A visit with a congregation brought reminiscences and many good thoughts. This group seemed alive, warm, and genuine. The speaking minister is a personal friend, and he is not only an exceptional communicator and good guy but also trustworthy in his chosen emphases. The expository style of his sermon was familiar, and his manner, engaging; the content was text-based (from Matthew’s gospel only), significant, and well handled.
Typically more critical of the singing and other participatory aspects of the assembly, I didn’t even have to make a concerted effort to be engaged and relatively content with those things last Sunday morning. The singing was led by a man with significantly above-average capability, and, while there were minor issues, it was easier for me to be involved with both heart and voice than in any church in several years. The choice of songs was intentional—and I judge this primarily by the lyrical content, but also, in this case, by the fact that three successive songs were in the same key, allowing for connected flow.
In the course of pondering church assemblies once again, I’d like now to share some of my dad’s thoughts, written some 5+ years ago. Dad had a lengthy history of leadership, and I think some background is helpful.
For a period of several years, at the express request of the group of elders, he was the sole leader of worship-in-song on Sunday mornings. No matter who had led at one time or another, Dad would take time to keep careful records of songs sung in the assembly. When he planned things himself, his thoughtfulness was apparent. As far as I know, he always had a good relationship with the minister of the day.¹ Whether his primary role at the given time was “song leader,” “worship leader,” deacon, or elder, he was never in a church that operated in a top-down, hierarchical fashion. As a result of his somewhat limited experience, I would say that he had a marvelously simple view of how things can be.
On the other hand, he could justifiably be accused of unilaterally moving along the lines of his own preferences (which happen to have been pretty much my own) as his leader-life progressed. While he made a point of seeking out and even developing new leaders in our church, he also kept some shallow influences and “lesser light” song leaders from leading on Sundays—or leading much at all. He often planned special devotional times—for instance, at Thanksgiving time or on Wednesday nights. He carefully chose effective oral readers and those who could more adeptly lead group prayer. Quality leadership and content were primary in his mind.
He was misunderstood and misjudged at times, but he also didn’t quite understand himself and how he was coming across to others. After his 2nd retirement, he was treated with passive (or even outright!) aggression to the point that he and my mom left the church in which they’d served, led, and participated in for 35 years. They resigned their roles and traveled weekly, more than an hour in two or three different directions, to be with different congregations (including, incidentally, this same church that I visited). This “visiting-Christians-at-large” phase continued for a year or two, until they moved south. One of the churches they frequented enjoyed a high-quality hymnal, and at least one leader who planned assembly sequences with depth of thought. A couple of years later, they moved south to the town in which they’d grown up.
Once ensconced again in the church there, they were mostly pleased, but there were new influences afoot. In general terms: Mom became part of things and was assimilated with some good effect, but Dad soon began to experience spiritual dissonance despite his general easygoing nature and his particular involvements. He was quite capable of planning deeply effective times of worship but was no longer very capable as a vocal leader. For whatever reason, likely including both his age and a perception that he was out of touch with current directions, Dad was overlooked. I think his disenfranchisement and discontent would far exceed what most people could understand, because he had given so much of his prior church life to observable leadership in the assembly. No longer was he called on to do that. There was a vacuum, a sore longing. Here, the resonance in me is deep and also painful at times.²
As Dad would observe and experience a new direction at the church, he would sometimes become spiritually perturbed and would take to his computer to write. Sometimes the missive stayed there; other times, it was shared with one or more elders or worship leaders. To my knowledge, no positive effect ever came from his consternations or communications. While this or that person would have understood and appreciated his feelings, Dad was from a different time, and new things were happening (sometimes intentional, sometimes happenstance), for better or worse. (I’d say mostly worse.) Progress, you know. Below are some questions Dad wrote at one point. In my estimation, he is on target in the essential challenges he raises.
SOME WORSHIP LEADERSHIP QUESTIONS
Gerald W. Casey, MA | 2016
- Why is it that many churches today have a committee to “plan the worship”?
- Do these committees . . .
- give topics to the preacher? Or does the church assume that he is capable of coming up with at least many of his own topics?
- give prayer leaders things to pray about? Or does the church assume that these leaders are capable of expressing the flock’s needs & ideas themselves?
- mandate passages of scripture for whoever reads scripture to the flock? Or does the church assume the readers know enough to select the passages they read?
- select the hymns for the song leader to lead? Or does the church assume that the song leader himself has lived a lifetime of being close to hymnody and is capable of selecting appropriate songs?
- provide those in charge of the Lord’s Supper the scripture references, ideas to include in “communion remarks,” etc.? Or does the church assume that those in charge of this part of what we do for “Lord’s Supper Time” are able to read suitable scriptures, make fitting remarks, etc.?
- Why is the Sunday night worship meeting considered a “junior” meeting?
- Why is the ” ” ” ” ” the best time for ill-prepared song leaders to lead?
- Why is the preacher often saddled with responsibilities just before the period of worship begins that call for him to be actively involved with things other than his concentration on what he is preparing to say as a spokesman for the Lord?
- Why are people who fail to pitch songs where they are written asked to lead singing?
- Why do some song leaders make comments that take 2 to 5 minutes away from congregational worship time?
- Which is more important to a congregation’s spiritual health—
- dividing a congregation’s songs into thirds: 1/3 of them from “classic” hymns, 1/3 from those written primarily from 1980-2014, and 1/3 from those written primarily in the first half of the 20th century?
- primarily using songs (between 50-60% of them) that directly or indirectly address God or Jesus in praise or petition along with songs (between 40-50% of them) that teach and admonish Christians?
- Which is more important to a congregation’s spiritual health—
- using songs that a congregation likes to sing?
- preaching sermons that a congregation likes to hear?
No matter the degree to which you judge my dad’s thoughts on target, I trust you’ll find them worthwhile to think about. In any event, they help me both to remember him and to “soldier on” in church assemblies.
¹ There were eight paid ministers and one unpaid in my parents’ 35-year Delaware experience: Wendell (brief time) Broom, Danny Boyd, Louis Green, Jerry Reynolds, Greg Fay, Roy Demonbreun, Jim Wilson, and Bill Williams.
² I, too, gave much of my spirit and heart and time and voice to congregational worship and edification—in Searcy as a college student, in Beaumont, for a short time in Chattanooga, back in Delaware for a dozen years, and beyond.