Redeemer University - Christian university changes everything. Starting with you.          
Skip Navigation Links
Seeking God?

Visit this room to gather, learn and share with the Body of Christ

Balancing Act
Leading worship is like a high wire act that requires as much care as preparing the message. If worship leaders fail, they fall hard. What's the balance?

Sometimes I feel like a circus performer. Church musicians like myself are engaged in a high wire act that requires nerves of steel, a steady gaze on the goal ahead, and above all, an acute sense of balance. We are called to be innovative without alienating people by throwing over important traditions. If we fall, we fall hard in front of an entire congregation.

… more doctrine is learned from hymns than from sermons. Christianity sings, not speaks, its way in the world …

So how do we keep our balance? There are certain pitfalls that one can run into when introducing musical innovations in a church service. Howard Stevenson is the worship leader at First Evangelical Church in Fullerton, California. Each Sunday he leads seven thousand people in worship with his pastor, Chuck Swindoll. Although this worship environment is unlike any you would find in a mainline church in Canada, Stevenson's ideas in his book Mastering Worship are worth looking at.

Every time Stevenson changes something in the service, he asks himself these questions: Does it heighten "spectatorism" or will it involve people in worship in new and meaningful ways? Is there a danger of fostering a "Can you top this?" syndrome with this worship experience? Does it take people too far out of their comfort zone? Is this innovation an acceptable risk? If it bombs, can we recover gracefully?

Stevenson also maintains that whenever something new is introduced, it should be combined with the familiar. He strives to balance great choral masterworks with choral offerings that are "more naturally" appreciated, and he juxtaposes contemporary musical solos with familiar solos or hymns.

In the same book, John Killinger, a former pastor and a distinguished professor of religion in Birmingham. Alabama, has some insightful comments about mixing musical styles. He says this: "I've served all kinds of churches from small country churches where the pianist couldn't play hymns with more than one flat or sharp, to large city churches with fabulous organs and paid choir personnel. What I have learned about church music is that the majority of people in any congregation, whether in the country or in the city, prefer music that is singable by even the untalented people, simply and memorably worded, written in English, and charged with deep and true emotion."

Killinger has two "personal beefs" about the music in most services he attends. First, he says that many churches sing too many old hymns and classical anthems, giving the liturgy what he calls "an air of mustiness and antiquity." Secondly, he says that contemporary hymns and anthems are "often poorly written and scored, so that they amount to what conductor Roger Shaw calls 'holy slush.'" What's the solution in this balancing act? "Work!" says Killinger.

He goes on to say this: "We have to dig out the best of contemporary music and retain the classic works of old. We have to plan the musical fare with the care we do our sermons or prayers. If it is true that more doctrine is learned from hymns than from sermons, and that Christianity sings, not speaks, its way in the world, then we should spare no effort to ensure that the music with which we worship God is the finest music of our time."

No matter when or where you use music in your congregational life, remember this: balance is all-important. So take a risk and be innovative. If you fall, God will be there to catch you.

Dawn Martens is an organist and choir director, and a music teacher for the Hamilton-Wentworth public school board.

Originally published in the Fellowship Magazine, March 2000.




  • Redeemer University - Christian university changes everything. Starting with you.

Visit our Marketplace

Support the EFC ministry by using our Amazon links