The Hyles Church Manual

by Pastor Jack Hyles (1926-2001)

(Chapter 16 from Dr. Hyle's excellent book, The Hyles Church Manual)

16. The Music

Probably nothing affects a preaching service or a congregation any more than music. One might only listen to a well-produced radio broadcast or television program to find the real effect that music has on our emotions. Though we do not realize it, music makes a mystery more mysterious, love more loving, a comedy more humorous, a tragedy more tragic, and subconsciously makes a presentation reach its fullest impact upon the observers. I have often taken a trip only to find myself going slower or faster depending upon the type music being played on the car radio.

A friend of mine once managed a cafeteria. One noon he took me to observe the people as they chose their food. He asked the organist to play a waltz. The speed of the cafeteria line lessened and the people chose their food more slowly and deliberately. He then asked the organist to play a march. Immediately as the tempo accelerated, the customers moved more quickly, though the people never realized the effect music had on them.

Music in a preaching service is either a vitamin or a tranquilizer. It is either an asset or a liability. It is either a stimulant or a sedative. It is needful that our churches know the importance of the right kind and proper use of gospel music. Those involved in the music program of the church need to know how to direct music to the heart and how to prepare both congregation and preacher for the message.

Music plays a big part in the Word of God. When Moses crossed the Red Sea, he sang. Deborah and Barak composed a song at the defeat of Sisera. Hannah sang because of God’s promise to hive her a son. Mary sang after the annunciation. Others in the Bible such as Joseph, Simon and Hezekiah gave expression of their joy in song. In Revelation 5:9 we find, “And they sung a new song...” The psalmist said, “And he hath put a new song in my mouth.” In Heaven the four living creatures will sing around the throne of God. Singing is one of the enjoyments on earth that can be transferred to Heaven.

In many churches music is a hindrance to the preaching. Probably few things in our churches need to be reevaluated as much as does our music program. The following suggestions are given, not through the eyes of a professional musician but through the eyes of a sincere pastor deeply concerned about music programs in the churches.

Evangelism is an atmosphere. Music can help create this atmosphere. Let us notice, first, music in the service itself.

1. The pastor is pastor of the music program.

It is a dangerous thing for the pastor not to oversee every phase of the church program. It can be a catastrophe for the pastor to take his hands completely off the music. Though the music director certainly should have freedom and liberty to carry out his program, it should all be done with the approval of the pastor. The pastor should constantly retain his right to have veto power. It should be understood that the music director is under the pastor, and that his main concern is to please the pastor and to prepare his heart for the preaching of the Word of God.

It is tragic but true that many preachers would preach better if the sermon preceded the music. In this case the music director is a failure, regardless of the quality of the music or perfection of the presentation. The word “bishop” in the Bible is translated “overseer.” The right kind of pastor “overseer.” He should oversee the music as well as every other part of the church program.

Many pastors have lamented the day that they turned the music of the church over to a music committee. Often these committees grow in power and authority and make a slave of the music director and a figurehead of the pastor.

We have followed the plan of hiring a qualified music director who is given complete control of the music program under the supervision of the pastor. If the music director is not qualified, or if he is not of a deposition suitable for such a plan, he should not have been employed. If he is qualified, he should not be annoyed.

2. A well-planned prelude should set the pace for the service.

If the service is to be evangelistic, the prelude should be evangelistic. It should be started at least ten minutes before the service. It should consist of familiar gospel songs played up to tempo and loudly enough. It should be well planned and well prepared. We allow only sacred music to be played for preludes and offertories.

3. Always start the service on time.

Of course, this will be up to the music director. If one hundred people are present at a service that starts six minutes late, six hundred minutes are wasted. this is ten hours! The Bible says we are to give an account for every idle moment and to redeem the time. I wonder how many hours the preachers and music directors will have to account for at the judgment seat. If the services are to start at 11:00, but then start at 11:03, someone is dishonest.

4. It is often good to start the services with the choir.

An important part of any venture is the beginning. If the choir marches out and immediately presents a well-planned opening song or chorus, it will do several things. First, it will quieten the crowd. Secondly, it will make friends immediately of the first-time visitors, and then also, it will remind the congregation that this service is well planned and prepared. This opening could be a special choir arrangement, a stanza of a choir arrangement that has been used previously, a chorus of the opening hymn sung well, or a well-prepared chorus. At this part of the service a giddy-type chorus should be avoided. This should be a big-type number, one that will say to the people, “This is going to be a great service. More is to come.”

5. Use gospel songs.

We feel that the old songs and hymns are the best for congregational singing. We use the same type songs for both morning and evening. Such songs as “Amazing Grace,” “How Firm a Foundation,” “Rescue the Perishing,” “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “The Old Rugged Cross,” etc., are certainly as appropriate for Sunday morning will eventually act as a sedative or evangelism.

