Recently, a couple of different people have posted an article entitled, “6 Reasons We Don’t Need Song Leaders in Worship.” As frequently happens when I read this sort of article, I felt irritated. This type of argument generally comes from someone who has seen some abuses and therefore wants to do away with the whole idea.
So, allow me a few moments to respond to each of the six reasons.
1. It leads people toward music consumption, rather than participation.
This is the proverbial, “Throw the baby out with the bathwater” statement. Of course that’s a possibility, but it’s not inherent in song leaders. I have been in churches where there is no song leader and the participation was dismal. On the other hand, I have been in the midst of a congregation with a gifted song leader, where nearly every person in attendance participated fully and with passion. Having a song leader clearly does not negate participation.
2. Amplification suppresses congregational singing.
As with the first one, there can be some dimension of truth here. But I would suggest that it is over-amplification that suppresses congregational singing. Amplification simply allows for better hearing of what is being said and sung, and for the music to be heard.
Later in the article he mentions his bent toward the pipe organ as the preferred instrument. Face it, an acoustic guitar – or unamplified bass or keyboard – can’t match the volume of a pipe organ without amplification. Amplification is simply a tool to allow the instruments to be heard. In that sense, then, proper amplification actually encourages congregational singing.
3. The organ is a better leader.
The writer says that many “will say this is simply my own opinion.” Yup. It is.
“The instrument itself is unequaled in its ability to enable good congregational singing. The organ can sustain pitches without decay, leading through the phrases, drawing the song out of the congregation.” Exactly how does sustaining pitch without decay draw the song out of the congregation? That idea makes for a nice sound-bite argument but has no basis in actual facts. Again, I’ve been in services where the pipe organ is used and there is little participation. The instrument does not automatically increase participation. In fact, I would suggest it has more to do with the instrumentalist(s) than the specific instrument.
“An organ that is well voiced and sized for the room will emphasize the lower and upper partials in the tone, while leaving room in the middle for the human voices to fit in.” A trained, well-rehearsed contemporary band can do that just as well. Maybe better because there is more variety in the potential sounds.
No, the organ is not somehow the superior musical instrument.
4. Singers with microphones tend to talk.
And that’s bad because…? Yes, some mess up on occasion. Sometimes worship leaders say things they likely shouldn’t. But so do pastors. Do we then, based on this argument, throw out all pastors, too?
I couldn’t even begin to count the number of times that a song leader has shared a section of Scripture or said something that was exactly what I – and many others – needed to hear, before launching into a song. It made the song more meaningful and therefore encouraged participation. And somehow this author thinks that’s a bad idea. Personally, I think it’s a really, really good idea.
5. The song leader often becomes a showcase for ego and personality.
I’m not quite sure how this writer determined the “often” in that sentence. Replace that word with “can”, and I would totally agree. But, again, the same thing can happen with pastors. I’ve seen it. Too many times. So, based on this argument, we would need to throw out the office of pastor, because it could lead to someone becoming prideful.
But the fact is that as I have traveled and met with and observed literally hundreds of worship leaders, the vast majority of them are humble people who simply want to serve God.
Can the song leader role potentially become a showcase for ego and personality? Of course. Does that happen “often”? Not in my experience. But even if it did, that’s not an argument for doing away with the role. That only would mean that better discipleship is necessary.
6. The traditional music of the church practically sings itself.
What does that sentence even mean? The author has spent paragraph after paragraph talking about the importance of the congregation singing, and now wants songs to sing themselves. Alright, I know I’m being a bit bombastic now, but, honestly, what a silly statement.
I recognize that the writer prefers older music. That’s not unusual. The majority of people have a preference toward musical styles they grew up with. But that does not somehow make that musical style better than others. You would be hard pressed to find very many millennials who would suggest that older music is more singable than modern music. No, it’s simply a matter of preference.
The author ends with this statement: “We need to teach our congregations to sing, not just have someone with a mic singing at them.” I completely agree. I just happen to think that someone with a mic encouraging participation can do that very well.
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