The Main Purpose of Congregational Worship
The main purpose of congregational worship is a joining together to exalt God and encourage one another.
Accordingly, the main purpose of leading congregational worship is congregational involvement.
Therefore, the main purpose of the band is congregational singing.
How should we approach congregational worship as a band?
If God is to be exalted, songs must declare him faithfully. Therefore our songs must have deep theological foundations. Songs must be God-centered, Word-centered songs. Our repertoire of songs should encompass all of God’s various attributes and all the Word’s various themes, the most central being the gospel.
Lyrics are to take predominance over instrumentation. The instrumentation is there to support the lyrics. Just like gospel proclamation takes predominance over gospel living, with gospel living there to support gospel proclamation. Dynamics should be utilized to heighten our understanding of the lyrics. Styles are slaves to the lyrics. We should always ask, does how we play this song or section help the congregation sing these lyrics with meaning and understanding? We want to hear the lyrics coming from their lips and we want them to hear the lyrics coming from each other’s lips.
- Public in Nature
Not every song—not even every good and biblical song—is suitable for congregational worship. The style and range of songs should be taken into consideration. Congregational song should be singable by the congregation as a whole, not just those who are musically inclined.
Corporate songs are played in a manner that promotes corporate singing. Wall-shaking, roof-lifting, band-driven worship is no substitute for the beauty of the human voice singing praise to God. Tempo is important as most congregants will be less likely to participate if a song seems slow and passionless, especially if there are long sustained notes. Slow sustains are great for performances, but not for congregational participation. Great congregational songs tend to be anthemic in their tempo.
Congregational singing is more than a crowd singing along to a band. It is singing dominated by the voices of the people—all of the people. The purpose of the band is to serve and facilitate, not perform and dominate. You know you are experiencing congregational worship when the voices of the people rise higher than the instruments and the lead worshippers. The role of vocalists in worship is to support congregational singing. This principle emphasizes the practical task of vocalists. The goal of vocal leadership is to promote and empower the full participation of the congregation as it sings.
- Simple in Form
Simple accompaniment is often harder to produce, but affirms points one and two. Complex melodies and rhythms isolate the singing to only the musically inclined. The band can best facilitate congregational singing by leaving space for the congregation to sing. The instruments and lead worshippers needed to humbly turn down their skills to better serve the band’s main purpose of why their playing and leading: congregational singing. Supporting congregational singing involves musicianship and hospitality. Vocalists are practiced musicians; they strive for an excellent sound. But vocalists also invite the participation of all (musicians & non-musicians alike) and avoid technique that might hinder congregational singing.
Simple accompaniment helps to keep focus. Too much of any instrument or lead worshipper draws the attention to that thing and away from the band’s main purpose: congregational singing. It also draws the congregation away from their main purpose: worship God through singing.
- Reverent in Attitude
Demeanor communicates a view of God and worship. Our actions on the platform, both when we are playing and when we are not playing communicates to the congregation. We must always be on guard to give proper reverence to the service time devoted to God and his people. Corporate worship is not a gig we are playing, but a solemn responsibility and trust of care for God’s people. In the past, God has dealt severely with those who took the care of his people lightly. We must pay careful attention to how we are caring for God people in our demeanor.
Demeanor while leading should reflect demeanor while following. Shouldn’t someone’s behavior on Sunday reflect their behavior on Monday and vice versa? Otherwise we would see their behavior as disingenuous. The same is true if the congregation observes us worshipping differently on stage as we would in the pew. Genuine worship is consistent on or off the platform and cannot be “kicked up a notch” to lead.
- Engaging the Intellect, Emotions, and Will
Declarations are a part of worship, not the end of worship. Engaging only the intellect by itself leads to passionless, dead worship. If we just go through the motions of worship, we endanger the congregation. We must prepare our own hearts to respond to God’s truth with proper spiritual affections.
Feelings are a part of worship, not the end of worship. Engaging only the emotions by itself leads to meaningless, sensual worship. If we just have passion not anchored in the truth, we endanger the congregation. We must anchor ourselves in the truths we are singing/playing so that we have true spiritual affections.
Worship necessitates the participation of our will. We must willingly choose to engage the truth with the aim of true and proper spiritual affections. We cannot come to church on autopilot and think the songs will magically change us as we sing and play them. We will be ineffective in our leading if we have not engaged our will in the truth and pursued the proper affections.