Question:

I've been reading several of your comments with interest and ran across one that I myself have seen. I am a member of the church of Christ and have been baptized for 22 years. I have been leading songs for around that same time. I have a background in reading music and participating in concert band and a jazz band. These are not going to deal directly with my question, I'm just building background for my perspective of the situation. I read in one of your comments directed toward singing that, "A nice melody might be pleasing to the ear, but it is not what the Lord has asked of His people. Your emphasis on the sound and not the meaning shows your heart is in the wrong place." I do agree with what you say in regards to the words yet what happens when you have members in the congregation who may disagree with what tempo a song leader leads a certain song and decides to take matters into their own hands? This situation has several portions to it and both sides may need correction. My question is generally what can a song leader do or what is his purpose?

We, like another of your questioners, were having an open song leading worship where men in the congregation could come forward and lead a song. During a song three different groups of the congregation got off beat from each other. One group striving to follow the song leader, another group deciding the song should be sung slower and intentionally singing slower, and another group trying to speed the song up. The song could not be understood and was unintelligible due to the different words being jumbled because of the time differences. To correct the situation the song leader stopped the song to restart and finish, commenting on why he had made this decision. During the explanation one of the members whom disagreed with the speed spoke out loud, embarrassing the song leader and demanded we move on instead of hearing the few words stated. The song leader finished the song, quickly. Sat down and as the service ended made no attempt to hurry, but quietly got up, spoke to a couple people, and walked out. I know he was embarrassed yet the person making the comment made no effort to speak to the song leader about what he had said publicly. Later the reason for this outburst was made was that the song leader was a visitor. The song leader had been attending the church for a year, had lead songs several other times in that congregation, and had stopped a song before due to the same off-beat singing with no outbursts or visitor monikers.

I know you said that the music does not matter but the understanding of the song does. To me that means you can have people out of tune but in singing you can't choose to sing at a speed that will differ than the song leader because it affects the understandability along with distracting other people involved in the service. II Corinthians 14:24 talks about misunderstanding several people speaking at one time in regards to tongues. Could this not also be thought of with song in regards to someone who does not know the particular song outside? Later in the chapter it talks about orderly worship. Wouldn't this be contradicting that?

I personally felt the objector did not follow Matthew 18:15-17 whether he was correct or not. I also wonder what the job of the song leader is if not to keep the tempo of the song and determine the pitch. I can understand someone not being able to sing, I don't think anything is wrong with someone who can't sing trying. I do have problems with people who decide to intentionally sing differently to either sing how they would like or to undermine the particular song leader. It is hard for me to believe this action can be affiliated with someone trying to put their whole mind set on worship. Also this visitor brand that was used? Is this even in the Bible? The person leading song is baptized and has been there around a year. This situation tells me that this was someone who spoke at a bad time and then looking for something to validate his actions came up with this visitor reason, that I might add was never used before. What do you think? Thanks.


Answer:

Matthew 18:15-17 doesn't apply in this situation because it covers situations where "if your brother sins against you." What the poor song leader did was not a sin against the person in the audience. If anything had occurred the person in the audience had sinned, but since it was of a public nature, it would need to be redressed in a public fashion.

We often quote Ephesians 5:19, but I would like to direct you its context for a moment:

"And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God" (Ephesians 5:18-21).

I'm going to be blunter than I would be in addressing those involved, but you have a bunch of prideful people in your congregation. They are in direct violation of Paul's command to "submit to one another." And notice that the context of submission was in song! Instead, they are demanding that all others submit to them and if they don't, they will do it their own way anyway. They stand in direct violation of Paul's admonition, "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself" (Philippians 2:3).

It's probably a good thing I wasn't there, I probably would have taken a number of people to task on the spot (which I've been known to do at times in the past). As Paul told the Corinthians, "Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the authority which the Lord has given me for edification and not for destruction" (II Corinthians 13:10).

I'm going to ask you to read through two sermon outlines: "Worshipping in Song" and "Conducting Worship in Song." Especially make sure you study each of the passages cited. The first talks about the importance of songs in our worship -- something people are treating far too casually in many congregations. The second shows that a critical duty of the song leader is to unify the congregation in worship. The song leader is the congregation's worship leader for that period of worship. The songs he selects sets the tone for that period of worship.

You noted that the purpose of singing is communicating a message to everyone present. But when each goes their own way, they are guilty of the very same sin which was occurring in Corinth. There they had brethren with the gift of languages (tongues), but no unifying order to their worship. As a result, "Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind?" (I Corinthians 14:23). Everyone speaking different things at once interferes with the communication of the message. "How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification" (I Corinthians 14:26). Paul then told the Corinthians to take turns and those who do not have the floor, if you will, were to keep silent. This rule was also violated at the service.

Essentially, people in a congregation need to recognize that they are in the middle of worshiping God, even if it is "just a song service" -- it is still a worship service! People were selected to lead that worship. Should I make commentary on someone's prayer because I thought he spoke to slowly? Should I offer my own lesson while another is preaching because I think the lesson is dragging or going too quickly? I would hope everyone would see that such actions are rude at the very minimum and disruptive to the message being presented at the worse. It is no different in songs. A person was selected to lead the whole congregation in a song. While he is up front, the congregation then follows his lead. He picks the song, he says when to start, if he wants to set the background for the song -- that is his choice, he sets the pace, he sets the pitch. And the congregation submits. It is the only way that is acceptable to God.