Music by its very nature is vast and diverse. An unimaginable number of different styles and techniques came long before I was born and many more will be formed long after I’m gone. With that being said it’s important to remember that all music has context. As a guy in my late 20’s living in the UK, my music tastes have been heavily influenced by the culture I am a part of. It would be wrong for me to assume that we are all the same. One of the wonders of the Christian faith is that God meets us where we are. We are all different and unique and yet we can all join together to worship one God. Just remember every small group is different, stay true to the people you are and the purpose God has for you when choosing worship songs.
Don’t get me wrong, I love nothing more than going to a gig to hear music performed by a full band of professional musicians. But realistically this is not what small group worship is about. Maybe you have a guitar or a keyboard; perhaps some of you have downloaded instrument apps on your phones. Your small group may prefer acapella worship. The worship style is up to you, but always keep in mind that worship has never been about complexity. Yes, it can be a full choir accompanied by an orchestra but it can also be a single voice and an honest heart. For me one of the best songs to encapsulate this is The Rend Collective’s – Come on my soul. Lyrically the song only contains 15 different words but through these simple lyrics the song calls us to redirect our focus to God, a great way to start any worship session.
A few years ago my family and I were at a wedding. The service started with worship songs played by a band, and a good time was had by all. At this point I should explain that my Dad has a very loud voice. Seriously, imagine the loudest singing voice you have ever heard and then turn the volume dial up one more. At the end of the service a woman in her mid-20’s in the row in front of us turned around and thanked my Dad for singing so loudly. It was clear that she was quite emotional and later I found out why. It turned out the volume of my Dad’s voice had drowned out her own and that had really given her the freedom to not worry about how she sounded, and she had connected with God in a way she hadn’t before. Those of us who are in the UK are free to worship Christ. We do not face the same persecutions as our brothers and sisters in places like North Korea or Somalia. So if you are worried about the place you are in, physically or emotionally, remember that you are FREE to worship. There should be no safer space for you to express that freedom than within your small group. When I lead worship with my wife Abbie, we like to use Worship Central – Spirit Break Out. With a few instrumental verses we give the congregation the freedom to go off script; sing their own lyrics and melodies, and lift prayers while we worship.
3. BEAUTY & TRUTH
A problem I often encounter when leading worship is finding a good balance between beauty and truth. One of the marvels of Worship is that it comes in so many different forms. An artist who creates a beautiful sculpture as an act of worship is performing the same act as a poet creating a sonnet for God. Sung worship is somewhere in the middle. Both words and melody have been created for God. The bible is a great place to start to keep your worship song rooted in truth. Find songs that have beautiful melodies but also have lyrics based on scripture. One of my favourite hymns is ‘The Lord’s my shepherd I’ll not want’. A few years ago Stuart Townend reimagined the hymn for a new generation. The song had a beautiful melody and it’s truthful lyrics are based closely on Psalm 23. The perfect combination of beauty and truth.
The setting of your small group can have huge implications for the style of worship you can use. If you are in a small living room, in a terraced house, leading a group late into the evening, volume may be an issue. If this is the case don’t view this as a reason not to use sung worship, but instead challenge yourself to try new things. Maybe take a walk as a group to a noisier or more secluded place, where worshiping loudly will not be a problem. Perhaps use this as a chance to sing quiet reflective songs. On the other hand, if your small group is set in a large space don’t feel like you always have to strive for more instruments and louder music. Stripping back the worship can often be the best way to understand what God is saying to your small group. The song Cornerstone by Hillsong has been used within worship for around 5 years now, and in that time there have been many incarnations of the song. From full band stadium style to intimate and minimal. One of my favourite recordings of the song is from RELEVANTS YouTube page, a much quieter version with only two vocalists. Don’t let your context stop your worship, but instead use this as an opportunity to revisit songs in a different style, finding different ways to worship.
No matter when your small group gathers, some of you will always bring stresses and distractions with you. Whether it’s disagreements from work that have followed you home, the children’s behaviour that could have been better or even just traffic that brought out anger you didn’t know was there. Whatever it may be we can all lose focus on God. For me, starting a small group session with worship is the best way to refocus on God… wiping the slate clean of the troubles that distract you. Try and remember, that unlike so many things we experience in today’s society, worship is not about being a consumer it is about being a participant. We can only truly participate when we are focused. Way back in 1999 while songs like ‘Mambo number 5’ and’ Hit me baby one more time’ topped the pop charts, Matt Redman released Heart of worship. A powerful reminder of where our focus should be, it is still a worship favourite after almost two decades.
Just to be clear, by NEW I don’t mean always chase the newest releases. This certainly isn’t what the writer of Psalm 96 meant when they wrote:” Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth”. For me a NEW song refers to bringing to God the things that matter to you right now in this new day. Play a simple four chord structure and talk to God as a group. Maybe in prayer, maybe in song. For me this is where some of the best worship songs are born, in an honest moment, bringing the day’s challenges and triumphs to God.
A great example of this is John Mark Macmillan – How He Loves Us. John tells the story of working in a recording studio and getting a phone call to let him know several of his friends had been in a serious car accident. As a result of this accident, his close friend Stephen had died from his injuries. With no idea of how to deal with his sadness, anger and frustration, John starts to write a song about his relationship with God in that moment. A song that talks about a God that still loves us through our hate, our doubt and our wandering.
Every day with God is NEW. New challenges, new blessings, new chances… and what better way to worship than to invite him into every situation, to be alongside you facing and understanding them. What is your song to God today?
About Ben Edwards
Ben is worship leader, youth work volunteer and small group member in his local church in Farnborough. He recently joined CWR as a graphic designer. In his free time he enjoys five a side football and DIY.