So there I was last week, sitting in the large auditorium on the grounds of a denominational campground. We were just coming up to the message, and the person chairing the service remarked about the great acoustics in the place and suggested we stand and sing the simple, one-word chorus, “Hallelujah” acapella.
He started us off, but then, instead of going off-microphone, like you do in these situations, he just kept wailing into the mic, with the result that while we got to hear a bit of what it might sound like if it was just the sound of our voices, we mostly got to hear the sound of his voice.
In light of what follows, I should say that this a very, very personality-driven denomination, and one in which the parishioners play into the leader-driven culture by not doing anything unless their pastor tells them to do it. So while it’s a bit of a stretch, it’s entirely possible that the second he appeared to stop singing, they would have all stopped. That would be funny.
(The solution to that, by the way involves leading with your arms. The rhythmic one-two-three-four type of hand waving you often see done in older churches is actually orchestral conducting, what you really want to do is accent the sung syllables, which is closer to choral conducting.)
Anyway, I told all this to my wife a few days later — this actually happened several times, involving How Great is Our God and one other song — and she very accurately said, “that is so very dumb and so totally self-centered.”
Self-centered. Ah, there’s the problem. The secret of church leadership, no matter what your role, is knowing when to get out of the way. By that I don’t mean knowing when to retire (although that’s important, too) but knowing when not to take center stage, when to let things just take place organically; when to let things be congregation-led and not top-down.
In a modern church culture that is saturated with rhythm sections (drums, bass, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, keyboards, etc.) singing acapella is a refreshing change. But the entire point of the exercise is to allow the congregation to hear the sound of their own voices in a single blend. The smallest measure of musical instincts would tell you to drop the microphone at your side and if absolutely necessary, lead with your hands only.