After leading music for many years, during which time I have observed various song leaders in action, I feel a growing conviction that "something new need to be added" to the song service. Most song leaders content themselves with a few standard devices to create interest and enthusiasm,. These devices, while all right, have been worked to death. What can we do to add new life to the song service?
First, I might say that I plan each song service with a continuity of thought running through it like a sermon. This forms the framework of each song service. But now to add the. interest also. I try to put interest into the very heart of the service, rather than creating it by some artificial addition to the singing, such as having the ladies sing one stanza and the men another. Here are five further suggestions.
1. Bible parables told in song are good interest stimulators. Dramatize them by the songs selected. To illustrate, I take the parable of the prodigal son and describe the departure of the son and the feeling of the father as night closes in. Then we begin by singing, "There were ninety and nine that safely lay in the shelter of the fold, but one was out on the hills away, far off from the gates of gold."
The scene changes to the boy drifting in sin. "Drifting" is sung. The dire plight of the prodigal is portrayed as he feeds the swine. Then comes his decision to return home. "The Prodigal Son" is the next son.-. As the old home conies into view, the son hesitates, looks at his rags, thinks of his shame, but decides to go on just as he is. "Just as I am" is appropriate here. He's nearing home now, determined to let nothing change his mind. Next we sing, "I've wandered far away from God, now I'm coming home."
The parable is applied to the audience by saying, "Friends, your Father is even more anxious for you to come home. Won't you, like the prodigal, come home too? Come just as you are, just where you are. Don't spend another night away from home. Listen!" Then I read the first stanza of the song "Over the Line." "O tender and sweet was the Father's voice," and so forth. The congregation sings this song. Next I describe the joy of the father upon the prodigal's return. Here I make a brief call for those who want to respond to the Father's love to raise their hands. Having done this, I assure them of the joy in heaven over this decision. We close the song service by singing "Ring the Bells of Heaven.
These songs are sung from the screen. Colored slides from the story of the prodigal son are shown between the songs, during the talking. Any of our Lord's parables make excellent material around which to build a song service.
2. Bible stories are another source for interesting song services. Following is a song service, entitled "Doing the Impossible,' built around the story of Peter walking on the water. The songs are from Gospel Melodies.
Doing the Impossible (Song Sermonet)
OPENING THEME. PRAYER.
TEXT: Matthew 14:25-31, (Begin service by reading verses 25-28. Read portion before each song.) Peter said
1. "O Let Me Walk With Thee." (No. 59.). And He said, Come." (Verse 29.)
2. "Jesus, I Come." (No. 63). Peter went to Jesus. (Verse 29.)
3. "Take the Name of Jesus With You." (No. 60.) Eyes off Jesus-"Lord, save me." (Verse 30)
4. "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name.' (No. 118.) Jesus comes to the rescue. (Verse 31.)
5. "Redeemed." (No. 78.) Together they return to the ship. (Verse 32.)
6. "Blessed Assurance." (No. 76.) Peter learned a fact all must learn.
7. "The Saviour With Me." (No. 64.)
APPEAL-We too may do the seeming impossible in His strength.
3. The activities of everyday life supply many fine subjects. In our meetings we have certain nights especially for the men, to encourage their attending. On these nights we try to make a special appeal to them. Most men enjoy fishing. I once asked the men in the audience how many liked to go fishing. Almost every hand was raised. I told them we were going fishing tonight in the song service. Here is the service I used with songs from Gospel Melodies.
Fishers of Men (Song Sermonet)
OPENING THEME. PRAYER,
TEXT: "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." Matt. 4 :19.
1. "I Would Be Like Jesus." (No. 20.)
Then you, too, must catch men, for--
2. "Jesus Saves." (No. 24.) In following Him we, too, must-
3. "Throw Out the Life Line." (No. 21.) To learn the art, I must let Him-
4. "Lead Me to Calvary." (No. 89.) That is the important thing, for-
5. "The Way of the Cross Leads Home." (No. 4.) Don't try to fish alone.
6. "Let Jesus Come Into Your Heart." (No. 41.)
Others will rejoice as you catch them.
7. "Redeemed." (No. 78.)
APPEAL-"Let your light so shine before men."
4. Another type of program that is a real interest holder is what I call "Personalities in Music." I have a Fanny Crosby night or a Robert Harkness night. I select songs by the author which show various styles, moods, or musical patterns. I point out characteristics of the author or composer that appear, almost as a trademark, in their works. In these song services I usually include a brief biographical sketch of the person, and tell the story of one of the hymns selected. These song services are both interesting and educational.
5. One of the best methods I have found to grip the interest, as well as one of the easiest services to prepare, is what I call the musical acrostic. In this service the first letters in the titles of the songs selected, or the first letters of the stanzas selected, spell a word.
On the night I speak on the punishment of the wicked I take the word justice as the acrostic for the song service. The first song should begin with the letter J. The second song with the letter U, and so on. I open my songbook to the index, and select the most appropriate song from those listed under J, and repeat this process with each letter in the word justice. Thus I build my song service. I always try to have the closing song an appeal number. These songs are from Gospel in Song.
Justice (Acrostic) (Song Sermonet)
TEXT: "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" Gen, 18:25.
1. "Jesus Paid It All." (No. 287.) He's so merciful and loving,
2. "Under His Care." (No. 2.) You, too, are invited to be under His care.
3. "Softly and Tenderly." (No. 156.) None are too defiled to come.
4. "There Is a Fountain." (No. 290.) Our only escape from death.
5. "I Am Coming to the Cross." (No, 42.) Will you accept God's mercy?
6. "Count on Me." (No. 235.) We must remain under His care.
7. "Every Day, Every hour." (No. 274-)
APPEAL Trust God's way as best.
In using this type of song service, I find the best way to develop interest is as follows. I begin the song service by saying, "Tonight I have selected as the subject for our singing a word which is related to the topic of the evening's lecture. I shall not tell you what that word is, but here is how you may find out." Then I explain the principle of the acrostic, invite them to take the literature card, which all have, and write the word down as the song service progresses. (At the conclusion of the song service, while they still have the literature card in hand, I urge them to turn the card over and fill in the necessary blanks for free literature.)
In announcing the first few hymns, I also name the particular letter supplied by that song.
By the time we are halfway through the word, many have guessed what it is. I now ask those who think they know the next letter to raise their hands. I select one of them to tell what the next letter is; then I announce the hymn that supplies that letter.
The musical acrostic has never failed in creating genuine interest in the singing. It is just as effective at junior and young people's meetings, at conventions, institutes, or camp meetings, as it is in evangelistic meetings.
This idea can be expanded to cover a series of Services. For instance, if I plan several meetings on the general subject of the Advent, or the state of the dead, or some other topic, I devise a sentence of as many key words as we have meetings on that subject (six to eight letters). I build an acrostic song service from each word. On the first night of the series I explain the plan to the people. At the conclusion of the first word I appeal to their curiosity as an incentive to come the following night and to be on time, to learn the first letter of the next word. As the sentence unfolds from night to night, the truth is also being presented. By the time the sentence is finished, the people have heard the whole doctrine on that point.
I am sure that with wise planning on the part of the musician and minister, music can be developed into a more powerful attraction in the work of winning souls to this wonderful truth.