6. The pastor chooses the appropriate songs.

It has been my policy for many years to go through the songbooks and approve songs we use for congregational singing. I do not choose the particular ones to be sung on a given Sunday, but simply decide what songs may be used in our services. There are some songs in the book that are not good for congregational singing and some that the pastor might feel would not help the desired end for the services. The use of these can be avoided by simply going through the songbook and checking the songs the pastor approves for congregational singing.

7. Introductions should also be planned ahead.

After the pastor has approved the songs to be used for congregational singing, the music director or the organist should decide on a good, short introduction for each hymn and mark it in the hymnals used by the organist and pianist. In this way the accompanists will never be unprepared for the playing of a good, lively introduction regardless of the song named by the song leader. Many services have been harmed because the organist played introductions which were much too long and musically incorrect.

8. The choir should practice congregational songs.

The choir should practice the next Sunday’s congregational songs in the choir practice. This will serve a twofold purpose. First, it can serve as a warm-up for choir practice. This also prevents “hallelujah breakdowns” during the song service on the Lord’s Day. If the choir members know the songs to be sung, it can often save embarrassment to the song leader at the public service.

9. The pianist and organist should have the list of numbers.

The pianist and organist should have the list of page numbers prior to the service so they can have their books open to the proper page before the song is announced. They should start playing immediately upon the announcement of the members. Because we have found it best to have the numbers announced twice, at the conclusion of the second announcement the organist and pianist immediately start playing the “marked” introduction.

10. Announce the page numbers distinctly.

We announce each number twice. These numbers are easily misunderstood: 270 could be 217; 350 could be 315; 118 could be 180. It might even be wise to announce such numbers first as “numbers one hundred eighteen.” and then announces as “1-1-8.”

11. Song leader selects and records hymns used in public services.

It is wise for the song leader to keep a record of the hymns used in the public services. In this way he guards against overusing a few gospel songs and excluding other good songs approved by the pastor.

In selecting the songs for a particular service the song leader should choose a peppy one for the first number. Too many services begin with a slower hymn, such as “Saviour, Like a Shepherd Lead Us,” and this is not conducive to establishing an atmosphere of evangelism. “Love Lifted Me” or “He keeps Me Singing” would be better at the beginning of a service. The slower songs could be used later.

12. The congregational song leader should leave the preaching to the preacher.

Occasionally one comes across some song leader who likes to tell his favorite story between stanzas and will pause and preach awhile during the song service. The song leader should remember that his job is to lead the singing, not to philosophize or exegete the song before, during, or after it is sung.

13. Have a familiar gospel offertory.

The pianist or organist should never be used just as a “filler.” The offertory is a definite part of the service. It should be carefully and prayerfully planned and well presented. Though I have a great love for classical music, I feel that the church is definitely not the place for it, and we do not allo9w its use in our services. Our offertories are taken from well-known hymns and songs so that the people can be blessed while the music is played. In fact, no instrumental selection is ever played unless it is a familiar one so that the people can be blessed by the message. If a trombonist, organist, pianist, or harpist were to play an unfamiliar number, people should be given the page number so they could open to the song and follow its words.

14. We should remember that music is a means to an end.

Music is not an end itself. It should never take the place of preaching. Let us prepare the people’s hearts for the preaching of the Word. In nearly a quarter of a century of preaching we have yet to take a Sunday morning or Sunday evening strictly for a musical program. It is always preaching. If a cantata is presented, it is presented on a weeknight, Sunday afternoon, or right before a service. People know that they can always find preaching at our church. Our music is not an end but it is an important means to an end.

15. The choir should set the pace for the service.

In other words, the choir should be an example for the congregation. The choir should not whisper or misbehave in any way. They should be obviously responsive to the preaching at our church. Our music is not an end but it is an important means to an end.

16. The invitation number should not be announced secretly to the choir during the sermon.

It is not uncommon for a pastor’s message to be hindered by the music director whispering the number to someone in the choir and then the chain reaction starts. It is certainly disconcerting for choir members to be opening their songbooks at the most crucial part of the message.

17. The organist should not take liberties during the invitation.

The pastor is in complete charge of the invitation. The organist should never decide to play softly at the close of the message or at any time during the invitation. The organist should play only at the pastor’s request.

18. Start each invitation with the same song.

This is so the choir will know what the number of the invitation will be, avoiding the error in the aforementioned part. For years we have started our invitation with “Just As I Am.” People know what it is going to be. The choir knows what it is going to be. Hence, much confusion is avoided.

19. We use only the choir on the invitation.

We do not want the people reaching for their books. Even this much movement will take the sinner’s mind off the Gospel. We simply stand for the invitation, and the choir starts to sing. For this reason our choir never goes down to sit in the congregation during the sermon. They are always behind the preacher, ready to sing the invitation hymn.

