Churches Who Sing Well

I recently listened to a talk Keith Getty gave a few months back in Chicago. Keith is a well-known songwriter of contemporary hymns and a worship leader. He said a lot of things worth checking out if you listen to the whole talk (link to his talk on corporate worship leading) but one part specifically stuck out to me.

“Churches who have senior pastors who sing out during worship, generally are churches who sing well. Churches who have senior pastors who don’t sing out during worship, generally are churches who don’t sing well.”

The context for the quote comes from his extensive traveling to churches all over the world and this is one way he’s distinguished between churches who sing or don’t sing well.

There’s two sides to the argument that comes following a quote like that. One side would say people should keep their worship focused on God not on their pastor. The other side would say a pastor who can’t worship in public probably has a private worship problem. Steven Furtick touched on this in a post he wrote on similar topic.

A couple quick thoughts of my own:

  • The men and women who have been called to lead local church bodies have a duty to provide a helpful example.
  • I lead worship for student ministry programs multiple times a week and I’m always trying to balance what it means for me to truly worship while also being an example to the students of what a posture of worship in a corporate setting can and should look like. To say the students shouldn’t be watching me is somewhat naive, because they are, it’s a reality.

What’s your response to this?

  • Josh

    I think there’s truth to his statement for sure.

    If we preach it, we definitely should model it–prayer, serving, forgiveness, giving, worship, humility, etc.

  • Ken

    I guess I need to ask what he meant by “well.” Is it a congregation that sings on key? A congregation that sings out loud? A congregation that worships with unity and/or strength?

    • Tyler

      Probably all of the above. To me, there’s no doubt singing is not equal to worship but in most cases there’s a strong correlation when it comes to corporate worship. I’m glad he used the phrase “sing well” instead of “worship well” because one we can judge, the other is a heart response.

      • Ken

        But conversely, I’m not sure that judging a congregation by its singing ability really gets into the heart of worship, either. I totally agree that the senior pastor (and really, anyone in a leadership position) needs to lead by example, but I know people who worship loudly and people who worship silently, and I can’t make a distinction about which of them does it “better.”

  • Don Hofer

    I think that there are other factors involved and the pastor singing in just one of many. I am disturbed to no end by the pastor who is reading his notes during worship. Do you remember the days of the pastor sitting on the platform. Some did that even then. Just as the worship leaders should be engaged in the preaching of the Word, the pastor should be engaged in the worship of the Lord.
    But a church that sings well must also be nurtured in worship and singing constantly. Familiarity of songs, flow and theme, teaching and training are just some of the other factors that determine a church that sings well. Consider the concept the the “Congregation is the choir”, “the choir/worship leader is the director”, and “God is the audience.”

  • James McLaren (Jersey, Channel Islands)

    My experience is radically different. People sing well if you give them something they can actually sing…

    Keith Getty wouldn’t notice this, because on the whole his stuff is singable (and you wouldn’t invite him and ignore his music). But my, there is some godawful rubbish out there.

    • Tyler

      This just gets into singability opinions which are as wide as the ocean. I don’t think most hymns are very singable but a lot of people do.

      • James McLaren (Jersey, Channel Islands)


        There is a considerable art to writing music which is easily sung by a congregation – you need to think about making it rhythmically fairly simple, and writing a tune that goes somewhere but which doesn’t have awkward jumps from one note to another.

        Too many people forget this when they write songs – the majority of modern songwriters on the evangelical Protestant/charismatic side of the fence are writing songs for themselves and their bands, not for congregations – hell, half the time even worship bands can’t get them right.

        Too many pastors listen to the latest “Hot Worship” CD, say to themselves, “I like that”, and drop it onto their congregations. To wonder then why the congregation don’t sing betrays a stunning lack of understanding of what generates worship – because real worship is about a shared experience.

        • Tyler

          I don’t love everything the “hot worship cd” writers put out but I don’t see this push to introduce new music into churches being a bad thing either. In fact, almost everyone of them when asked why they write, they almost always say for the church. So I would disagree with your statement that they write for themselves and their bands. I don’t think that is giving them the benefit of the doubt or the credit they deserve. I’m not saying you have to like what they write but to throw blanket statements out like that isn’t doing any help to the discussion.

  • Tyler

    One unnoticed piece to this is whether the grammar “churches who” is more correct than “churches that.” I love that he used the word “who” because too often people would say that’s an error. I like it because it gives the church a personal identity. A person rather than a thing or a building.

  • Adam Shields

    Do you think he means leaders (pastors) that are visible during worship, or pastors that actually lead worship? Cause I know some pastors that are horrible singers, but believe in worship, and some others that actually are fairly good at singing, but rarely do anything up front.

    • Tyler

      I think he means senior pastors or pastors who are preaching consistently, when they are not on stage but are in the church gathering.

  • David Santistevan

    Interesting argument. I don’t think all pastors need to be good singers who sing from the stage (obviously), but I definitely think they should be an example of what they want to see modeled in their congregation. It frustrates me to see pastors who sit down during worship or who are not in the room when it is happening. Know what I mean?

    • Tyler

      Yes yes I absolutely do.

  • Chris Gambill

    Thanks for sharing this. As a worship pastor, I agree wholeheartedly. There is a spiritual law of leadership that we often tend to ignore. I don’t think it has anything to do with whether or not the senior pastor can sing well, but whether he considers that aspect of the service important enough to fully participate in. By doing so, he not only demonstrates the importance worship through song in the Christian life and life of the Body, but also serves as an example to the men of the congregation. Especially if he isn’t a “good” singer, and people know that.

    In fact, I would even take this a step further and say that not only the senior pastor, but the entire pastoral staff, elders, and senior ministry leadership should be modeling participation in singing. I’ve too often seen elders who are disengaged in corporate singing and the negative effect that can have.

  • Rob Still

    Hey Tyler if I can jump in w/ a thought in here… Let’s just say I’ve been around…

    If the lead pastor sets a good example – he participates, he sings, he’s enthusiastic, he’s expressive, he’s passionate and he encourages the flock to do the same – guess what – the culture of the church will follow his leadership and do likewise. If staff and elders do the same, there will be even more participation.

    As John Maxwell says, everything rises and falls on leadership.

    If the lead pastor is checked out, aloof, disengaged, in hiding, doesn’t sing, is not expressive, is dispassionate and does not teach nor encourage the people to participate – guess what, the culture of the church will follow his leadership and do likewise. You will have a timid, not-fully-engaged congregation.

    Singing is just one of many outward expressions of worship, but it is an important one in a typical church service.

    The pastor does not need to be a good singer, nor sing on the mic. A lot of times, he should not. 🙂 He does though, need to take his role in the leadership of worship as seriously as preaching. Like it or not, he’s in the fishbowl and people will follow his cue.

    Pastors who are preaching multiple services at busy churches are juggling a lot of activity – and often can not be front and center, nor should they have to be – but, they do have to teach, encourage and affirm the expressions of worship that God deserves and is looking for.