Church Music

May 28, 2014




What we might call the “Whiny Faggot” school of singing (WF for short). WF music has a tenor singing soulfully and sadly rather tuneless songs with guitar background.


1.       New Tunes for Old Words. A bad idea.

One example is “It Is Well with My Soul”. It  is ruined for me by our church band, who change the last note of each stanza. They are not as a good composers as the original author. It is like painting a Gothic cathedral pink. It would be good if I could worship without thinking how much better it could be, but I can’t. Should I be able to? Well, maybe not— maybe I *should* be aggravated at seeing the uglification of worship.


2.       Volume. Don’t make it painful, or let it be louder than the congregational singing.


3.       Instrumentals between verses. A bad idea.



4.       The Projectionist. The most important member of the band— the only crucial one.



5.       Never leave the congregation wondering what happens next.



6.       Fancy Leading. Don’t show off.

7.       Noticing the response. Have someone in the congregation who can tell whether each song is a success or a failure.

8.       Male leadership. This is important.

9.       Illiterates. Be considerate to them. Clapping, repetition, Pre-Schoolers, poor adult readers.

10.      Beauty. Don’ t think the aim is beauty.

11.      Songs that sound good on MP3s but need a recording studio and a trained voice. Avoid.

12.      Singing every verse. Pointless. Look at the meaning.

13.      Clapping at the end. Needs careful thought.

14.      Put the band at the back of the congregation, not the front. Then a woman can lead, even. if a man is leading up front.

What we might call the “Whiny Faggot” school of singing (WF for short). WF music has a tenor singing soulfully and sadly rather tuneless songs with guitar background.


“It is probably true that a new, keen vicar will usually be able to form within his parish a minority who are in favor of his innovations. The majority, I believe, never are. Those who remain—- many give up churchgoing altogether— merely endure.


Is this simply because the majority are hidebound? I think not. They have a good reason for their conservatism. Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And they don’t go to church for entertainment value. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best— if you like, it “works” best— when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshipping. The important question about the Grail was “for what does it serve?” ” ‘Tis mad idolatry that makes the service greater than the god.”

A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service, but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question “What on earth is he up to now?” will intrude. It lays one’s devotion waste. There really is some excuse for the man who said, “I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks.”

Thus, my whole liturgiological position really boils down to an entreaty for permanence and uniformity” (C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm, p. 4)

Music—don’t sing all verses.


Moaning music. Effeminate. Grovel.




Should a woman be  music leader?

No. This is a true leadership post, more so than that of the preacher.


Should a pastor be the music leader?

Yes, in a sense. He should be up with the group, singing prominently as being the leader. If his voice is bad, he can conduct or not be amplified. But the people should become accustomed to following his lead in the easy thing of singing so that they will more easily come to follow his instruction in hard things such as ending sin.


Should a woman be in the group leading music, even if not as the leader?

Yes, so as to provide variety and give those people with high voices (women and children) a high voice to follow.


Should a child be in the group leading music?



Should   familiar songs be rearranged with  entirely new tunes?


Should   familiar songs be rearranged with  slight changes to their tunes to add interest and stamp the personality of the arranger upon them?

No. The first reason fails, and the second is sin.  Melodies and harmonies should not distract— ideally, they would be completely unnoticed.


Should harmony be used by singers?

Yes, so long as they do not become distracted by it and forget the words.


Should songs use words unfamiliar to the people?

Yes, so long as there are not too many of them.


Should songs be sung in foreign tongues?

No, not unless there are many in the congregation who do not understand the main tongue at all. It is not enough that many of them understand English but have a different mother tongue.


Should the music be so loud that the people cannot hear themselves sing?



W hat is wrong with loud  electronic music?

Above about 90 decibels, it sounds like Hell, literally. What would Hell sound like? Screams, of course, but also Pandemonium. Buzzing sounds, sizzling sounds, like electric guitars.  Inescapable noise, overwhelming, possessing, so you cannot hear your own prayers.


