of God.
- You come to a place where you can be purified. Taking time for reflection.
- You come into the presence of God to offer thanks and worship. You are inspired.
- You being the journey outwards, moving back into daily life but now you are, so to speak, taking God with you, and your thoughts and memories of the encounter.
Now, no matter what the format of the service, you can use this order of song intensity along the same lines. Songs that are more ‘fun’ and easier to sing are early on, moving into quieter material as you progress through the worship, until finally you encounter songs which teach you about God and how, as community, we should worship God together in our daily lives. We then move back out to songs of celebration.
Around this compiled list of praise and worship songs you then insert prayer, liturgy, talks and sermons. Depending on your churchmanship you can link songs together into sections, or sing one song at a time. Personal preference as well as how you congregation respond is important. Don’t expect a traditional congregation to take well to a block of songs, a sermon, a few prayers, then another block of worship!
But it’s not just the format that matters.
Should you have a live band, or use a cd, or even video projector?
Live bands are great and have a flexibility that can respond to how God’s spirit is moving. However, it can be confusing. My 8 year old son hates singing church songs, and yet he listens to them on his own MP3 player and sings along. I asked him why. he said that it was because he knew what was coming next on the recorded music, but was never sure in church, so he just switches off because he can’t follow it! Perhaps other feel the same?
Of course, using a band may be impractical in the confines of a home church or home bible study group. And although here I have discussed in the main praise and worship in terms of music, remember that there are lots of other ways of focussing on God which will give us some sense of what it is to live his ways.
Finally we come to the whole issue of
...choosing, buying and learning popular praise and worship songs
If you are going ahead with some sort of band led public act of worship, then you may be the person who is asked to choose. So long as style and purpose criteria are satisfied the next big hurdle is this: can you actually play it? That is shortly followed by asking if there is music readily available. Thankfully, a quick search online using a song title in front of the word ‘guitar tabs’ will put you on the right track. Do bear in mind though that many modern songs require a full band and it may be just beyond your capabilities at the moment. I suggest that the best way if you are starting out is to learn some really easy stuff that doesn’t require to much musicianship, but then month by month stretch yourself, working out some of those complicated riffs and the like. Again though, keep music simple and remember that you are not their to perform, but rather their to help the congregation to be able to enter into worship of God. You should be forgettable, and that takes practice.
So where can you learn what songs are available, and indeed, the old question, ‘how does such and such Christian praise and worship song go’? I hate to say it, because the truth of it is illegal, but YouTube is perhaps the best source. So many people like to play the popular songs and then upload their efforts it is relatively easy to find. If I have a new band that I am trying to teach new music to I will track down the tab sheets, and the lyrics, then send links to these and youtube clips for people to follow along to at home. Please note however, when we use a song we complete the relevant forms to make sure that artist is paid; and if we can we then track down the authorised and published materials if we find that the song is suitable. Unfortunately sometimes we only know if a song will ‘work’ when we have used it.
The other solution I suggest is to log on with an online radio station, such as that provided by Richie Gardiner at Amplifi Radio (http://amplifiradio.com/). I regularly tune in simply because the music Richie has playing around the clock I can access on my iPod, and it is in the main a very good selection of new contemporary Christian praise and worship songs. I listen while I am working and write down any songs that are played that are going to be worth my while checking out.
Praise and worship songs should:
- Not be performance
- Be corporate
- Be programmed into the service as befits the overall theme as well as the moment in the service
- Be appropriate to the congregation
- Be learnt, stretching the band slowly
- Be easy to learn and pick up
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