A Handbook to Help Church Musicians Lead Congregational Song

May 9, 2024 9:00:00 AM / by Augsburg Fortress

“Sing with all the people of God.” The title of this handbook from the Revelation canticle (“This Is the Feast”) invites us to sing! Yet how do we do this in our worshiping communities? How do musical leaders equip and lead in such a way to foster vibrant singing?

This handbook written by church musician Chad Fothergill is a “go-to” volume to help navigate several questions and topics that arise when considering congregational singing. As described in the introduction, “The singing of God’s people—the songs themselves and ways in which they are selected and voiced in the assembly—is the principal subject” (p. 10).

First, the handbook lays the foundation for the vocation of a church musician and sets forth principles for assembly song. The term “cantor” is used for the musician throughout the book, a word that puts the focus of the musician on singing (cantāre in Latin). The calling of the cantor is primarily the people’s song. As Fothergill succinctly describes, “Today cantors serve as organists, pianists, guitarists, singers, percussionists, conductors and more. Regardless of their gifts, training, or abilities, all use their time and talents to equip, support, and nurture the voice of the singing assembly” (p. 16).

The middle section of the book helps cantors apply the principles set forth in the opening chapters. Very practical matters are considered such as selecting hymns and leading psalms. Helpful graphics are employed that illustrate how to lead a hymn, so the congregation knows when to breathe! Just as preachers prepare a sermon carefully to fit their context, so do musicians with the music they select. This book helps ground the church musician in the important task of leading the song week in and week out. 

You may say, “I’m a pastor, I’m a worship committee chair, I’m a deacon serving in youth ministry. How can this book help me?” Although written primarily for those who serve as church musicians, all who care about the assembly’s song will find portions of this handbook helpful. The fourth and fifth chapters focus on the role of the cantor in the community and the process of calling a cantor. Many pastors and committees have questions about the process of calling a musician to your congregation and crafting a job description. This book is especially valuable in that important process.

Finally, this small book points to an abundance of additional resources. Each chapter of the book ends with a list of resources (books, articles, and websites) so that those interested in a particular area of music ministry can dig deeper. 

Whether you take this book off your shelf and read it individually or discuss it as part of a worship committee or other group study, it will deepen your understanding of the vocation of church musicians: “to serve and attend to their assemblies through God’s gift of music [and] to sing the living voice of the gospel” (p. 127). 

Topics: Music Ministry, music

Augsburg Fortress

Written by Augsburg Fortress

Augsburg Fortress develops engaging resources for Lutheran congregations In our ministry as the publishing house of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, we create substantive and innovative materials to support the ministries of faith communities in communicating the good news of God's liberating grace. To meet the evolving needs of Lutheran communities, we continually invest in the development of new ministry resources, seeking ongoing input from theologians, educators, church leaders, and church members.

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