Not long ago, I wrote an article called The Singing Church in which I proposed the idea of looking at our roles as worship leaders through the analogy of a choir director rather than that of a performer. I would like to expand a little on that idea as I think there is much more to be said on this principal of servant leadership from the platform that many of us have been given.
Several years ago while I was in college I had the privilege for a short period of time of attending a church near Los Angeles called Christian Assembly. The worship leader there was (and still is) none other than the legendary Tommy Walker.
Anyone familiar with Tommy’s music will undoubtedly know that not only is he an incredibly skilled musician and vocalist but also a gifted songwriter. However, it was neither of these attributes that attracted me to his church. While the music was always played to a level of excellence far and above anything I had ever experienced in a church setting before, what really stunned me when I first visited the church was the way that everyone that attended the service sang!
It was apparent that not only did the congregation love to sing, but they were enthusiastic and totally engaged in their expression of worship. I have visited many churches over the years and have found a wide spectrum of involvement during worship. For example, churches that come from a charismatic tradition typically tend to have congregations that participate in worship music in more expressive ways than people from other traditions and backgrounds. This is not, however, what I believe led to what I observed in the people at Christian Assembly.
I truly believe the difference that I saw there in the people’s response and participation in singing had much more to do with the way they were being led. In fact, Tommy Walker’s unique way of teaching his songs to his church was, in a way, his most effective form of connection with the congregation and it resulted in a church full of singers. Whether or not these people had ever sung before in a different context, it was hard not to feel drawn in to participate in the celebration through singing when you showed up at C.A.
Through the years I have thought a lot about what I experienced during that time in my life and it has led me to an interesting conclusion. I truly believe that a self-identified “non-singer” can find himself or herself drawn into a state of uninhibited singing under the right set of circumstances much like a person who is on the shy side can be uncharacteristically “passionate” at a football game if they are a fan.
The key for me is the idea of teaching singing rather than simply modeling it. This is not always an easy thing to do and may feel a bit awkward or unnatural at first. I’d like to suggest, though, that in many ways it can go a long way toward involving those in our churches that do not have the confidence to sing out when they take their seats and are immediately in spectator mode as the music begins and seamlessly flows from song to song. I have been guilty of leading worship this way many times in the name of preserving the mood of worship.
When was the last time you took a moment during a worship set to stop to engage your congregation and sing through a newer chorus or a line in a song? While this type of thing might seem counterintuitive to many of us who like smooth transitions, I have seen it do wonders in giving people the confidence to sing. It could just be that when it comes to singing in church, there may be more that can be taught rather than caught.
Regardless of how well your congregation sings today, I think it’s important to remember that our first calling as worship leaders is always to direct the praise of our people toward Christ. As servant leaders in our church bodies, I would encourage all of us to use whatever means necessary to make sure that is always our primary goal.
Eric Heinrichs is a worship leader in Southern California. For more information or to connect with him please visit worshiptones.org.