It is a great honor to be invited to be a special guest speaker at the Sharjah Worship and Music Conference in the United Arab Emirates. Please be in prayer for those attending the conference as well as those of us who will be teaching.
Five reasons our corporate worship gatherings should include worshipers of all ages:
1) It’s Biblical: We see throughout Scripture that people of all ages gathered together to worship God. All ages were together listening as Joshua renewed the covenant with God (Joshua 8:35). Jesus gathered children near to him and they (and the adults surrounding him) listened to his words (Matthew 19:13–15). Pentecost turned out just as Joel had foretold: sons and daughters prophesying and old men dreaming dreams (Joel 2:28–29; Acts 2:14–41). In the Bible, God’s people have always included all ages in worship.
2) It’s Universal: When we join in multi-generational worship, we offer worship that transcends time. For the younger generation, we join our voices with those who have been singing the song of the redeemed longer than we’ve been alive. For the older generation, we join with voices that will carry the song long after we are called from this earth. What an honor to be part of a tradition of glorifying God that has stood the test of time.
It is good for us to remember God’s actions throughout history. There is a danger in not remembering all God has done for us and throughout all of history. I was watching a television show recently about the shapes of the states of the United States of America. The historian told the host that a specific state has “historical amnesia.” The people have forgotten the history of the state and it has affected the way they currently live. That statement got me thinking. I believe the church may have a similar problem. The church has historical amnesia.
There is a danger in not remembering all God has done for us as well as throughout all of history. Nehemiah 9:16–17a states, “But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff–necked, and they did not obey your commands. They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff–necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery.” We must understand that worship past is connected to worship present. God is faithful and his grace abounds, but our worship is most powerful when we remember God’s mighty acts.
A contemporary praise song written by worship leader Tommy Walker entitled “We Will Remember” challenges worshipers to remember the acts of Christ in our lives and to praise him accordingly. Lyrics such as, “We will remember the works of Your hands; We will stop and give you praise, for great is Thy faithfulness” and “I still remember the day You saved me, the day I heard You call out my name; You said You loved me and would never leave me, and I’ve never been the same” bring to our attention the importance of remembering God’s saving deeds, both historically and personally. The lyric of the bridge portion of the song, “Hallelujah, hallelujah, to the one from whom all blessings flow; Hallelujah, hallelujah, to the one whose glory has been shown” reiterates that our remembrance of all God has done leads to praise.
3) It’s Educational: Multi–generational worship offers worshipers the opportunity to learn from one another. We learn songs of praise that have been passed down from one generation to the next. We also have the opportunity to learn new forms of worship from new generations of worshipers. The songs we sing, the prayers we pray, the words spoken over us in a sermon, all teach us about God and his calling on our lives, no matter our age.
4) It’s Authentic: When we worship with those who are in a different age group than we are, we get a more accurate picture of the body of Christ. The Apostle Paul calls believers the body of Christ—a body made up of older and younger members. Each member of the body is equally important. When we worship together, we worship as a healthy body.
The Apostle Paul also calls the church the family of God and families include people of varying ages. Unless churches make a point of planning inclusive worship services, people at both ends of the age spectrum have the tendency to feel left out.
5) It’s Applicable: Truth is not relative and does not change with the times. God’s Word is timeless and applicable to all ages. It is no truer today than it was one thousand years ago and remains the same for ages to come. We see throughout Scripture that when the people of God forgot all that God had done for them, they began to get into serious trouble (just take a look through the prophetic books of the Old Testament to see examples; Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, just to name a few). The fact that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life will never change and we must not only remember, but pass that truth on to future generations: “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts” (Psalm 145:4).
Multi–generational worship offers us an opportunity to worship in a way pleasing to God. My desire is that we see the Church as God sees her and gather all ages, ethnicities and cultures together to give him the glory due his name.
(Worship Quest: An Exploration of Worship Leadership, pp. 95-97)
A number of years ago I was in Russia worshiping at a church in a city just outside of Moscow. The pews were packed with worshipers excited to worship God. Following the sermon, the congregation began to sing a hymn. Although I was unfamiliar with the words they sang, I recognized the hymn tune. The song was “How Great Thou Art.” My team and I began singing the hymn in English as they sang in Russian. We raised our voices together, singing the same song at the same time, but in different languages. At that moment I thought to myself, this is what it will be like when we get to heaven.
