What if I was to say that the preacher and the song leader had similar responsibilities in worship? Would that assertion surprise you? Many song leaders would probably say, “No, I don’t want to speak in public. That’s one of the reasons I lead singing! All I have say is the numbers when I announce them!”
Still, the song leader bears much the same responsibility as the preacher for the congregation’s spiritual and nutritional health. Just as the preacher ought to preach “the whole council” of God, that is, a healthy and balanced spiritual diet (Acts 20:27), so must the song leader be conscious of feeding his congregation an edifying and biblical diet of songs.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).
Let’s make some observations on what this passage says about our worship in song.
When we sing, the “word of Christ” dwells in us. The purpose of our hymns is not primarily to entertain but to allow God’s word to settle in our hearts. When we sing, Bible passages or biblical themes should come to mind. Watch for key words: At the very least a song should mention God, or Christ.
The term “richly” implies that the words of our hymns should be more than biblical, they should be “richly” biblical, that is, expressed elegantly and poetically. Instead of singing “Lord you are really nice to us,” we might sing “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.” We cannot offer to a first-rate God second-class lyrics using second-class melodies. There is a reason, a distinct reason, why God chose worship in song to enlighten our hearts!
When we sing we are “teaching and admonishing one another.” To be clear, we do not “teach” nuclear physics; we teach Scripture. But note the horizontal nature of our worship in song. Yes, we sing vertically (to God in praise), but we also sing horizontally (to each other). As one of the congregation’s spiritual teachers, then, the song leader has to do better than “my genre or the highway.” He has to get past his favorite five songs and begin to offer his congregation a well-rounded, richly thought-out spiritual diet.
That means he will have to learn more songs. There is a rich resource of new (or contemporary) songs. Learn them. There are a thousand hymns in our hymnbook; we typically sing about twenty. Learn some of the others. If you know lots of contemporary songs, begin to learn older songs; if you know lots of older songs, learn contemporary ones. There is no reason to pound out “No, not one, no not one” every Sunday! There are many rich, deeply spiritual songs in the hymnbook we never sing. Order some CDs from our Christian colleges. Not the ones whose songs you already know, order the ones with songs you don’t know. Pull a master song leader aside and be a sponge. Organize an old-fashioned singing school. Teach new songs thirty minutes before evening worship.
If we sing the same twenty songs every Sunday (contemporary or traditional, it doesn’t matter), we will develop spiritual malnutrition. Yes, the song leader is as responsible for the spiritual growth of the church as surely as the preacher is.