Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Worship Thoughts: Special Music

I have a pet peeve when it comes to worship services. In just about every church that I have been a part of or visited in the past 25 years there is a tradition to have someone sing a solo during the service (usually called "special music" in church lingo). While I don't have anything against well-meaning believers who bravely stand up and sing in front of their congregations, I do have an issue with what appears to be a worldy practice that has creeped into our worship.

As a worship leader, I understand the challenges of leading a congregation in song. Congregational singing is an important part of worship. Music helps bring us together in worshiping the Lord. Music speaks to our hearts. It can be used to teach sound doctrine. Music is a critical part of our worship.

Worship leaders face a constant challenge to keep the focus of their congregations on the Lord rather than on them and the other singers and musicians that join them at the front of the church. One of the common pitfalls many worship leaders face is getting caught up in their own performance and losing sight of their true mission: focus on the Lord.

This is why I don't understand the practice of featuring a soloist. "Special Music" takes the congregation out of the equation by depriving them of the opportunity to participate in worship through song. It turns the focus of our attention away from God and to whomever is singing on the stage. In addition, the tradition of applauding once the performance has concluded seems to add to this sense that we've just witnessed a performance rather than worship.

Compounding the problem is the fact the person singing is not always capable of pulling off a solo. Although I consider myself a decent singer and musician I also know my limitations well enough to know that I couldn't handle a solo performance. It's a tough job for a singer to complete. When you have someone who can't handle the job it becomes a distraction rather than drawing the audience further into worship.

At the other extreme are those who sing well but get caught up in performing rather than worshiping. Sitting in the audience you almost feel like you're watching an American Idol audition rather than participating in worship. It's been a rare occasion when I have witnessed a special music performance that drew me further into worship.

Finally, if we're doing the same thing every week how can we then call it special? If the church is going to continue this practice perhaps it should be done less frequently?

As with anything else that we do as part of our worship service I think it's time we re-examine whether the practice of including special music is one that we need to continue. Given the choice, I would rather see the church spend more time in corporate worship in song rather than highlighting the talents of one or two individuals. We need to be sure that everything we do in the context of our worship service is truly focused on worship. We need to be willing to examine our traditions carefully and to discard those things that distract our focus from God. The church will be stronger and our worship will be more pure as a result.

UPDATE: After I finished writing this post I ran across this article by Bob Kauflin. After reading it I am convinced that there is a place for soloists in the church but that it perhaps is done too often and for the wrong reasons. Bob offers some good cautions to worship leaders who want to incorporate soloists into their services. I appreciate his wisdom and insight.

Have you had any similar experiences? Do you agree or disagree with this post? I would love to hear from you. Please give me your feedback in comments below.

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