Are “Praise Teams” Biblical?

Busy days for me, so I’ll let someone else do the writing today.  This is a thought-provoking article dealing with how Biblical worship is hindered by a praise team / praise band / group of praise leaders / (choose your own nomenclature).  He is not writing for or against any particular musical style, but rather focusing on three things, that singing be congregational, together, and enthusiastic.  He argues that the use of praise bands hinders those things.

The hesitance of the congregational singers is an unavoidable consequence of using a Praise Team rather than a printed (or otherwise displayed) musical score; and the drowning out of the congregation by the Praise Team is due also to the fact that the Praise Team functions as the musical score, albeit one that is heard and not seen. Some Praise Teams are worse than others, of course. Some introduce more variations between stanzas than others, and such variations create even more hesitance for the congregation: Will there be an instrumental bridge between the stanzas or not? Will the same harmonies be employed in each stanza, or not? Will portions of the refrain or one of the stanzas be repeated or not? The congregation does not know—indeed cannot know—how each stanza will sound until it hears it, so the congregation sings tentatively, hesitantly, and a micro-second behind the Praise Team. The Praise Team has unwittingly become like the third grade jokester who invites you to have a seat, pointing to a chair. When you go to sit down, the jokester pulls the chair away, and you land on your backside. The Praise Team does the same thing musically; the congregation never knows (indeed, it can never know) how the Team will perform each stanza until the congregation hears it. And it can only hear it if the Praise Team is amplified to the point that it effectively overpowers the congregation.

This is a long article.  But if you have an interest in thinking through the use of music in Biblical worship, you’ll need to consider what T. David Gordon has to say.

About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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10 Responses to Are “Praise Teams” Biblical?

  1. I couldn’t agree more.

  2. Pingback: The Difference between Congregational Worship and a Concert | Intelligence is not a Sin!

  3. geofkimber says:

    Hi Jon, I agree with the concerns addressed here, and his reference to a 3rd grade jokester is a little humorous… 🙂 but I’m not so sure printed music is the answer to hesitancy as much as familiarity (or the lack of it) with the songs. And the way they’re led.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hello, Geof. Thanks for the comment, and a very fair point. Though perhaps we could take it a little further, because if familiarity is a requirement, we’ll never learn any new songs, right? 🙂

      I suspect our author grew up in a similar situation to mine growing up. Everyone had a hymnal with the musical score. Not everyone could really read music, but most were at least familiar enough to be able to tell from the music when to go up (if not how far) and when to go down, and at least make a guess as to how long to hold a note. We could sing a hymn we’d never sung before reasonably well. Musical literacy, at least on a rudimentary level, was encouraged as part of our worship to the Lord.

      That said, when we put a hymnal together for our church here, we made primarily words-only versions, because that is the British way. I think the way I grew up with was better, but not enough better to make it worth fighting centuries of tradition :). We fall back on the “familiarity” solution, typically singing a new song for several weeks until people learn it.

      “… the way they’re led.” That’s really the biggest issue. Familiarity and musical scores are two ways to solve the same problem — people have to know what they are singing. If they can’t read music, the score doesn’t help. If they rely on familiarity, new songs are tough for a while. So neither is a perfect solution. But neither does any good at all if the “leaders” are lone rangers instead of leaders, striking off alone into a melodic wilderness where no man has ever gone before.

      Having now mixed metaphors and cultural allusions so horribly as to be nearly incoherent, Tonto is whispering in my ear that it is time to stop. 🙂

      • geofkimber says:

        🙂 Yes, well said. Sounds like we have similar backgrounds and approach. I try to introduce a new song by playing it preservice, or maybe over the offering to help break it in. A good song doesn’t take too long to pick up, eh. Blessings mate.

      • Jon Gleason says:

        Thanks for the good thoughts, Geof.

  4. Hi guys! Despite being a musician/singer and serving as a Praise Team member, I have always had serious reservations about the existence/necessity of same. T.David Gordon’s post has me thinking (again). I have always thought that the “team” was hindering the flow/move of the Holy Spirit rather than promoting it. I grew up in a church where congregational singing was led by a frail missionary playing a unamplified piano accordian. The “power” was definitely vested in robust congregational singing in 3 or 4 part harmony. The Praise Team has undoubtedly robbed us of true expression and heartfelt participation.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hello, Nathaniel. I apologise for the delay in clearing this through moderation, it got stuck while the blog was dormant.

      Thank you for the good thoughts. I’d add that the true power of singing in the church is in teaching one another Biblical truths through the things we sing. As near as I can see, that’s the Biblical model. If we can add musical skill into the mix, as long as the musical skill is used to assist and enhance the congregational singing, then it’s good to add, and do unto the Lord. But if we believe that the work is God’s and the power is of Him, then it would be silly to assume that musical skill really has anything to do with it. Skill can be used to glorify Him, and should be so used if we have it, but He does not need it to do His work. And that should take us right back to the congregation singing together as the primary focus of music in the church.

    • Mahni says:

      I, too, am a praise team member and have always felt reservation about the stage, lights, cameras, and focus on who’s singing up front and how awesome they sound rather than all together singing focused only on the lyrics and God. I would like to try congregational only singing and see how the Spirit of the Lord is more pleased and the congregation more led by that.

      • Jon Gleason says:

        Thanks for the comment, Mahni. We are still prevented from meeting together by lockdown. So when we sing over the Internet, due to lag we can’t really sing together. We miss it very much! It’s a blessing, and it’s actually what God told us to do in Scripture!

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