September 21, 2016

By Ryan McLouth

In the last couple of issues, we have discussed performance, stage presence and delivery. This month I would like to talk with you about “special music.” In our contemporary era of ministry, worship style, and religious music, we tend to put a distinct emphasis on congregational participation and corporate worship.     
    
Admittedly, both of these are a heavy part of my personal worship philosophy. I believe that with that philosophy comes many benefits, but there are also some things that we tend to overlook that don’t fit neatly into the box of contemporary worship. Those of us who are familiar with traditional worship style or have significant experience in classic worship services are no stranger to special music. Special music can be an interesting, beautiful and creative opportunity to serve and praise God. The problem is, it is often overlooked in our modern services.
    
Let’s think about special music for a moment. From my experience, there is a significant amount of sacred music (new and old) that many people enjoy but may not be appropriate for congregational praise. By not appropriate, I mean that it may be difficult for the average church-goer to sing, it may not be extremely well-known, or it may be instrumental. Just because these selections are not appropriate for congregational praise does not mean that they don’t fit in church. So let’s face it, many of our contemporary worship songs are not necessarily the most poetic works. That’s OK, because they serve a different purpose. However, I think many worship service attendees enjoy, benefit, and even sometimes prefer alternatives to our easy-access congregational choruses. Hymns, choral anthems, classic instrumental pieces and many others provide the opportunity for some individuals to connect with God in a similar way to how we do when singing in lyrical unison together.
    
Music directors, this even gives you the opportunity to tap into some unused skills on your worship team. Is the keyboard player in your band classically-trained and bored by playing Chris Tomlin songs every week? Do you have a traditional vocalist who has regularly inquired about participating but may not be a good fit for Hillsong tunes? Or, maybe your band has the skills to play one of those new Lincoln Brewster cuts, but you think it’s too hard for the congregation to catch on to and sing. These are all fantastic choices for a special music spot in your service. Just let your congregation relax, observe and pray. 
    
If your format is already traditional and you utilize special music on a regular basis, we could all learn from you. If it fits in the flow of your service, by all means don’t do away with it. As we discussed many months ago, there are many great things that come from modern worship, but we of the contemporary era could learn a few things from our traditional counterparts. Not every musical moment in the service needs to be a Chris Tomlin sing along.
    
Thank you so much for tuning in once again. I very much enjoy sharing ideas on worship music with you. As always, it’s been a great pleasure, and I’m happy to be a resource to you if you ever find the need. I can be reached at rmclouth@centralmethodist.edu or 660-651-9964. Until next time, keep playing and singing!