Worship Leaders: Play Songs Your Congregation Doesn’t Like

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I mean it…literally. I know playing songs your congregation doesn’t want to hear sounds like a horrible idea and flies in the face of many years of your contemporary worship training, but I don’t know when our job became more about pleasing man instead of Jesus. Now before you get all huffy, let me explain.

First, I don’t mean purposefully playing songs that your congregation doesn’t like stylistically. Although if people only worship Jesus when they hear a Chris Tomlin song then I’d say you have really big worship and idolatry issues to tackle and then maybe purposefully *not* playing Chris Tomlin is a good idea.

Secondly, I don’t think being a contrarian is a sign of leadership maturity. I’m not advocating simply doing the opposite of what other churches are doing, or constantly trying to throw off your congregation in worship simply because seeing them squirm makes you feel like you’re really doing God’s will.

Here’s what I am saying. As worshipers we are constantly battling idols taking the place of Jesus. Idols we’ve torn down will take new shape and present themselves as something new and more worthy and acceptable of worship. If anything takes our worship but Jesus it is idolatry, sin. Colossians 1:18 “And he[Jesus] is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn of the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” Our congregations worship a lot of things over Christ and we have to expose idols in our worship, tear them down and place Jesus above them as our focus of worship.

Probably not too many of you have any problems with the above paragraph, but here’s where it gets messy…

For the families that worship their own comfort, rest and individualism by showing up 30 minutes late do you think they want to sing about how there is no rest outside of Christ, that even in our sleep we toil, or that they’ve forsaken the gathering because they worship their individuality and comfort? Show them by singing that we only enjoy peace and rest in Christ because of the bloody, violent, death of Christ on the cross and that now they’ve been saved to community, the body of Christ, to sacrifice, serve and worship together.

For the college kids that show up right on time because they love the music, but spent last night partying hard, indulging in their sinful passions, do you think they want to sing about how they are slaves to sin, deserving of death and that unless they get a new heart in Christ their posturing in worship, the jumping, the singing, the Hillsong “woa-oh” chants are worthless clatter. That they worship themselves and can’t atone for their sins by singing loudly. Show them by singing that Jesus is their propitiation, that they are dead in their sins, but that there is life in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. That if they truly encountered Christ they’ve be given a new heart, and that they’d no longer desire to live a life of sin.

For the religious church couple that just walked in dignified, that has no reason to get uncomfortable because they were “saved” at a youth camp at age 10 and baptized in the pool so their salvation is secure. Show them by singing the psalms that our hearts cry out, our soul thirsts for Jesus, that we fall at the feet of Jesus and cry “Hosanna”, and that if they don’t, don’t they know even the rocks, even the pews they comfortably sit in, would cry out for Jesus. That their dispassionate hearts show they worship their dignity, which all through scripture is shown to be folly.

Worship leaders, don’t make yourself a petty entertainer. Don’t seek to satisfy your congregation’s idols. Lead your congregation to worship the real Jesus, show them who Jesus is, what he has done and if they get that, they’ll see themselves for who they are, repent and become new creations in Christ. Sing the songs their flesh doesn’t want to hear, sing the songs that wreak havoc in their hearts. Our worship should be a dance of repentance, praise and honor. Worship leaders, seek to have Jesus preeminent in all things, all things.

What songs are you playing now that challenge the congregation and confront their idols? Do you even think about that when choosing songs?

Copyright 2009 Our Rising Sound



is the Associate Director of Worship & Media at St. Simons Community Church, where he mentors, oversees and helps lead Family and Student worship environments. He is also the content curator and editor here at The Worship Community and at HighestPraise.com.

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