Using Praise Songs in the Assembly

So far this week, we’ve been talking about praise songs, sometimes pejoratively referred to as “7-11” songs. We’ve looked at why these songs may not be as bad as we think they are (and what can make them better), and two things that they do well (perhaps better than more traditional songs). Now, I want to look at practical ways we can use them in the assembly for maximum benefit.

Before we proceed, I want to establish two things. Once again, by “praise song,” I mean any song with a limited number of unique words/thoughts, optionally repeated a number of times. In some cases, there may be multiple verses, but either each verse follows this basic idea (such as “God Is So Good”) or each verse is the same with only one or two key words changed throughout (such as “Glorify Your Name” or “In My Life, Lord, Be Glorified”). This even incorporates songs like “Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow” (which should raise the question of what it is we’re really taking issue with)

The second thing is that I am generally assuming that singing is congregational a capella, i.e., without a praise team, soloist or accompaniment. I don’t know how much practical difference that makes, but there you have it.

A Call to Worship

Many congregations begin the worship assembly with a musical “call to worship,” an opening song intended in some way to bring people’s focus to the purpose for assembling: the worship of God. I don’t know that the primary purpose is to teach as much as it is to get everyone on the same spiritual and mental page. Much like “ice breakers” in business meetings or warm-up activities in the classroom or gym, this is our spiritual warm-up activity: serving some spiritual benefit on its own, but also preparing us for what is to come.

The song, “In My Life, Lord, Be Glorified,” presents a progressive series of simple thoughts that draw us to worshiping God in every aspect of life, but particularly in our worship. This song also has the benefit of a limited vocal range, ideal for warming up voices on Sunday morning. While somewhat moving out of the realm of the praise song, “We Will Glorify” is another common call to worship that serves this purpose.

An Introductory Statement

A growing number of song leaders are basing their song selections on some overall theme. Usually, it’s whatever the sermon happens to be, but occasionally it’s a theme of the leader’s own devising. Certainly, an easy way of making the the theme known is just to announce it, but a tone can be set particularly by a song that expresses the theme in a clear, simple way.

I realize that there are a wide range of themes that don’t have a corresponding short, simple verse that encapsulates the idea. However, there is one thing that praise songs (almost by definition) seem to be fairly good at doing: making things about God. If there is one that tangentially relates to the theme that can connect that theme to God, we can be reminded why it is that we care about whatever it is, as people who are trying to follow after God.

A Summary Statement

Just as summaries are good at the beginning to set the tone, they are good at the end to influence what people take home with them. How often do you find yourself humming the closing song, after the assembly is over (perhaps even hours later)? By selecting a simple, memorable song to deliver the main theme (and again, relate it back to God), we can help people remember the message long after the lights are off and the doors locked.

A Counterpoint to More Detailed Songs

Here’s a reality of people these days: many have problems engaging at a really deep, intellectual level for an extended period of time. So while there may be a desire to throw one really intense song after another to maximize the content value of our musical worship, just as many advocate varying key, time signature and tempo to keep people engaged musically, perhaps we need to vary deep and shallow to keep people engaged mentally. Of the two, I’m far more concerned with mental engagement.

A worship assembly is much like a multi-course meal (and since we want to feast on the pure milk of the word, it’s an appropriate metaphor). Interjecting something of more direct, perhaps less sophisticated spiritual content that doesn’t require as much mental engagement cleanses the mental palate so that it can take in the next course, i.e., the next song. If every song is loaded with the rich flavors of scripturally-saturated lyrics, it becomes harder to appreciate each idea.

Conclusion

Throughout all three posts, I have tried to advance the idea that there is a balance to be struck between the scripturally-loaded “hymn” and the praise song that generally presents a single spiritual idea. I don’t think a diet consisting entirely of one or the other is necessarily optimal, though I realize that because of our background and other factors, we may be inclined toward one extreme or the other. We are blessed in this day to have a wide spectrum and ever-growing corpus of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs that can be used in the service of the Almighty. By thoughtful use of that spectrum, we can increase the potential of our musical worship and provide opportunities for those worshiping to let Christ’s word dwell in them richly, to teach and admonish one another, and to give thanks to God. That’s our goal, after all, isn’t it?

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