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Hymn Notes: Congregational Singing | Religion

I am a simple man. I am not trained or experienced in leading congregational singing in church. It’s not my gift. But I served my congregation as a chant leader for over eight years because there was no one else to do it.

This position (singer) was mine, not to grasp it firmly but to hold it carefully in confidence with open hands. Any man whom God could have sent to us, who was qualified, willing and available, could (and should) assume this responsibility from me without objection. In the meantime, I took the ministry seriously.

After a few years, I started researching the songs and hymns we sing and presenting a hymn story every week. These stories eventually led to the publication of these weekly hymn notes.

Over these years, I have put together this personal job description just to remind myself of the responsibilities and limits of my ministry according to my understanding of the scriptures. I am posting it here for the benefit of any other choirmaster or vocal coach who may find it useful.

Sing songs that people know. The important thing is that people sing songs of praise and thanksgiving to God; it is a scriptural command. It’s hard for people to sing when they don’t know the songs. If you introduce new songs, do so sparingly, then practice them several times over a few weeks until they become familiar.

Sing in comfortable keys. Your job isn’t to show off your vocal range (or vocal gymnastics). If it’s too high, too low, or made up of difficult intervals, your congregation won’t sing. And make sure your instrumental accompaniment doesn’t overpower the vocals.

Sing to celebrate the power, glory and salvation of God. There are good personal and relationship songs of testimony or feelings that may be appropriate in some situations, but for the most part worship is NOT about the warmth and fuzziness you feel; it is about bowing humbly before the power and glory of God. Sing his praises, sing his attributes and sing his mercy and grace.

Serve the congregation. It may seem like a no-brainer, but a legitimate worship service provides people with what they need; not what they want.

Saturate them with the Word of God. Support your song choices with biblical references to God’s Word. He has gathered His congregation into your presence for only a few minutes every week and they don’t need junk food. They need spiritual meat, and music can be a useful vehicle for providing it. Make sure your song choices are substantial, doctrinally sound, and scripturally rich.

Don’t sing songs with humanistic philosophies or inaccurate, heretical theology. I once read a comment that asked, “If your music doesn’t preach Bible truth, why sing it?” The point is, ALL music preaches. The problem is that too many Christians are learning so much false doctrine from the spiritually anemic, or downright stupid, contemporary music popular in church and on Christian radio. It takes wisdom and careful discernment to examine all words in light of the Scriptures. If necessary, you may need to make corrective edits to the lyrics, or better yet, remove them altogether. Do it simply because you are no less responsible than your pastor when it comes to preaching or teaching false doctrine.

Don’t draw attention to yourself. It’s not about you (or your “worship team”). Someone suggested that if worship teams had to sing behind a curtain, there would be no more worship teams. Entertainment is not an element of worship, and the musical part of your ministry is not your turn. And no one wants to hear your overly dramatic and repeated praise and prayers. Don’t use your music ministry as an outlet for creativity at the expense of the centrality of the gospel. I once had a pastor who placed a small plaque on his pulpit engraved with these five words of scripture: “Sirs, we would like to see Jesus” (John 12:21). It was fixed there to remind him (and anyone else he allowed to share his pulpit) that his responsibility (and mine) was always and only to point men to Jesus.

Ralph M. Petersen and his wife, Kathy, are the owners of the OLDE TOWNE EMPORIUM at 212 E. Main St. in Rogersville. Comments are welcome. You can contact him at or by phone at (951) 321 9235.