Singing With The Understanding–Miscellany* 

Neal Pollard

We are a diverse group who gather to sing for worship. We vary in age, education, religious background and literacy, race, and doubtless other factors. Some of us have been singing the same hymns for decades, while others may be seeing those hymns for the first time.  There is a mutual responsibility, one for the song leader and one for the participant. Yet, I would argue that the leader has the greater obligation to assist the participants in offering better worship. Mindless participation is the fault of the participant, but being led to speak and teach words they don’t understand is not.  What can the song leader do to increase the effectiveness of “singing with the understanding.”

Engage In Thoughtful Preparation. When picking out songs to lead, opt for simplicity. Archaic or technical words can hang up and distract the worshipper. It is fruitful to ask the question, “How will this be comprehended by the average participant?” Does the song read like we speak today? If we’re not careful, we can tend to speak through song in mystical terms that help disconnect the mind and the mouth. Do we know what it means to “vanquish all the hosts of night”? Do we know what “cassia-dipped” garments are? Do we know what’s referenced “where Eden’s bowers bloom”? How do I “launch my bark”? These are lyrics from songs that are sung every week in congregations across the land, but words I’d venture to say that many, if not most, do not comprehend. We must give thought in preparation.

Engage In Adequate Explanation. Something that can help in song leading is to point out words or expressions we’re about to sing, defining and explaining them. This does not necessitate a second sermon, but as part of preparation we should be ready to clarify obscure or difficult words. For example, from songs we often sing, we find:

  • “Repining”–To feel or express discontent; to fret
  • “Guerdon”–A reward
  • “Warble”–To sing (especially used of birds)
  • “Fain”–Gladly
  • “Trysting”–Meeting 
  • “Essay” (as used in I’ll Never Forsake My Lord)– To attempt
  • “Cloven”–Divided
  • “Garish”–Bright and gaudy
  • “Fen”–A swamp

While some songbooks, like Praise For The Lord, have footnoted some of these difficult words, many worshippers don’t pay attention to them. So many of us project our hymns in worship. The onus (i.e., duty) is on the leader to explain.

Engage In Balanced Variation. Everyone has their favorite type and genre of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Song leaders are no different than worshippers. How important it is to balance out old and new hymns, considering the typical “audience” present to participate. 

Engage In Heavenly Petition. Anyone who leads in worship should season their preparation and participation with petition to God. Pray about doing what you’re tasked with doing as effectively as possible. 

What a blessing to have willing, talented worship leaders. We have a powerful opportunity to show God’s wisdom in singing according to the authority of the New Testament (cf. Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19). Let’s capitalize on that by putting everyone in the optimal position to sing with proper spirit and understanding!

*–Miscellany–A group or collection of different items; a mixture

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3 thoughts on “Singing With The Understanding–Miscellany* 

  1. One would suggest that the song leader have at least a minimum level of effectiveness. Brother Belt-it-out and Drag-it-along makes it hard for any person to sing thoughtfully, particularly if he is prone to hitting the high notes about an octave over his talent. ….. Congregations should also train song-leaders before allowing them in the pulpit. I like to sing, and can lead the best singing you ever heard — in my mind. Yet even though Tommy Salmon, and the older Brother Wheeler (Dallas) tried their best to teach me — it was useless. ….. We are not liable to attract return visits from folks if the singing is poor to terrible.

    Without minimally effective song-leaders, Elders should consider reading the lyrics — and train some minimally effective leader-readers to lead the congregation in a “chant” which emphasizes the meaning and spiritual understanding.. This would also have the advantage of overcoming what the late Brother LL Gieger (Geiger-?) once described as Singing the Music But Not the Meaning– to which some “song-services tend. Otherwise parading our musical pathetic-ness makes a mockery of the church — akin to all speaking at once.

    Effective song-leading includes choosing songs which really reflect ones commitment. For instance “A Soul Winner For Jesus” has no place in a congregation where no one is or is likely to be such a soul-winner at that time. Perhaps after some lessons and organized efforts are working then the song has some encouragement and meaning. Otherwise we are training people to ignore/be-insensitive to the words. And if they do it with one song, it reinforces that tendency with others.

    A word needs to be said about “new” songs. New song-leaders need to know the songs with which the congregation is familiar. Otherwise you will wind up as we saw a congregation do, leading a totally new and somewhat difficult song as an invitation song — which ruined an other-wise good sermon (I’ve seen this happen several times over the past 60 years).

    I enjoy your articles, and know several others who do and who appreciate your preaching. Thank you.

  2. Thank you brother.

    On Mon, Nov 26, 2018 at 12:00 PM Preacherpollard’s Blog wrote:

    > preacherpollard posted: “Neal Pollard We are a diverse group who gather to > sing for worship. We vary in age, education, religious background and > literacy, race, and doubtless other factors. Some of us have been singing > the same hymns for decades, while others may be seeing those” >

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