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We as pastors can lead our people through singing. I've talked to many pastors who have told me, “I can't lead the music in my church because I'm not musical.” And I say, “Well, if corporate worship was strictly a matter of music, that would be true.” But corporate worship is primarily a pastoral function before it's a musical function. So, if you've been using that excuse, I want to challenge you. And I want to say you may not have a musical bone in your body, but you can help people know how to pray and how to praise and how to lament and how to rejoice and to exhort God. You can do that. Why? Because you're a Christian. Because you're a pastor. This means you may not know what key the songs are in, but you have to know what they say. And if you know what the song says, you can lead corporate worship.
So how do we lead the flock if we're not musical? Well, you can lead before the meeting even starts by helping to plan the meeting, and helping to plan the songs. I had a pastor once say to me, “You know my worship leader won't tell me the songs he wants to sing before Sunday.” And I said, “You need to talk to him about that, and tell them that it's your job to pastor the church, and you need to know what diet they're getting. So if he's not willing to give you the songs, tell him he's not going to be doing that anymore.” You need to have someone who's willing to talk with you beforehand, about what songs you're going to sing. You need to plan carefully, to ensure the kind of theological balance and doctrine balance that is important. We need to plan expectedly because God is eager to bless us. We want to plan humbly because we realise that our plans alone don't glorify God. He meets us and his Spirit empowers what we do so that our meetings really have an effect. And we need to plan purposefully so that people know what to focus on. We're not just throwing different things together for the meeting, and are happy that people come and they keep coming, and think we must be doing well. Well, that's not enough. We can do better. So we can just think about what we're actually going to do. We can give thought to the songs, we give thought to the Scriptures, and we can give thought to what we're going to say.
I plan my liturgy every week for our church, and then I have done it by Wednesday afternoon. And then I send it out to the other elders that I work with. You might be in a small church, where it's just you and maybe one other brother, who's not an elder or pastor. But you can talk about what you're going to do. You can talk with the person who leads it. You get different perspectives and the Spirit works through us as a body using different gifts and different people to do that.
Another key aspect of leading the flock is to help people understand why we're singing what we're singing, and that what we're singing affects them. And that has to do with transitions, what you say in between songs. In some churches there's a model of singing that has like three, four or five songs together, and it is considered the “music time.” Why not say something in between some of those songs? Why not read Scripture in between some of the songs, so that our singing is truly grounded in God's word?
I don't know if any of you use a hymnal. But I've seen churches that do, and they might say something like, “We're now going to sing song 46.” That's the introduction! Well, that does nothing to tell people what the song is, or why they should sing it, or why they should sing it with faith. But you could say, “We're now going to sing hymn 46, it's a song that reminds us of our great need for God's mercy and His provision for us in Christ.” Tell them what to think about while they're singing. (Now you have to have songs that say something if you're going to do that. You don't want to stand up and say, “Well, we're about to sing a shallow song, so I'm going to read a Scripture to help balance out the shallow song we're singing!” I wouldn't recommend that!) We might say why we're about to read the Scripture, rather than just getting up and reading the Scripture. Of course, the word of God does have power just in being read, and we are exhorted to give attention to the public reading of Scripture. But you could say, “We're going to read Romans 8:37 through 39.” Yes, you could introduce it like that. Or you could say, “We've been singing about how God's mercy is greater than our sins. Paul highlights that reality in this passage, which we are about to read from the book of Romans.” Do you see how I am connecting what we've just done to what we're about to do? It's often helpful to take a line from a song, and then use that as the jumping-off point for the Scripture you are about to read. For example, “We just sang the song, ‘In Christ alone’ where it says, ‘And on the cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.’ Do we really believe that? It's what God's word tells us. In Romans 5, it says when we were still sinners, God showed His love for us and he sent his son for us.”
That's the kind of transition we can make. That is a part of the leadership that we can provide when we are singing songs, and it's a way of pastoring people's souls. We are drawing people's attention to biblical truth to the content. We're not saying, “Wasn't that a great song to sing? Did you feel the celebration in the room? Boy, you all sing so loud!” Don't draw attention to the celebration. Who cares if they sing loud?! Draw attention to the glory of God, draw attention to the word of God, draw attention to who he is and what he has done. We need to be reminded constantly of how glorious and great and good Jesus Christ is. Do you know why? Because we forget! We forget how good and gracious and kind and merciful he is, and most often we put ourselves in the place of God, and we think we're great. Why aren't people showing us the glory we deserve? Why aren't people thinking about us? Why aren't people saying good things about us? And it's hard to glorify God, when we have those kinds of thoughts. That's why we need to remind them and we need to lead our people in remembering what is true.
At the end of Psalm 107, the Psalmist says, “Let him who is wise attend to these things. Let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.” We need to consider the steadfast love of the Lord. Because we forget it. So, we can lead people in our planning, we can lead people during the meeting through good transition statements, and then we can lead people just by teaching them the purpose of music in the church.
I don't doubt that people in your churches come in with their own ideas of what music is supposed to do. So they might come in with the idea that music is supposed to make me feel happy. So let's sing happy songs. Or music is supposed to make us be like Americans. So, when our music is like what they're doing over in the US, then it would be good. That's a wrong perception. You could teach them things like this: Music is meant to help us exalt God's glory in Jesus Christ. It's a vehicle for our worship. It doesn't produce worship.
Here's something more that you can teach him: The most important sound on Sunday morning is the congregation. This is important as we think about how we sing songs across the world. If you have someone who plays the harmonium, use the harmonium! If you have people who play acoustic guitar and piano, use acoustic guitar and piano! Whatever you use, you might be in a large church that uses an orchestra or you might have a rock band. Whatever you use to accompany your congregation, your congregation's sound is more important than the sound of your instruments. Why is that? Well, because in God's Word, the references to the use of instruments in praising God is scarce. There's some for sure, but the references to singing dwarf the references to instruments. And in the New Testament, especially all the commands are related to singing. So, whatever an instrument is doing, it's meant to support. It's meant to support faith-filled, Christ-exalting, emotionally-engaged singing in the congregation. That's what our instruments are supposed to do. So use instruments that serve your congregation. But don’t try to reproduce someone’s recording. Now it's not wrong to reproduce what's done on the recording, it's just not the main thing. Your congregation singing is the main thing.
This article is an excerpt of a transcript of a talk by Bob Kauflin called “Pastoring Through Song,” which he gave in June 2022. You can watch the whole talk here.