I've recently started putting together some arrangements for my church's worship orchestra, which has been a great way to use my training as a writer as an expression of faith. I'm very grateful to be part of a music ministry that still uses a full orchestra, as it creates so much more opportunity for people to participate —for more on that subject, check out my Music and Tradition post from a few years back.

But I read something the other day that gave me some additional insight into this kind of work. There's a blog post on Theology in Worship from last summer which posits 15 reasons why we should still be using hymnals —I disagreed with a fair bit of it*, but found the following comment extremely insightful:

"The voice of the congregation is the primary instrument in corporate worship."

Think about that for a moment. As worshippers, we're creating music with God as our audience, and that's true whether you're at the mic or in the pews —God is listening to all of us, and seeks our honest, earnest worship regardless of where we sit in the sanctuary. Yet I think that oftentimes the form of our worship services creates a dichotomy in our own minds between those on stage and those in the congregation. Those of us in the worship ensemble are seen as creating the music, while the congregation sings along —we lead, they follow, and that makes us different. To a certain extent it has to be that way, because without leadership there is no ensemble.

But it still makes me wonder. How much room do we leave in our worship music for the congregation to really sing their hearts out? How can we craft our arrangements to highlight the value of their contribution to His glorious praise? As a writer, is it enough for me to include a melody/harmony line labeled "praise team" and assume the congregation will sing along? What would it look like to give the congregation their own independent part, and how would we teach it to them?

I haven't thought this all through yet to the point of having an answer —just a lot of intriguing questions. What do you think? Would you write or play or sing differently if you thought of the congregation as the primary instrument in corporate worship?

Notes

* The article seems to imply that using hymnals is somehow more valid as a means of teaching/leading music in church than other, newer approaches based on (more) modern technology. They've got some interesting points, but I don't think we can judge modern worship as less valid unless we can back that up with Scripture —something this article doesn't do. Most of their arguments, rather, are based on aesthetic and/or other subjective considerations, and I'd rather we Christians not judge one another on that sort of thing.

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