When it comes to worship music, only one thing is essential, according to Keith Hibbs, director of the office of worship leadership and church music for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions: The approach to worship must be biblically based.
“When I teach sessions on worship, I always ask individuals what has influenced how they worship,” said Hibbs. “What is worship in the Scripture? That ought to be the biggest influence and the biggest model used to plan worship.”
Hibbs cites Isaiah 6 and Psalm 100 as excellent models for worship, noting the need to begin with thanks and then praise.
According to Hibbs, music is an important part of worship and a proper mindset includes singing from the heart in thanksgiving to the Lord.
“Colossians 3:16–18 talks about exhorting one another as we sing psalms, hymns or spiritual songs. In your worship times, you should exhort each other and encourage while you’re singing. Some people say they don’t sing, but if you’ve had a true experience with Jesus Christ, you’ve got a song in your heart.”
Music can play many roles in worship and one of those roles is to allow each music participant the opportunity to reflect to the congregation and their fellow musicians the qualities that should be the norm for every believer, said Thomas Smith, music minister at Providence Baptist Church, Opelika.
“That norm is that the Holy Spirit, who is indwelling the life of every believer, should be the chief motivating force for all that the believer does,” Smith said. “When the Holy Spirit becomes the major player in the church musician, the congregation will not only see the fruits of the spirit as described in Galatians, but will see a worship participant who is real, genuine and a team player. When this happens in the music-maker, regardless of the musical style, our Lord will be glorified and the people will worship.”
Hibbs said that the substance of worship is far more important than the style, noting that the debate over worship styles can be divisive in churches.
Current trends among churches incorporate some form of technology to enhance worship, including screens, worship presentation software or sound systems. Along with technology, around 75 percent of churches still have hymnals in the pews, Hibbs said.
Hibbs considers intergenerational worship to be one of the healthiest trends, since it combines multiple generations in leadership roles.
“It is healthy because we at times have wanted to separate, by generation, our worship congregation,” Hibbs said. “I think the rate at which we see our youth dropping out of church once they leave high school relates to the fact that they don’t have contact with enough mature Christian adults to better establish roots in the Christian faith. Most of our churches today see the need for an intentional intergenerational worship service at least once a month. It’s a very healthy, scriptural picture of worship.”
First Baptist Church, Tallassee is working to incorporate an intergenerational worship experience in their services.
“A graded choir program is a good place to start,” said the church’s minister of music and worship, Michael Scarborough. He said he looks for arrangements that call for children’s and adult choirs to sing together and he often features youth soloists in worship services.
“It’s a good thing for the congregation and for the ones singing,” he said.
As worship trends change, so does the need for leaders as many churches shift from volunteers or full-time music ministers to bivocational worship leaders.
Hibbs has seen a growing need for individuals to realize the call to bivocational music ministry and hopes to build a list of individuals called to worship leadership. The current list is very short.
Churches can help to meet the need by working to identify and equip children for a sense of calling. One vehicle for equipping young musicians is the Mix Music Camp, held every summer in July at Shocco Springs Conference Center.
The camp offers recreation and a heavy focus on worship, allowing kids to lead worship in an environment where they can be encouraged and instructed. Sessions incorporate discipleship with Scripture memorization and devotions, applying Scripture to the music students sing.
The Children’s Choir Summit, also held each July, provides training for children’s choir leaders. Karen Gosselin, an associate and music specialist in the office of worship leadership and church music, leads this training with sessions adaptable to the needs of churches and associations.
Hibbs’ office also provides training events like the annual One Day for Worship Leaders, a conference for worship leaders and pastors to attend as a team. This year’s conference is scheduled for Thursday, August 29, from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Hunter Street Baptist Church, Birmingham (2600 John Hawkins Parkway, Hoover, Alabama) and will feature author and director of LifeWay Worship Mike Harland sharing thoughts from his book “Worship Essentials.”
Harland will lead the morning session, and in the afternoon a panel of five pastor and worship leader teams from churches around the state will discuss how they approach worship in their churches.
The list of panelists includes Derek Gentle and Michael Scarborough, First Baptist Church, Tallassee; John Brock and B.J. Price, Highland Baptist Church, Florence; David Eldridge and John Woods, Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, Birmingham; Rusty Sowell and Thomas Smith, Providence Baptist Church, Opelika; and Buddy Champion and Joe Estes, First Baptist Church, Trussville.
“This year’s timely focus on worship essentials as outlined in Harland’s book and then the opportunity to dialogue with these worship leadership teams affords a wonderful opportunity for worship leaders and pastors to take one day and receive inspiration, continued training and networking.”
Hibbs and his team also provide other adaptable training events for associations and churches where groups can learn tips for leading worship, using technology, leading a choir and a variety of other topics.
Worship Music Emphasis Week will be observed August 18–24, providing churches and associations the opportunity to highlight worship music and worship leaders.
For information about training opportunities or Music Emphasis Week, contact Hibbs at 334-613-2217 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the One Day for Worship Leaders conference or to register, click here. Registration fee includes lunch and a copy of the book, “Worship Essentials.”