Leading Music in Church

Leading Music in Church

Cecilia Vakameilalo-Kioa and Chris Duthie-Jung

Leading Music in Church � A Lay Person’s Guide!

A lot of people are involved in a lot of music groups around the churches today. But how many of those groups actively lead the congregation as opposed to simply playing the music? We are talking here about an art form in which the people are actively drawn into the worship / liturgical experience by musicians who understand their role and take it seriously. How do we do it?First up the music fits. We all know that mood can be everything in worship and it’s not always praise! The music chosen fits the ebb and flow of the service so that when we begin, the music speaks of gathering and when it is all over, we send people off strengthened for mission � the music empowers! Beyond this, our music reflects overall themes. Special days (eg. Easter or Christmas) speak for themselves but don’t forget the mood is also guided by the season in the overall church year (eg Advent or Lent).

Varying the musical arrangement can help broaden the experience for the congregation. Try a cantor (solo voice) for Psalm type responses. Cut back the accompaniment to bring out the verses, and have all instruments rejoin for the refrain. Instrumentals and a cappella singing are perfect for reflective times, as there really is no instrument more powerful and enticing than the human voice. Vocal harmony is always impressive and uplifting but singers beware! We must be clear in our words (diction) and expression � show we mean what we sing or we risk giving a clear message of irrelevance and meaninglessness. Don’t forget the value of silence too. Musical overkill is quite common amongst experienced groups who feel they are on a mission from God!

It probably comes as no surprise to find that preparation is the key to experiencing the ultimate rush of leading people in song and leading them well. Let’s break it down:

Know your instrument!

Guitar, drums, keyboards, voice�whatever, but if we play it, play it well! Good technique is a must if people are to be confident in our leadership! Beginners are to be encouraged and involved wherever possible but they shouldn’t dominate.

Rehearse, rehearse and rehearse some more!

Actually, the extent of rehearsal required depends a lot on the particular group and the regularity (or lack) of their playing together. When all is said and done, people will know if you haven’t rehearsed enough! Have someone actively lead the rehearsal. If possible, hold rehearsals in the venue. Agree as a group and as individuals to be open to new ideas and constructive criticism. Remain focussed on our role as ministers of music.

On-going formation in liturgy and worship

None of us ever know it all. Keep seeking to learn more. If our church is into structured liturgy, take opportunities to read up on liturgy, attend workshops, and ask questions! If ours is more of a freestyle worship, talk too and learn from those who have been involved for years. Pick on visiting musicians for their gems of wisdom.

Selection of Music

We touched on it above but it really is the bottom line. The music we select is vital. Can we lead it with proficiency? Do the people know it? If not, when and how will we teach it to them? Does the music suit the season, the day, the moment? Metal isn’t usually very reflective and plainsong chant doesn’t very often energise! The music has got to be relevant and appropriate to both the congregation and the service.

New music

New songs have to be introduced sometime if we want to remain fresh. In structured situations it is often best to use new music as a warm up, inviting people to join in as they pick up the tune. A confident cantor certainly helps and when singing as a group, leave out the harmonies until the melody is being sung clear and strong.

Rock on� with permission

Finally, invest in a good sound system and know how to use it. Copyright is a big issue today and the reasons are good. Songwriters have to eat too! So let’s get it right and obtain copyright permission for all music we use. Talk to your local Christian bookshop.


Most of all, musicianship in the church context is a ministry. And music leadership is a ministry within a ministry. If we are music group leaders then we shouldn’t be afraid to lead like we mean it! Lead musicians with clear signals for first notes and final bars; for dynamic bursts and calm solos. Lead the people (our choir!) with clear body language that leaves no doubt whatsoever when they are to sing and when they are to keep quiet!

Remember though, it’s not actually about giving the performance of our lives. As with all ministry, it’s not about us at all. We are there to inspire and encourage, to empower, enable and involve. Think of Jesus as a music leader�!