The McKinley Worship Protocols

In an endeavor to couch my criticism of modern evangelical worship music in positive terms rather than negative ones, I propose the following Protocols as basic principles for designing a worship service:

ONE. The congregation is the most important entity in the room.

Worship is a democratic endeavor: “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn…” (1 Corinthians 14:26). We prefer a worship gathering that is egalitarian, and a congregation that is engaged. Protocol #1 implies that the worship leader or leaders are not elevated above the congregation, neither physically, nor in terms of lighting, nor in volume, except as necessary to coordinate the worship activity of the congregation. The leaders serve the congregation by keeping them together and providing direction and structure. We reject the concert / show paradigm for worship, in which musicians offer a performance to a passive audience.

TWO. Participation, not excellence, is the standard.

Success in leading worship is measured by the level of participation among the people. A misplaced emphasis on ‘excellence’ leads to poor decisions that downplay the importance of the congregation (see #1).

THREE. The congregation can hear itself singing.

Protocol #3 carries a threefold implication: 1) The sound level of the accompaniment is sufficiently low; 2) the acoustics of the room are sufficiently live; 3) participation is maximized.

FOUR. Worship music is singable by non-professionals.

The range of the music is appropriate (no notes higher than D), and avoids technical difficulty; i.e., excessive melisma, melodic leaps, syncopation, and improvisational elements.

FIVE. Worship lyrics are coherent, relatable, and theologically sound.

They are coherent: they express a single theme in a way that is logical and linguistically correct. They are relatable: the average congregant knows and understands the meaning of the words he or she is singing. They are theologically sound: they are Biblical, orthodox, and glorifying to God.

SIX. No solos.

The congregation is active and engaged at all times. Solos, special music, and choir pieces are by definition non-participatory and are eliminated or minimized.

SEVEN. Every sound of worship is produced by people present in the room.

We believe that an important principle of any ministry, including worship ministry, is that we will do only what God provides the people to do. We rely solely on live, human musicians playing in ‘real time’: we permit no pre-recorded music, no accompaniment tapes, no backing tracks.

EIGHT. Worship music engages the mind.

Protocol #8 derives from 1 Corinthians 14:15 – “I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.” We prefer thoughtfully-composed music to that which is formulaic or trite. We avoid music that falls into too-comfortable patterns, or depends upon nonsense syllables or endless repetition of a single phrase.

Worship music is an encounter with truth. We reject emotional manipulation and excessive sentimentality. We reject the performance emphasis that seeks to generate artificial feeling. Worship music evokes a response in the worshiper because of the truth and power of what is sung. An encounter with God’s grace already expressed in Christ (and not a plea for a new outpouring) will engender true worship from a place of thankfulness.

NINE. Worship music has a historical legacy.

Protocol #9 does not mean that we use only old-fashioned hymns, nor do we disdain the use of newer worship music. But it does mean that our preference is for music that has been vetted through a long history of use in the church, an effective filtering system to eliminate what is merely trendy and fashionable and preserve what edifies and sustains.

TEN. Worship music is simple and portable.

We are wary of music that requires certain instrumentation, whether orchestral, or a pipe organ, or a full contemporary band, in its presentation. We prefer music that is readily portable into different formats and styles, to increase freedom and flexibility within the church, and permit sharing among diverse church bodies.

Note: The use of the first-person plural pronoun in the above implies a consensus among a group — but thus far, it’s only me. I would be interested in finding allies.

“McKinley” is a mostly arbitrary title: the name of the street on which my church is located. Pick a different president if you prefer.

These Protocols are a distillation and extension of ideas presented in an earlier post. See

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