Don’t be like Frank Sinatra.  Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Mack the Knife,



Church music has   five goals. Note that by “worshippers” I mean those who are worshipping God and by “observers” I mean those who are listening without worshipping.   Here are the goals in rough order of importance.


1.           Worship.  To worship God.

2.           Reverence. To affect the worshippers’ emotions, to make them feel reverent, thankful, or powerful.

3.           Teaching.  To teach things to worshippers and observers.  They can learn Bible verses, doctrine, and stories.  They can be convicted of sin.  They can learn their duty.

4.           Unity. To make the worshippers feel the unity of the Church. This happens when they know the music is the same as in other churches around the world and in previous eras  and at the same moment and by each other in the congregation.

5.           Witness. To bear witness to the unity of the church, the feelings of the worshippers,  and the glory of God to observers.

Church music tries to serve all these ends, which means that it must trade off one against another.



It is like eing in seapate cells in Hell. You cannot hear the yells of the other tormented souls, or hte kind words of angles, just the taunts of hte devils in front. Sizzling electronic sounds.  The clang of hot irons.


Thabiti Anyabwile|7:49 am CT, September 13, 2013

Learning to Sing Together in New Zealand and Zambia


We had accompaniment by strings, brass, wood winds (I think) and probably some other things I’m not recalling now. But all of it was accompaniment; it went along with the singing to aid and encourage the singing. Different leaders provided useful comments along the way and helpful focus so that we sang with understanding and with emphasis. They even provided brief footnotes on the slides to teach and improve knowledge of what we were singing. The result was a congregation of people–Maore, Kiwi, Afrikaans, Nigerian, American, and many more!–singing together and with joyful zeal great truths about out God. We even learned to look at one another and sing to one another as we worshiped.



Put the instruments in the background. Whether you use various arrangements as our friends did in New Zealand or little accompaniment beyond hand clapping as our friends in Zambia, the instruments should play the background. They should assist, not dominate. They should help with rhythm, tone, enjoyment and beauty, but apart from some transitions or meditative moments in the service, they should not be the main attraction. They should play the background.

Emphasize the voice. If it’s not the case already, it might be good for the church’s leadership and congregation to answer a question along the lines of, “What should be the major sound of Christian corporate worship?” For my part, I think it should be the human voice.

Teach the people to sing. Of course, if our services are dominated by instruments turned up so loudly we can’t hear ourselves sing, we’re likely to find that most people in our gathering don’t sing and don’t know how to sing. Here’s where the leader makes a huge difference. What he says upfront and how he instructs people can make all the difference in the congregation’s participation, understanding and ability to sing. He can point out the mood of the song, guide people to meditate on the main theme, single out a refrain or verse particularly relevant to the morning’s text, call people to sing a chorus again for emphasis, or simply read a text of scripture that connects the song to God’s inspired truth so people know our worship is rooted in revelation. In these and countless other ways, the worship leader should actually lead. He should teach. Perhaps he’ll offer free voice lessons to the saints. Or maybe he’ll use slides a little differently. Or… brace yourself… perhaps he’ll use hymnals (gasp… remember those?) and help people learn to read music as they sing. There are countless ways to crack this nut. But the point is the guys up front during worship should be teaching the people to sing.


Rather then readying themselves through communion with God before the meeting, we may be relying on a performance to “ready” them once they arrive.


Sometimes we may be guilty of attempting to achieve good spiritual effects via quantity rather than quality. I know there are folks who are happy with both quality and quantity. But sometimes less really is more–especially if the “less” is less volume, less instrumentation dominance and less repetition of weak choruses. Give a church gathering a collection of fewer songs, rich in gospel and biblical truth, introduced and led well, where people are called on to actually sing with understanding, and I think you’ll see more happen to the heart of the people week in and week out than if they were spending hours at really good concerts.




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