We have two services here at Lamb of God Lutheran (LCMS), 8:00 Traditional (Hymns on organ, Choir leads and sings most offertories) and a "Blended" 10:30 service. The 10:30 service maintains the hymns from the 8:00 but the liturgical elements and the communion hymns are led by a praise band.
This past Sunday, we were highlighting our Youth Ministry and the mission trips that they took over the summer. So, I asked any youth who were interested to form the praise band for that week. We had 3 acoustic guitars (played by fine youth guitarists) and I played piano.
All of the music was sung in unison with the group en masse. There were no solo sections with the exception of one and that was on the Rich Mullins tune "Awesome God" where I sang the verses and the kids responded with the chorus. The other songs were All who are Thirsty, God of this City and, believe it or not, a resetting of Jesus Loves Me.
Admittedly, I led pretty hard from the piano and did my best to keep the songs in line and to keep the tempo from wandering. But, all in all, the kids did a great job.
Here's the catch - the congregation really sang. Now, I can take the cynical view and say that the congregation sang because who doesn't love to see kids involved in worship.
But here's what I think.... The songs I picked had strong "sing along" choruses. And, there were no "lead" singers but rather a choral approach.
So, this begs the question of what is the focus of worship music in the Lutheran Church Today. I heard a great word from a new member today that came from a Non-Denominational background. She said "I like your worship because it is participatory." And that's the point. We are to LEAD worship by creating a foundation that people can sing upon. How do we do that? A group approach that welcomes people to sing (like a choir). A church that architecturally supports singing (hard surfaces that create a warm, reverberant atmosphere (people sing in their showers, not their closets) and songs that everyone can follow (like largely syllabic, non melismatic tunes, like hymns).
Ok, you've probably got what I'm going to say now- Choir led services in great acoustic spaces where people are singing from the hymnal is what we are after! Traditional worship has been vetted by time and the music is forced to survive generations, not one advertising cycle. So why do we keep drifting away from the common sense answer to dynamic worship?
I have one theory - and you may not like it. Many pastors who are ill equipped to comment on worship look at their dwindling numbers and take it out on the music ministry when they should be taking time to look at their own ministry. I know pastors who are openly antagonistic to traditional worship saying that the organ is "archaic" and that the hymnody speaks to a past generation. What those pastors are really saying is that they don't want a service that ever takes the focus off of them.
Music people out there - let's take some blame also. Are you doing substandard work? Have you stopped practicing? Do you go to seminars and continuing education functions? Do you DEMAND that your church pay a fair wage for your services? I am fortunate to have a supportive pastoral staff here at LOG and a continuing education budget. But realize, as a music director friend told me recently - most of these musical conflicts don't come from the pews, but from the staff. So, when the next pastor with a bright idea comes forward for music, be prepared.
Here's a good place to start " Te Deum: The Church and Music" by Paul Westermeyer.