Tuesday, 7 August 2012

New songs in worship

Recently, my church went through a few questions about new songs in worship. This caused me to think a few things about new songs which I hope may encourage and get people thinking! 

The questions include: how many to introduce, why do we do it, do we even do it, what makes a song a 'new' song, how to do it, how to choose songs, whether different worship leaders agree to play the new songs or are involved in their choosing, do the church leadership team have any say?

So let's have a quick look...

For me, it's well worth introducing new songs (and I say this as part of a very informal charismatic church). God is always on the move and the Holy Spirit is saying new things all the time, so we need to follow his leading. There is a danger of introducing too many new songs, but  I believe a greater 'danger' is not introducing new songs at all!

New songs can inspire, uplift and it also keeps us musically 'fresh'. This isn't about keeping up with secular music or doing it for the sake of it. But we must recognise that music changes (although quality is timeless!) and one reason to look out for new songs and styles is to keep connecting with young people. For example, one of our young people is very into 'finger tapping' and harmonics / guitar drumming. So we considered how we could implement this (and how we could learn from this young person). Why? Because this inspires him for God and so we want to channel his passion as this passion will infect and then encourage others in the church!

So how should we introduce new songs? Well, we had an informal 'rule' that when a worship leader introduced a new song, the person who led the following week would also play the same song. Of course, this impacted on the 'week two' worship leader's choice of songs (and didn't always work as leaders have different styles!) so it's quite tricky. It would also mean (ideally) that the 'week one' and 'week two' worship leaders would have to almost collaborate on their choice of songs to some extent. So we also started asking worship leaders which songs they'd like to introduce and then share them with all the worship leaders. Trouble was, some more independent minded ones simply didn't contribute to the discussion, or people felt differently as God leads each of us uniquely. In the end it came down to an honour system where we simply trusted each other. This meant sometimes too many new songs and sometimes none!

Another issue we found was that new songs depended on the musical history of a worship leader / their physical age / the time (eg 'late 90s') when they felt most worshipful or had time to learn the most songs etc (eg before they had children). So sometimes we found that 'new' songs were being introduced that weren't actually recent. Instead they were simply ones that the worship leader knew, but that the church didn't know. On one occasion this led to a worship leader stopping playing a song after a few bars. (Ironically this honesty actually lifted the worship!!)

These 'new but not recent' songs aren't a problem however. When choosing songs there are so many things to think about such as which songs the church knows well etc. But one of the things to think about is allowing the worship leader to use the songs that God is really speaking to them, as again this passion spills out into the church. The proviso here is that as a worship leader (emphasis on leader), you are not leading yourself, but the church. So you need to think about whether the songs you choose are God's leading for the church, not for you personally. I know one worship leader who clearly hears God, but I feel this is for him personally and not the church. Therefore the songs chosen and new songs brought rarely touch the spirits of people in the church!

So how do we choose songs? This is always really tricky and of course involves things like how catchy the tune is; how easy the song is to sing; Biblically accurate (in word and/or in spirit); whether the song will connect with a congregation; whether the song will connect with your individual church or situation; how the Holy Spirit is leading you; what God is speaking at that time; which songs are around; and basically how 'annointed' the song is! For example "10,000 Reasons" by Matt Redman is clearly an annointed song and so was one I immediately introduced. But each church will have its way of choosing new songs.

One thing I would caution against is over-meddling in songs from the leadership team. I am very cautious about churches where leadership teams or leaders exercise too much control. Yes, we must honour God and the church in our song choices; yes, we must be accountable to authority. But I've known at least two churches (one over-charismatic one and one baptist one) where the leader wanted a controlling say in what songs were sung and introduced. If people are put into positions of leadership and are Godly (as worship leaders for example), we must trust them enough to allow them the authority to lead in the position they've been appointed to!

And where do we look for new songs? Well, personally I look around as much as possible. Firstly, because new songs really move and inspire me as I watch people's passion and hear what God is saying through them. I see God as someone who is always moving forward. We don't reject the 'old' in any way. But let's face it, many songs we sing have had their day. Some are for a season only. Others will last for an eternity. But we must keep our eyes to the ground. I look at what iHop KC are doing (online and have been over twice); Bethel and Jesus Culture; Matt Redman; Chris Tomlin; Tim Hughes and the Worship Central guys; Rend Collective; Gungor and way beyond into other Christian bands and genres. I also ask young people what they are listening to and we talk as worship leaders (well, some of us do LOL!) But it's worth listening, spending time in worship personally and of course, the huge area of new songs... Writing your own.

In the last 2 years myself and my friend have written a number of songs that God has just given us. We haven't always sought to write, but God has just opened up a number of songs in a kind of 'throne room' style with very 'flowing' music! It's something that God has opened up and led us into so it's clearly something he's given. But it's exciting to be part of what God is doing and use these songs when appropriate. I'd encourage you to follow God's leading and sensitively see which songs God is giving to you and to others in your church.

So what songs do you introduce, what are you listening to and do you have any helpful comments?

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