Heaven is going to be a wonderful gathering of redeemed worshipers from every tribe, nation and tongue joining together to worship God (see Revelation 7:9). I’m not sure if we will all be singing different languages or if there will be one heavenly language, but I do believe that no matter the language, we will understand each other and we will worship together in unity. If this is what we have to look forward to, and yes I am looking forward to that day, than we might as well get used to it here on earth. That is why I am a firm believer in multi–ethnic worship.
Multi–ethnic worship ultimately encourages unity in the body of Christ as we utilize a variety of styles from various people groups. It is in our differences that we find our unity because what we have in common, redemption through the blood of Christ, is greater than all of our differences.
(Worship Quest: An Exploration of Worship Leadership, pg. 93)
Singing praises to the Lord is a command repeated throughout Scripture (Ps. 68:4; 96:1-2; 105:2; 149:1; 1 Cor. 14:26; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; for starters). But how do we encourage our congregations to fulfill this important biblical command? How can we lead our churches in singing out? Here are a few suggestions:
Sing Songs That Are Familiar
Singing familiar songs means we must teach new songs less frequently. I recommend teaching no more than one to two new songs per month. When a new song is taught, make every effort to sing it again within the next two weeks. Generally, when I teach a new song, I sing it again the very next week, then take the third week off, and sing it again on the fourth week. This allows the congregation to become familiar with the song in order to fully participate in the worship service.
Sing Songs More Frequently
Songs should make their way into the rotation more often. Singing songs more frequently allows the congregation to become familiar with them, which in turn encourages them to sing out.
I suggest creating a song database for your church. This is different from the church’s song catalogue, which includes every song ever done at the church. I limit my database to 100 songs per year. For my church, the database is based on the Scripture or theme our church is focusing on for the year. At the start of each new year, I update the database, adding new or returning songs (from previous years) and eliminating songs we won’t use during that year. I also create three song lists from the 100-song database. The first list is what I call the Top 40. These are the 40 songs that we will do most often as a church. I want the congregation to learn these songs well. Next is the Bottom 60 list consisting of the rest of the songs in the database. I call the third list the Classics list, which includes songs that have become favorites of our congregation. These are songs that you know the congregation will sing out because they have become part of the culture of the church. For my church, these included “Shout to the Lord,” “How Great Is Our God,” and “Mighty to Save,” just to name a few.
The rule for our worship leaders was that they had to select half of the songs in the music set from the Top 40. This led to the congregation singing the songs from this list more frequently. The remaining songs could come from the other lists. Hymns were highly encouraged and filled the slot of one song from any list. These guidelines led to the congregation knowing the songs sung in the service and encouraged active worship.
Sing Songs That Are Sing-able
When considering whether or not a song is appropriate for congregational use, think about the melody of the song and whether it is sing-able for the average church go-er (think middle schooler just starting out in band and grandma who has grown up singing from a hymnal). Is the melody crafted in a way that flows well? If you hum the chorus, is it beautiful? Is the song in a key that is easily accessible to the congregation?
A common occurrence in modern worship songs is the octave melody jump. Jumping the octave sounds great on a recording and in performance venues, but the average congregation member will not be able to follow along. If our goal in congregational worship is full participation, doing something they cannot do does not help in accomplishing our goal.
Sing A Cappella
There is a school of thought that says if you want people to sing louder, turn up the music. That philosophy may work well in a festival-style event, where the band cranks up the amps and the people practically scream in order to be heard. When it comes to congregational singing, however, the voice of the congregation should be of utmost importance. This means we should turn down the volume and encourage the congregation to sing out.
The leading of congregational song should never overshadow the song of the people. The voice of the congregation should be primary for it is the main instrument in congregational song. Christians have inherited the musical tradition of the synagogue in which the gathered assembly is led by one voice, the cantor – in modern terms, the worship leader. Early Christians battled over the inclusion of instruments in the liturgy. Organ began accompanying hymns as late as the last half of the sixteenth century. Before that, it would introduce the hymn and play in alternation with the unison, unaccompanied congregation. The term “a cappella” literally means as “in the chapel” and originally referred to congregational singing.
At least once in the worship service, cut out the band, back away from the microphone and encourage the congregation to sing a cappella. This allows the congregation the chance to hear themselves and be encouraged by their own voices. I think you’ll be surprised by what you hear.
Worship Leaders: As you plan musical worship for your church, consider the voice of the congregation as utmost importance. Do your best to give them the best chance to fulfill the biblical command of singing their praises to the Lord.