Tom Lane/Article from Worship Musician Magazine:
Songs are amazing vehicles that deliver heart, passion, truth, doctrine, and so on. My brain is full of them and there’s a running soundtrack for my life recallable at any time. People connect with good songs and like what they like, often without any explanation. Though not all have the same tastes, the power of songs affects us much the same; deep down, permeating the soul and manipulating our emotions. So needless to say, how we approach and play them is worth consideration.
Arrangements give life to songs, sometimes elevating them from their original form, but not always as it can also work just the opposite. Once songs are completed and chosen for whatever purpose, the arrangement is usually the next step in presenting it. In the same way that I can say something and it be taken one way, you could say the exact same thing and it be taken completely differently; arrangements influence perception and emotion.
It’s been said of worship songs that they are tools to help us communicate and engage with God. They can help or hinder, encourage or discourage, connect or NOT. For sure there are songs that seem to have a life and sweep through the church at large. The Church has always had favorites, and the cycle normally goes; we use them continuously, wear them slap out, shelve them, and the really great ones come back around and live on in history.
There is some tension in the Church regarding worship and it’s nothing new. It’s the ongoing reality that as one generation ages, another is taking it’s place. God’s desire is that they be joined and connected, not divided. Transition is always awkward, but doesn’t have to be a fight. Both generations deserve the freedom to be who they are, but also the honor and support of the other. What kills unified worship in The Church is the spirit of Criticism! Especially for what we don’t like, but God doesn’t ask us to worship Him only if everything is as we like it.
As mature believers and worshippers of God we should be able to get beyond the style and delivery of a song, and engage with Him in worship. If we can’t then the issue is not ultimately the song or the leader; in essence we are giving the power to someone else to dictate our response to Him. Sadly there are many that miss the point and place such expectations on worship leadership to ‘get them there.’ Songs and leaders can help but do not negate personal responsibility and will! The attitude and posture of our own hearts is solely up to each of us.
That said, we can help encourage unity by how we lead and what we sing. Songs are good connectors, and arrangements can actually help us build bridges among the generations represented in our churches. As a worship leader I communicate with my teams that my preference is, for them to know the song and it’s sections more than the arrangement. The main reason being it leaves me free to be more sensitive to the people I’m leading. If the band is listening to me, and to each other then we all move together dynamically. So the arrangement we played in the 9:am service could be totally different in the 11:am service and we didn’t have to rehearse it. But there are also times I’ll have them learn an arrangement and stick to it for any number of reasons. There is time and place for both, and the bigger picture is that I want the song to serve the need and moment, more than I want the band to play it exactly like the record.
If we’re sensitive and caring of those we minister to and lead, we’ll not simply inflict our own preferences on them; with no regard to where they come from, who they are, and what they relate to. Not everyone loves the four on the floor kick drum at 120-130 BPM at 9:AM on Sunday morning, or the tribal toms over ethereal pads and eighth note guitar lines—for hours on end. Likewise if there are young people in your midst, they likely don’t relate as much to hymns and older songs, or pipe organs. The goal is to find what is the most helpful and authentic where we are.
It’s awesome to see younger and older leaders serving the other with grace and humility, even when it’s not their vibe or comfort zone. There’s much to be said for honoring the context and culture of others, for in doing so we bestow honor on them! “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” Ps. 133:1