Leading worship with no musicians?

One question a lot of people ask me, or comment on, is how to lead worship when there are no musicians around. Is there an app for that? Here are some ideas.

First and foremost is this. If you are in the mindset that by worship you mean singing, it becomes very difficult. You basically have two options available…

a) a backing track of some description (perhaps a CD or Mp3 sing-along, or maybe some thing like this new little gadget: www.isingworship.com/), or
b) sing a Capella, totally unaccompanied.

I have done more of the latter than the former. I was once put in a position of leading songs in the middle of a field with no amplification other than a sole megaphone. Hymns and megaphones are an interesting combination but it seemed to work.

Alternatively you can take the opportunity to use other forms of expressing worship together. There are plenty of groups and denominations that use non music-based forms of worship. There is a rich archive of liturgy and ancient creeds to use and adapt and provide inspiration to create ways to express shared faith together. You can use communal reading of scripture whereby the leader reads a verse and the congregation either repeats or read the next line. There are plenty of scriptures that lend themselves to this kind of reading. Genesis 1 for example is thought to be a poem with repeating lines of ‘there was evening and there was morning, the Nth day’ (There is a PowerPoint for this reading in the resource section of this blog.) Psalm 136 has the repeat refrain ‘His love endures forever’ which can be really simple for congregations to engage with but also really powerful to speak over and over again about God’s enduring love throughout the Israelite story.

Then there are all the different ways we can pray together, different ways of reflecting (lectio divina’s and putting yourself into the story are great ways of reflecting together on Bible passages in worship.) how can we find ways of sharing our own stories and praying through our own personal experiences. Of course one major element of unsung worship is to share communion – breaking bread, either in a formal rich ritual way or in an informal lounge-like style can be a powerful worship expression and doesn’t need a musical accompaniment.

Recently I led a worship session which used many of these techniques. Those who took part were surprised at just how much they were able to engage in music-less worship expressions, and ever more so, how much they enjoyed it! There were times of silence, times of guided reflection, times of each person sharing and reading verses aloud together.

In that particular setting we did use a song or two at the end to close, but it was the unsung elements that had the biggest impact on these worshippers lives.

It may take a bit more preparation. It may require a bit more imagination and thinking outside of the box (and once outside the box you may want to use the box for something else!) but unsung worship need not be a terrifying or excruciating experience. When led well, unsung worship can easily be rich and meaningful and exhilarating as the latest anthem or album.


4 thoughts on “Leading worship with no musicians?

  1. Yes. I’ve often heard “we need musicians” from leaders of small fellowships.. Which is kind of like saying “God is unable to use us as we are.” I am a musician, and I think for that reason I was recruited into worship leading. After a while it got very dis-satisfying and I started to rely on other people to play instruments because there were just too many things to think about with a guitar slung round my neck or a piano to bash around on. The church I’m in now (I’ve moved countries), doesn’t seem to get that a worship leader doesn’t HAVE to be a musician at all. I have this one friend who I was driving home from a retreat and he was waxing lyrical in the back of my car for about half an hour about the worship practices of the Israelites and how it should be done etc etc (he got a bit cocky, but he clearly cared deeply about it). I told him “well, why don’t YOU lead worship. I’ll play guitar, you formulate the service structures etc etc.” He’s still thinking about it 🙂 Anyway. I found a good way of using the Psalms in a creative way was to render them into rhyming couplets or some such other quirky formulation 🙂 I did Psalm 144 http://graememark.blogspot.sk/2012/06/psalm-144.html Psalm 67 http://graememark.blogspot.sk/2010/10/psalm-67.html and Psalm 45 among others..

  2. Thanks for your feedback, Graeme. I think it’s great to get non-musicians to lead worship, it often provides such a fresh expression of worshipping together.

    I love what you’ve done with the Psalms too. Permission to steal and use them?

    1. Permission granted haha.. And that includes stealing and using the idea of doing that, which would probably be more useful to you in the long run, ha!

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