Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that there are three types of music – liturgical, performance, and congregational. Discussion about whether to use contemporary or traditional music is focusing on the wrong questions. When the music was written is irrelevant and so is the instrumentation. Instead of asking ourselves these questions we should be questioning ourselves concerning the purpose of the music.
Liturgical music is that music which moves the liturgy along. This category includes the parts of the Mass in the Catholic church, the Gloria Patri and Doxology in churches that sing those responses or the sung Lord’s Prayer. These musical pieces remain the same because their purpose remains the same – to move the liturgy forward. There are some small changes at certain times of the year but essentially liturgical music remains the same.
Performance music is relatively obvious – it is music to be performed by a soloist or group and usually requires a certain amount of musical training. Performance music can be more melodically and rhythmically complicated than liturgical music. The range of the song can be quite large. In many cases, it requires instrumentation that is not readily available in the average church. Music in the Contemporary Christian arena is essentially performance music.
Congregational music is music that is intended for the gathered community to sing together. It can be hundreds of years old or it can be written in the present day. The very structure of congregational song is designed to make it accessible to the average person with little or no musical training. It includes less complicated rhythms and more predictable melodies.
This is a very brief explanation of these musical categories. Perhaps I will go into more detail at a later date. Why am I pointing out these categories? Because I think that we need to evaluate our musical choices based on the musical purpose. All three types of music have a place in our worship – all three accomplish different goals. We need to find the best fit for the spiritual formation of our congregation. Our job is to be sure that we are not ignoring any of God’s wonderful creation to the exclusion of others.
Choir “We Are Called” by David Hass, Arr. by Mark Hayes #11165123, 2 part, Available from JW Pepper. This beautiful and powerful song was the closing number at the annual meeting of the American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin in 2019. The text has hints of Micah 6:8 and is a straightforward challenge to us as children of God. The parts lie well within the voices and are easily learned. It could be taught to the congregation and used as a closing hymn. The accompaniment is light and joyful and easily accessible. This one should be in everyone’s repertoire.
Handbells “Five Hymns for Twelve Bells: Familiar Hymns in F Major, Arranged by Bill Ingram, Choristers Guild, CGB770. Have a set of bells or chimes but only have 5 or 6 ringers? Then this series will help you put those bells to use and give your congregation another way to enhance your worship and serve as well. Level 2 settings make these very accessible for most ringers. The settings include “When I Survey,” “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna,” and other Lent/Holy Week hymns.
Organ “Dynamic Hymn Introductions for Organ” by Jason D. Payne, Lorenz. Congregational singing is a critical part of our worship. Encouraging and enlivening the song of the church is accomplished through exciting accompaniments that set the mood, key, and tempo of the hymn. This collection contains introductions for some of the most often-sung hymns including “Joyful, Joyful,” “All Creatures of Our God and King,” “Come, Thou Almighty King,” and others. These will require preparation time but it is worth it.
Piano “Keys of the Kingdom.” Edited by Angela Tipps, Abingdon Press. This is a series of books that contain 12 – 15 arrangements of familiar songs. Easy to moderately difficult, these arrangements can be used for preludes, postludes, communion, or for personal development and enjoyment. Various styles are represented and make this a great series to own.
Book The Worship Architect by Constance Cherry, Baker Academic, ISBN 13 9780801038747. This is a wonderful book to use whether you plan the worship service alone or with your team. It provides solid theology, artistic creativity, pastoral sensitivity, and cultural connections. Worship is not about style – it is about engaging in a meaningful conversation with God and those who gather. This book provides the help that we all need as we plan for our weekly encounter with God in worship.
Praise Team https://essentialworship.com/ This is a great resource for finding new songs. There are audio clips available as well as lead sheets. Their library of songs includes many of today’s leading worship leaders. Great resource.