Leading or enabling?

Last night I attended the last meeting of this season for the Kansas City Chapter of the American Guild of Organists. Our guest was Robert Hobby, a well-known composer and church musician, who led us in an evening of his compositions (organ, choral, congregational…). It was a marvelous evening!

One thing he said, though, really caught my attention. He talked about how he saw his responsibilities as a church musician–not to lead congregational singing, but to enable it. There’s a lot of similarities between the two words, but there’s also a significant difference.

If I am leading congregational singing, that puts me in charge…and requires that the congregation follow my tempo, my breathing. The congregation doesn’t really have any responsibility–except to keep up with me. 

But if I am enabling the congregation, that makes our experience a shared partnership. I must be sensitive not only to the words and music but also to the needs and mood of the congregation. A hymn that might ordinarily be sung fairly rapidly might–because of circumstances impacting the congregation–need to be sung slower and more thoughtfully / meditatively.

And the congregation is then no longer a somewhat passive participant, dependent solely on what the worship leader(s) determine is needed. Instead, the members are actively involved, listening to and aware of the spirit’s presence–and responding to that presence.

Enabling….in this case, a positive way of looking at the role of the worship leader(s) in our congregations!

Muzak, anyone?

I wonder if the ubiquitousness of Muzak has had a negative impact on how we respond to music in a more formal setting…concert hall or church.

I know people tend to roll their eyes when they hear or read “When I was a child…” but I’m going to say it anyway. When I was a child, I remember that there was a difference between the music we heard on the radio and the music we heard in the concert hall and church…and there was a difference in the way we reacted to it. Radio music was (at least sometimes) background music–music we talked over, unless there was a song you really wanted to listen to (like “Big Bad John”). When we went to a concert or church, though, we made a special effort to go someplace out of our ordinary activities–and we treated the music differently as well. It was something special to listen to.

And then came Muzak.

It was everywhere! While initially it was in elevators, soon you couldn’t go anywhere without some sort of music playing…restaurants, stores, elevators…

And music was no longer something “special.” Instead, sometimes it became annoying, because it disrupted our conversations–and sometimes we had to speak louder to be heard over it.

I think we’re seeing the unfortunate results of that today.

In concert halls, there are times when you can hear individuals talk during a piece. Not just whisper something quietly to their neighbor about what they’re hearing–but carrying on complete conversations with a friend on their cell phone! Do they stop to think about how they’re disrupting the concert experience for others? or the disrespect they’re showing towards the composer and the performers?

And church… The prelude, rather than providng a means for the congregation to enter into the spirit of the service, unfortunately has often become church Muzak–music to visit by. And if the poor musician has happened to select a piece that builds to a climax, so does the volume of the congregational visiting. What about the postlude? Again, rather than seeing it (along with the prelude) as the “bookends” for the worshiping experience…the “stuff” that holds the service together…it’s seen as music to leave by, visiting about lunch, whatever seasonal game is on…

 Is it time to do away with Muzak? I’d like to–but unfortunately it’s taken such a hold in our society that I don’t think it’s possible to dig it out.

Perhaps it’s up to those of us for whom music is soul-nourishing, whether it’s in concert or church, to set the example…to educate by word and deed…to reclaim music as something to respect and honor.


I spent last weekend at our annual silent retreat. We initially were going to cancel this year’s because of a major denominational event that ended two weeks earlier, but there were a number of folks who wanted us to go ahead with it…and I’m glad we did.

It’s really kind of fun when I tell people about the retreat–and then watch their eyes get big as they try to figure out how on earth can you spend a whole weekend in silence without getting bored! But there’s a lot that goes on…and a lot of nonverbal communication that is shared.

We worship together in silence…we eat together in silence (except for the clanging of the silverware on the trays)…we smile at each other and hug each other in silence…we share the Lord’s Supper in silence…and yet an incredible sense of community develops during that time.

And we find that we really kind of hate coming out of silence on Sunday morning.  🙂

I usually take 4-6 boxes of resources for folks to use / share during the weekend…we are able to take a portable labyrinth for folks to walk…there is a room set aside for personal prayer…we have about 6 hours set apart when we share in deep, intentional prayer for the prayer concerns shared with each other and placed in envelopes in the prayer room.

The biggest challenge often is getting folks to come in the first place–the thought of silence can be frightening, used as we are to so much ongoing noise in our world. And yet, it is only in silence that we can quiet ourselves enough to let God speak deep into our souls…to bring healing…to gain guidance.

 There is so much validity to the statement by David in Psalms: “Be still and know that I am God.” In the silence of the weekend, we get to know God better…and we get to know ourselves better.

Thanks be to God!