The Ministry of Song Leading

July 5, 2018
Bob Upton

As Richard walked into the chapel on a snowy Sunday morning, he was reminded by a brother that he was scheduled to lead the singing. “I completely forgot!” he said. He quickly sat down and thumbed through the hymnal to find a few of his favorite songs.

The piano player sat down at 11:03 and started playing the first hymn real slow. Richard sang strong to try to pick up the pace. But the soprano in the third row had a voice stronger than his, and she chose her own tempo, a full beat ahead of everyone else. The crowd didn’t know who to follow. By the third verse, more of the congregation had found their seat and things got a bit better by the final verse. After the meeting Richard thought, “I wish our singing was better.”

That afternoon at home, Richard’s Bible reading was in Nehemiah 12. He read that when the ruined walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt, and the Word of God was brought back to prominence, revival broke out. They had a joyous celebration. This resulted in a wonderful response of worship from the people with powerful, loud singing. They sang with such joy that you could hear it a long way out of town (Neh. 12:42-43).

Richard wondered, “I would love to hear that kind of singing, why don’t we sing like that?” A quick study of God’s Word will tell us that singing is an outflowing of a heart that is filled with God and His Word. But even with a full heart we still have to know how to sing.

Nehemiah also shows that something which had been lost had now been restored. It says, that they hearkened back to the days of David and Asaph when there were leaders of the singers (Neh. 12:46).

So, what is song leading? Song leading is neither picking songs nor leading worship. (The Holy Spirit leads worship — Jn. 4:24). Instead, song leading is leading the singing with the goal to help people sing together. For people to sing together they need to be led because good singing doesn’t just happen automatically. Song leading encourages others to sing because if the song leader sings strongly and correctly, others will feel like they can sing too.

So, what is a song leader? A song leader is a believer, led and powered by the Holy Spirit, who serves the body of Christ by skillfully instructing and leading the believers in singing praise to His name, and proclaiming His truth in song.

A great song leader in the Old Testament was named Asaph. His name means “gatherer.” That is interesting when you consider the idea of leading songs is gathering voices together, so that we sing as one.

We read in 2 Chronicles 5:13, “It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD…” Singing is one of the things that the whole church participates in together at the same time. It’s an expression of our unity.

Here are five reminders about song leading.

First, song leading is a service. The song leader is a servant, serving the Lord and His people through music. So, let’s do it well (Ps. 100:2). We should prepare, using the same care and preparation for song leading that we use for speaking. We should pray, asking the Lord to direct us as we select the songs, that they would be used to glorify God and refresh the saints. We should practice, taking time to sing through the songs with the musicians. Shouldn’t our singing be excellent?

Second, good song leading is Spirit-filled. The Spirit is to guide all we do including song leading. It is not picking our favorites. Paul exhorts us, “…be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:18-19). Singing is the fruit of a Spirit-filled life. When we are Spirit-filled something powerful will come out.

Third, song leading is a school. Not only are you teaching music; you are teaching truth. Paul writes in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Many hymns teach truth and our hymnbook can shape our theology. Good songs should be full of good teaching. They say, “You are what you eat.” It’s also true, “you are what you sing.” So, select songs that teach a broad range of sound doctrine. When people leave your meeting, they don’t hum the sermon on the way home, they hum the hymn. The songs we sing are remembered long after the message is forgotten.

Fourth, song leading is a stewardship. Paul often spoke of a trust which was committed to him. He told Timothy, “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust…” (1Tim. 6:20). A stewardship is a trust, something committed to you to keep and to pass on. Who else is going to preserve the hymns besides the song leader? We are in a generation where our hymnbook is shrinking, with many songs being discarded. Much of our rich heritage has been lost in the last few years. So along with the new songs we enjoy, the song leader is encouraged to be a steward of this legacy of wonderful hymns passed down to us. As song leader, you are also a steward of the clock. You are not up there to preach. Give the preacher his full time to speak. One extra hymn can represent hours of his study time preparation.

Song leading is a sacrifice. To sing well takes a lot of time, preparation and practice. To train an assembly to sing in parts, to sing acappella, to sing together as one is a sacrifice. But the reward is so good. If you have the privilege to lead singing with a joyful body of believers who sing as one from their hearts to the Lord, it is out of this world!

Song leaders should seek to sing songs that unite rather than divide the church. We are not united by a style of music. The One we are singing to unites us. We are a people redeemed to God from every tribe and tongue singing sacrifices of praise.

So, let’s sing better. The church needs song leaders who have been trained to know what to sing, how to sing it, and why they sing it. Let’s pray for a revival among us, for whenever there was a revival, there was great singing.