In this article we are going to address some questions that people have raised in regards to our worship times. As the questions are quite specific its possible they may seem trite to some and irrelevant to others. In that case I write to stir your thoughts on subjects that you may have to address one day. I want to provoke you to think Biblically and practically about why we do the things that we do in our musical worship times. These are my opinions on these issues and if you disagree I’d love to hear your viewpoint. Enjoy!
Q. 1: Should we dim the lights?
At the risk of sounding “hyper-spiritual”, I think that whenever the question is raised as to whether a believer should do this or that, the answer can only come by the voice of God to your conscience. That being said, I believe as Oswald Chambers used to tell his students: “God has given you intelligence. Use it…” Meaning, it’s up to you what you do during your service. In our church I dim the lights during the musical worship times for three reasons: to focus attention to where the lights are brighter (on stage, the screen that has the words). Also, we do it to encourage contemplation and meditation. When one physical sense is limited the others are usually heightened. When it’s darker in the room I feel that I’m drawn more into contemplation and quietness. There may be a greater ability to sit quietly and meditate on what we are singing and doing there. Biblically, in the Tabernacle and the Temple, the Most Holy place was a dark room. I can’t see myself, I can’t look around, I smell the incense, I see the faint light from the candlesticks, and I worship. Finally, in a small way by dimming the lights we mimic the dawn and dusk, two times of the day when (for me at least) it’s a little bit easier to enter into concentration on God.
Q. 2: How loud should the band be?
My thought “philosophically” on this point is this: I like a loud band, where I can feel the bass and just stand there and let it rip! For me it’s easier to get into the music if it’s all I can hear. It consumes and pushes anything else out. God commands us to praise with a loud noise so let’s kill it! Now the practical, you really have to play to your room. In our church we play in a smaller room and playing “semi-unplugged” (cajon, bass, acoustic guitar) will really fill the room. Next, it depends on your church’s ears. Maybe there are people in my church who can’t take music as loud as I’d like it to be. Maybe my pastor has given me some definition on how loud or soft he’d like the band to be. If the church is made up of musicians who want that volume I’ll give it to them. If the church isn’t 90% musicians but a mix of working class, elderly, kids, I want to play to their capacity. If the volume issue is distracting them from worship then I need to fix that. Lastly, you are the leader. If you think you need more volume go for it. But, be sensitive to God and your people to see if that change is complementing their worship or complicating it.
Q. 3: Who gets to decide what songs we sing?
In our band here I look for input from all our members. I realize church bands can be a little unique in this aspect: we are probably a group of people whose musical tastes differ extremely. But if I have made the decision to submit myself and my ability to the church and my band leader then my taste in music is also submitted. Just as in any other aspect of spiritual life, a thing can only really live once it has gone through a type of death. I remember playing bass for a concert and in rehearsal one song really aggravated me. It was over played on radio and in church and, in my opinion, I had never heard it done well. So, what did I do? I just played the bass line with no feeling and a little flippant. After rehearsal I was complaining to one of my friends in the band about it. I hope I never forget that moment. He didn’t say anything magical, but he impressed upon me the truth that this was our song, make it your own, don’t waste that bass line. If I had been the leader I probably wouldn’t have chosen that song, I wouldn’t have had that conversation, and my mindset on how to play my instrument would have stayed stagnant and limited to my own temperament.
Q. 4: How do you craft a set list?
Our set lists are written every Friday when I come to the church alone, pick up my guitar and play for at least an hour. I sing and think about the songs. I think about our week ahead, all three services. I think about our singers, about new songs, I try to set up our band for that first Sunday rehearsal. I text everyone the set lists and any other songs I may want to work on. I print lyric sheets as well as chord charts if needed. Once everyone arrives at our rehearsal I expect everyone to be on the same page but if anyone has concerns or suggestions I try to create a culture of open dialogue. Something I try to keep in mind is that our set list is never set in stone. After all, worship is relational. We may cut it short or add songs or parts of songs that weren’t in our set. We may have a set of 4 songs but I may stretch it out over 30 minutes. I am singing and playing chords and there is structure but I am also closing my eyes and seeking God’s mood for that moment.
Q. 5: Hymns or Hip hop?
I was in a meeting with pastors and leaders when someone asked this question. He said the young people in the church wanted a change. What should he do? I told him of my experience as a young teen, in the church band with my buddies, not knowing the first thing about worship and wanting to try all kinds of different things musically. But, we were led by our worship leader who was also our youth pastor and covered by the pastor of the church. My first thought here is that you, as the worship leader or pastor, you know where you want to head musically and you know what worship is. Lead those young people. Lead them gently. Give them freedom. Maybe start in the youth meeting or one service a month by letting them pick the songs and arrange the music and do it themselves with you right there as their covering and leader. Teach them about worship and the attitude we take into the worship set deeper than the music. Don’t condemn them for the music they listen to, they will still listen to it in hiding. Have them bring their musical influence to the table and see if you can incorporate that into their worship set.
Now, I’m not big into hip hop. I like the idea of experimenting with electronic beats in worship and maybe one day I will. But, I do think that if I start a church in Jamaica I’m playing reggae worship. If I have a church in rural Texas I may find myself playing a lot of country worship music. One man who pastors a group of bikers said: “What do think we play for worship in our meetings? Harps and stuff?!?” So if hip hop speaks to my youth group I’m gonna find the best Christian hip hop artist and we’re gonna learn his stuff and worship!
Q. 6: Should we pay our band?
That is really between your pastor and your financial team. As far as I can tell Biblically we do have support for employing our musicians. All through 1st and 2nd Chronicles are references to men doing the work day and night and being employed in this work (1 Chron. 9.33, 15.22, 15.16; 2 Chron. 34.12). Also, in principle, we can lean on Paul’s writings referring to those in ministry being supported by the ministry, as well as the fact that many of these musicians we called from the Levites who were supported in their livelihood by the other tribes.
That being said, I am also in favor of volunteer band members. I think there is something important to be learned from giving up something to serve my local church and follow God in a ministry He’s called me to.
Q. 7: Dancing or no dancing?
Again, I think here there is Biblical support for dancing in worship. We probably all just thought of David dancing in his underwear before the Ark of God. But if you want to dance go ahead. I would only caution that it may be more of a distraction in a corporate setting for some churches while in other churches it is encouraged. Personally I don’t dance because I think in our church it would distract from worship, but neither do I stand stock still. It’s music, move a little.