Have you ever heard your favorite worship song get butchered during a worship service? You have to assume that the person doing the butchering isn’t purposely trying to wound your soul.
But you’re still more than a little tempted to go “Kanye” the mic from them.
A poorly executed worship song during worship isn’t just a painful listening experience for the worshiper. It’s poor stewardship.
Dan Wilt says this about worship songs:
“Songs are a place we go to meet with God. Songs are more than melodies and words; they are places where we speak to God, and God speaks to us.”
So if we’re leading worship songs, it stands to reason that we serve people by making each song the best “place” it can be.
It’s humbling to think about: with each song we lead, we’re stewards of a potentially life-changing experience. We have the ability to encourage it or kill it. So let’s talk about the ways we might be “killing” our worship songs.
1. Wing It
As musically competent worship leaders, we too often believe we’re good enough to just “wing it”. That is, we just make up our part as we go. But good stewards take the time to prepare and invest.
2. Rush It/Drag It
Tempo issues affect everyone. The leader goes into “foot-stomping” mode to try to get the team back on. The band and vocalists can’t worship while they’re attempting to figure out who to sync up with. And the congregation, whether they realize it’s a tempo issue or not, knows something isn’t right.
3. Flatline It
You can get the lyrics, notes and rhythms right but still kill a song. How? By failing to use dynamics.
Dynamics in music are like mountains and valleys on a hike. I grew up in Iowa. Hiking in a cornfield—not interesting. Hiking along the bluffs of the Mississippi River—amazing. Use dynamics.
4. Over Sing it/Over Play It
Overplaying a worship song is like overcooking a steak—it doesn’t necessarily render it inedible, but it might as well be.
Overplaying instruments and voices step all over each other. The melody gets lost. Dynamics get forgotten. And the sound tech is expected to make this hot mess sound like Spotify.
5. Over-Embellish It
On most worship recordings, the artist will embellish the melody to make the song more dynamic as it builds to the end. But when the worship leaders in my church do those same embellishments, many people stop singing.
To fix that, we don’t NOT do those embellished parts. We just make sure another vocalist is prominent on the melody.
6. Over-Repeat It
I’m all for lengthening some of the “radio mixes” of worship songs. Those arrangements are great for listening, but, for live worship, the song requires more space for people to engage.
However, we have to be careful that we don’t overstay our welcome by dragging out the song too long. Over-repeating the song can cause people to move from worshiping with wonder to wondering when it’ll be over.
7. Over/Under Rotate It
If a song kills (in a good way), our tendency is to do it again. And soon. Our best songs fall victim to over-familiarity because we rotate them into our worship services too frequently.
The flip side can also happen: a great song can fall flat because we don’t rotate it enough. There’s an art to planning songs in a way that keeps them fresh but still familiar.
If you want to learn more about that, you can check out my book The SongCycle: How Simplify Worship Planning And Re-Engage Your Congregation on Amazon.
So the bottomline here is this: How you play or sing your songs as an individual musician and as a team MATTERS. Spend time investing so you can play lead the song confidently. That will help engage your congregation.
(A version of this article first appeared in Worship Musician Magazine’s March/April 2016 Issue.)