How to Teach a New Worship Song to a Congregation

The below is a re-post from September 2012. I’m posting it again because it strikes me that summer could be a good time to try something new in your church services, including learning new songs together. Here are some suggestions for teaching a new worship song to a congregation or other group of people.

This morning I had the privilege of teaching our worshiping community this song:

Because I had guessed it would be new to the majority of our congregation, I decided to teach the song before we sang it all the way through. There are at least six things I like to try to do when teaching a new song:

1. Split it into pieces. I had the chorus for All the Earth Will Sing Your Praises on two Powerpoint slides. So I sang through the first half of the chorus (one PPT slide), stopped, and invited the congregation to sing that same part with me:

Then I repeated that same process for the second half of the chorus:

This way the congregation had heard the chorus once and sung it once.

2. Teach it not in order. This helps me and hopefully others remember that we’re actually working on learning the song. It also keeps us attentive to what part of the song we’re working on. We’ll piece it all together only once we’ve learned the component parts.

3. Highlight the lyrical content. If the tune is new, the lyrics likely are, too. At least they were in this case. So because this song speaks of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, I took the opportunity to highlight that. I actually read some of the song lyrics before teaching it, and connected them to something my church says in our weekly worship: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” I mentioned that like 1 Corinthians 15 and Luke 24, this is one of the great summaries of our faith that can unite us across multiple denominations and Christian backgrounds.

4. Teach it with a conversational tone. I can’t think of any other way to teach a song than by actually talking with the congregation about it, what we’re doing, what we’re about to do, etc. I find a friendly, inviting, conversational tone works best. At least it feels right to me when I am teaching a song!

5. Affirm the congregation. Our worshiping community picked this song up so fast today (some knew it already, I think) that this was easy to do. I actually cut short the process of teaching the song so that we could begin from the beginning singing it all the way through. This was due to the fact that as I began teaching the verse (i.e., “I’ll sing so you can hear it”), I could already hear folks singing along. It would certainly not be out of place to sincerely say something like, “You all are good singers!” (Provided it’s true.)

6. Have them hear the song even before I teach it. For example, I had All the Earth will Sing Your Praises played over the speakers as they were leaving worship Monday, knowing we’d be learning it today (Wednesday). It’s a little thing, but it helps. Other options could have been playing it as the prelude today, emailing everyone a Web link to the tune, etc.

The bottom line for me is: if we’re doing a song that I think will be new to most in the room, we highlight it as such and carve out time to work to learn it together. Then singing the new song from start to finish is not only easier, but feels like something we have worked at together in a way that draws us closer as we worship.

You’re the boss. People love you… right?

best boss

Do bosses over time gradually lose the ability to rightly estimate how other perceive them? Yes, according to a recent article in The Economist:

So not only do bosses set too much store by their strengths, as our Schumpeter column notes, they also habitually overestimate their ability to win respect and support from their underlings. Somehow, on reaching the corner office, they lose the knack of reading subtle cues in others’ behaviour: in a further experiment Mr Brion found that when a boss tells a joke to a subordinate, he loses his innate ability to distinguish between a real and fake smile.

Read the whole article (“Deluded Bosses: Who’s Behind Me?”) here.

I wonder if this is more an issue in the corporate world than in the church, although I suppose it’s true that any leader could be prone to this phenomenon.

It reinforces the importance of regular evaluation in organizations (especially large ones)–as well as making sure that there are accessible systems and processes in place for folks to meaningfully offer input.

(Life Update) I Am Pastoring Now

ChurchExciting news: I’ve accepted a call to be pastor at a great church in a seaside community in the Greater Boston area. My first Sunday was June 2.

My “About” page has been updated accordingly:

In my current capacity as pastor, I seek to support, encourage, and equip the congregation, connect with people in local and global communities, preach and help lead services weekly, and minister with the congregation in a variety of other ways.

I am grateful to God for the privilege of serving the congregation, and look forward to our weeks, months, and years of ministry together.

Who is the New Pope? Bergoglio (now Francis I) of Argentina

Pope Francis
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images, via NY Times

The cardinals today selected a new pope. From the New York Times:

With a puff of white smoke from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel and to the cheers of thousands of rain-soaked faithful, a gathering of Catholic cardinals picked a new pope from among their midst on Wednesday — choosing the cardinal from Argentina, the first South American to ever lead the church.

The new pope, 76, Jorge Mario Bergoglio (pronounced Ber-GOAL-io) will be called Francis, the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. He is also the first non-European leader of the church in more than 1,000 years.

Read more here.

There is a New Pope

White Smoke
Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press, via NY Times

From the New York Times:

With a puff of white smoke from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel and to the cheers of thousands of rain-soaked faithful, a gathering of Catholic cardinals picked a new pope from among their midst on Wednesday. The name of the new pope, the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, by tradition would not be revealed until he appeared on a balcony on the front of St. Peter’s Basilica.

No name yet, but that will come soon. More here for now.

A Few Thoughts on Leading without Authority

HeifetzRon Heifetz, in his Leadership Without Easy Answers, says, “The scarcity of leadership from people in authority, however, makes it all the more critical to the adaptive successes of a polity that leadership be exercised by people without authority” (183).

In other words, even though leaders should expect good leadership from those above them, they should perhaps not wait for it such that its absence affects their own leadership adversely.

I’m fortunate to work for a boss who leads well. But any person in a position of middle management should be prepared to lead effectively regardless of what leadership they see coming from “people in authority.”

And effective leadership requires proactivity. Stephen Covey in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People talks about being proactive as taking “the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen” (71).

I wonder whether we might at times fear taking on responsibility beyond what is in our job description, or beyond what our supervisors have explicitly asked of us. We may worry that we’ll do the wrong thing, or try to do the right thing but in the wrong way. Worse is not doing anything at all. Our work energies can always be redirected if misapplied; a mistake can always be tweaked and corrected.

But, as Heifetz points out, leadership and authority are not the same thing. Having a position of authority does not make one a good leader, nor does leading well require a position of authority. For organizations to succeed, workers at all levels–those with authority and those without–need to be proactive in their exercise of leadership. Lacking positional authority is not an excuse to do otherwise.

How shall we sing hymns?

John WesleyJohn Wesley (1703-1791) was an Anglican minister and theologian. His ministry (and that of his brother Charles Wesley) led to the creation of the Methodist Church, as well as other traditions that have their roots in Wesley: the Wesleyan holiness movement, Pentecostalism, and the Charismatic movement.

Wesley issued seven “Rules for Singing” in 1761. Here are some excerpts:

Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. …If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.

Sing…with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength…. (AKJ: This is particular pertinent for those services that take place in the morning hours.)

Sing in time. Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before, not stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can;

And take care you sing not too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.

WesleyHymn tempo can be largely a subjective decision–some like it fast, some like it slow. But might singing “all our tunes just as quick” encourage more hearty singing? It seems Wesley thought so.

Regarding the call to “attend closely to the leading voices,” I find it particularly helpful when worshiping congregations have vocal leaders for hymns, especially if members of the congregation are not familiar with a given hymn. This may sound self-evident, but the majority of my hymn-singing experience has been in churches where the organist leads the hymn just from the organ. This works fine in a congregation that knows hymns and sings them well, but I’m not convinced it’s always the  best approach to leading congregational hymns in worship.

Here’s my favorite part of Wesley’s rules:

Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. …[S]ee that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually.

I don’t think having “your heart… carried away with the sound” is mutually exclusive with offering it “to God continually,” but I love Wesley’s call to “have an eye to God in every word you sing.” We sing hymns best when we make them prayers to God, affirmations of our faith, even heartfelt confessions.

The rules in their entirety are here.