When Kirstyn and I got married, we needed to install curtain rods and curtains in our new apartment. Having never hung curtain rods before, but also having too much pride to ask someone for help, where did I turn? Youtube. I watched a few different videos showing me how to use drywall plugs to hang curtain rods. The videos were simple enough so I grabbed the needed materials and went for it
Within a few minutes the drywall plugs I installed had broken free from the drywall, sending the curtain rod crashing onto the ground. It was a disaster. I was a failure. In defeat a call was made to my amazing father-in-law who came over and showed me what I had done wrong.
You can learn how to do anything on Youtube. You can learn how to play an instrument, how to cook different foods, how to operate fancy computer programs. But watching a few Youtube videos does not guarantee the development of new skills.
Many churches rely on volunteers to lead worship. They may have a paid staff member for Sunday mornings but they likely have volunteers for their youth and young adult gatherings. I am thankful for these people. They have musical talent, a good singing voice, and love to help out in their local church. For the most part, these volunteers have not undergone much training as worship leaders. They have not gone to school for or read any books on worship leading. So what ends up being one of their main teaching resources? Youtube. Watching the latest worship video from Hillsong, Bethel, Elevation, or Passion. I know this to be true because I have seen the effects of how Youtube has taught and shaped volunteer worship leaders. While youtube can teach you all sorts of things, here are three things that Youtube won’t teach you about leading worship.
1) Congregational Singing
A few years ago the Vanguard College choir was given the opportunity to sing with Paul Baloche at a large conference in Edmonton. We were sent some unreleased songs from his upcoming album to prepare. We struggled to arrange the parts for the different groups of voices as each traditional part was too high for our sections. So we switched around parts and made it work. When we got to the event and connected with Paul we mentioned how we had to arrange it for the choir. He said something to the effect of, ‘Yeah, that recording is quite high. They wanted to record it in that key because it pops but we are going to sing it in a lower key.’
Worship recordings are most often in keys outside of what is comfortable for the average church-goer. These keys sound great on the recording and are emotionally moving, but this comes at the expense of ‘sing-ability.’ If we try to lead songs in the recorded keys, with all of the same octave jumps, we risk excluding members of the congregation during worship who cannot sing in the same range as the professionals. Instead, let us find keys that are more comfortable for the untrained church-goer to sing. We may have to rearrange some songs to get rid of the difficult octave jumps. We may even have to pass over a song we really like when we realize most people will not be able to sing along.
A song’s vocal range may not be the only issue of sing-ability. Well-produced worship songs can hide difficult melodies. The rhythm may be too complex and melodic intervals too tricky. This is not always readily apparent when watching the music video. You just see talented people singing beautiful songs with people worshiping along. The average church-goer does not have much musical training (if any) and probably does not spend the same amount of time listening to these songs as we do. Some melodies that are burned into our memories through repetition remain foreign and challenging to many in our church. If we have ever been frustrated at our church for not singing with us we need to evaluate whether these songs are singable.
2) Maintaining A Comprehensive Songs List
My wife and I led worship at a camp this summer. Two weeks before the camp started, and after we had put together our list of songs for the week, Hillsong released a new single, King Of Kings. It’s a beautiful song full of rich theology that leads us to a simple chorus of praise and exultation. We made the decision to add it to the list, and after carefully introducing it and repeating it a few times it proved to be a meaningful song for the camp.
There’s always a new worship song out on Youtube. This tempts us to quickly add the latest and greatest songs to our list and start singing them right away. We can end up introducing too many new songs without giving our people time to learn them well. Over time, this leads to a song list made up of random songs that have not been repeated enough. Further, we need to consider how each new song will fit within our overall song list.
Do we have songs that speak about the trinity? Do we have songs that speak about creation and the fall? Do we have songs that speak of the cross and repentance? Do we have songs that speak of our hope of Jesus’ return? Do we have historic songs that connect us with the generations who have worshipped before us? Do we have songs that will engage the different generations and cultures of our church? Our song lists need to be comprehensive, including songs that touch on all of these categories. We are responsible for curating a song list that reflects more than just what’s new and popular.
There were many songs we thought of bringing to camp that we ended up leaving behind because we thought they would be too new, unfamiliar, or challenging. There were other songs we included, even though they were far from our favourites, because we knew they would help us sing about important aspects of our worship. We made our list to be comprehensive, not to reflect our personal favourites.
3) Leading Sunday Morning
When a worship artist or group is coming to town people buy their tickets months in advance of the date. They have it marked on their calendar so that nothing else can be scheduled. They make arrangements for family care, travel, food. They look forward to the concert for weeks in advance. They listen to all the songs that they hope to hear live. Then the day comes. They leave early. They make sure they find their seat before the lights fade and everything is about to begin.
People on any given Sunday morning have rushed to get their kids ready, have argued with their spouse, have had a stressful work week, have been feeling behind on all of their errands. Some arrive early or on time. Many arrive a few minutes late.
When you start watching a worship video on Youtube everyone in the room is already engaged. They are already singing and raising their hands. Watching Youtube videos can give us the false expectation that the same thing will happen for you on Sunday morning. But Sunday is different. People are not coming as prepared. People need to be led into the time of worship.
Youtube teaches us to go deep right from the start. It teaches that we can start with a slow, deep, worshipful song on a Sunday morning or Friday night. But it does not work the same for us as it does in the video. People arrive with all sorts of things on their hearts and their minds and they need to be led from there to a place of focusing on God in worship. Faster songs are instrumental in helping people leave aside the busyness and burdens of the week and join together with one voice singing God’s praise. It is good to desire deep worship when we gather but we need to help people wade into the water slowly and not expect them to dive head first.
Worship Artist vs. Worship Leader
To be fair, Youtube could teach us these things. There are good resources from worship pastors teaching us how to be better worship leaders. From my observations, however, volunteer worship leaders are not seeking out those videos. They are watching videos from their favourite worship artists as inspiration on how to lead worship. Let us recognize that there is a difference between a worship artist and a worship leader. Yes, there can be a lot of overlap. I am not saying that worship artists are not worship leaders but they are also worship artists. They have resources and a platform that is contextually different from our youth night, young adult gathering, or sunday morning service.
I am thankful for worship artists. They help us embrace creative expression through the arts and help us worship globally. Their context of leading worship in stadiums is just different from that of our local church. Recognizing the difference will help us avoid these issues and become better worship leaders.
Are there other ways that worship videos on youtube have negatively influenced worship leaders? On the flip side how have these videos helped grow and develop worship leaders? Lastly, what are your favourite online worship leading instructional resources?