November 30, 2014

By Fred Koenig

If you’re anything like me, Christmas—from a musical standpoint—is a season in which elation and frustration flow mingled down. Our job, after all, as Worship Leaders, Ministers of Music and Arts Directors, is to facilitate authentic worship through music. Put that in a blender with a sizeable number of congregates who find it near repulsive to have to attend church in December without singing through the entire gamut of Christmas-themed hymns and you’re in for quite an unpleasant concoction. This dichotomy, along with a few other stresses of the season, have actually earned me a reputation—albeit a completely false one—of hating Christmas music altogether.

I actually adore Christmas music. That said, especially as a Worship Leader at a church with a ‘modern worship’ vibe, I am confronted every year with how much ‘Christmas’ music to inject into our worship sets. Ultimately, my desire is a balanced approach, and after 15 years, here are some things I’ve tried. Who knows, maybe some will help you.

  1. Tags. 
    These are magical in my opinion. A tag is a snippet of a song that I’ll throw in the middle of a set just for flavor and familiarity. One of the most versatile ones is the simple refrain ‘O come let us adore Him…’ Very much a call to worship, also a classic Christmas tune. Tags can go before, after, or even right in the middle of one of your worship songs and practically turn it into a Christmas song. In one example, we have replaced an entire third verse with this one, returning to the chorus afterward. Loved it.
     
  2. Embrace the duality. 
    A few years back, we actually juxtaposed both the birth AND the death and resurrection of Jesus all in December. We just called it out. We’d sing a Christmas song celebrating His birth and then move right into something contemplative about the cross or the empty tomb, reminding ourselves that salvation exists because of both of these stories. There was a refreshing fullness that came along with the worship sets that year.
     
  3. Include some modern-worship Christmas tunes.
    These are more and more prevalent, and some artists, like Paul Baloche, have even written alternate lyrics for their songs that are more applicable at Christmas time. Check out Paul’s Christmas version of ‘Offering’ to see what I’m talking about. We’ve even re-purposed ‘The Heart of Worship’ by simply exchanging the words ‘Christmas’ and ‘Worship.’ Sounds cheesy, but it’s been quite impactful. These examples use older worship songs. Feel free to try them, or get creative with some newer tunes. 
     
  4. Pre-service ‘sing-a-longs.’ 
    Yeah, I know. Sounds a bit ridiculous, right? Truth is, this was one of the coolest ideas we ever stumbled upon. We start the music 5 minutes before service, and we invite the congregation to sing along with classic Christmas tunes—we’ll even throw a Jingle Bell or two in since it’s pre-service. Satiates those who desire more Christmas music while allowing room for full worship sets. And hey… people are actually showing up early? Bonus.

There are a few more that I just don’t have room to include, but at the end of the day, I hope these have encouraged you to think outside the box a bit in terms of how you approach this season musically. The important thing is that we balance the desire to sing familiar songs of the season with the empirical need we have to continue to truly connect with God through the musical facet of our gatherings. I’d love to hear from you all as well! What has worked in your context? With all that said, I guess you won’t be hearing from me again ‘til 2015! Have an amazing Christmas season!