20. The choir rehearses the invitation numbers at choir practice.

The invitation song is always sung up to tempo, never slowly. It is led by the music director as a special number is led. It has been rehearsed at choir practice an sung in full voice as a special number would be sung.

It is a shame the way an average invitation is sung so slowly. It is no wonder that people do not respond quickly to the invitation.

21. Use the same invitation song as long as people are responding.

It can be detrimental to the service for one song to be stopped and another started while folks are walking the aisle and others are in the “valley of decision.” For this cause we continue to sing the same song as long as people will respond. We simply repeat the verses over and over. When folks stop coming forward, then we consider changing the number.

22. Only the pastor changes the invitation song.

It is the pastor who feels the heartbeat of the invitation. It is the pastor who knows when another song is needed. The invitation can be changed with the following statement of the pastor: “Now as the choir sings, ‘Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling.’ would you come forward and receive Christ as your Saviour.” Note that the page number is not announced. The choir knows it and the congregation does not need it. Hence, all of the invitation numbers are changed only by the pastor if he feels led to make the change.

23. The choir should sing after the closing prayer.

In our service we do not use a benediction, nor do we use a choral response, or a sevenfold amen. Hence, the service is closed with a prayer followed by the choir singing such songs as “He lives,” “A New Name Written Down in Glory,” etc. This sends the people home on a joyful note.

24. The organist and pianist play a joyful postlude.

The service should be closed on a high plane, and the people should leave with a spirit of joyful thanksgiving. The right kind of postlude helps to stimulate this mood. This should also consist of familiar hymns. “Praise Him!” and “Ring the Bells of Heaven” would be appropriate kind of hymn to play for a postlude.

25. The piano and organ should be tuned regularly.

Few things can hurt a service any more than having the musical instruments out of tune. Little things should be cared for in a public service. The tuning of the piano, proper lighting, proper heat and ventilation, proper adjustment of the public address system and other things are of vital importance for the success of the service.

26. Special groups, as duets, trios, quartets, should be well prepared and well planned.

No such number should be sung unless it has been rehearsed properly. Those who sing should be sitting in the choir or right in the front together. We have found it wise to have a special number after a prayer. As soon as the prayer is closed, they should be behind the pulpit and the instruments should play the introduction immediately. There should be no lulls in the service.

Normally, our singing groups are not introduced. They should be dressed properly and taught to stand properly. They should avoid offensive gestures, smiles and facial gestures at the people in the audience, and improper posture.

Why should the Lord’s work be done less efficiently than a television program? Why should a nightclub be better prepared than a church? God’s business is the biggest business in the world. Let’s act like it. The slipshod way the average church operates its music preparing the special numbers. Special numbers are oftentimes given by people who are not prepared and who dress sloppily, slouch up to the pulpit, clap their hands, chew their gum, smile at the boyfriend, and go through the motion of trying to be a blessing. The local burlesque plans better than we do. God pity us.

27. Special groups should be organized.

(1.) Each singing group should consist of people approved by the pastor before they are approached about singing in a special group.

(2.) There should be a weekly practice for each singing group. It might be wise for all ladies’ groups to practice at the same time, having the nursery open or a baby sitter available for all of the children. A good time to have these ladies practice would be during the graded choir rehearsals. This provides a place for the children while the mothers practice.

(3.) Each group should consider the possibility of dressing alike. Certainly each group should carefully plan their attire when singing in the service.

(4.) A singing group should be named. This name should be something more than “Ladies’ Trio,” “Men’s Quartet,” etc.

(5.) The pastor or music director should keep a card file on each group. On this card should be listed every song this group knows well enough to sing and when and if they have sung it. From this file the pastor and music director will know at any moment what group and numbers are ready for presentation.

(6.) Each group should have a captain who can be contacted by the pastor or music director. The captain is responsible to inform other members of the singing group.

(7.) The music director should either practice with each group or have a competent person in charge of each group to insure the best preparation and presentation.

28. Have an active graded-choir program.

Remember that the efficiency and effectiveness of such a program will not only give the challenge to learn music better but gives the lasting impression as to the way God’s work should be carried on.

(1.) The choirs should be graded by departments. There should be a beginner choir, a primary choir, a junior choir, and a teen-age choir.

(2.) There should be a weekly rehearsal. This may be any time suitable to your situation. Many churches find it convenient to have it after school. At one pastorate we found after school on Monday to be a splendid time. We could announce it heartily on the Lord’s Day and then it would be fresh in the minds of the boys and girls for Monday.

(3.) There should be some definite rules about dress at the rehearsals. Boys should be required to wear ties and girls should be required to dress neatly. At one church we even provided white shirts and ties for the boys and matching skirts and blouses for the girls. Of course, there were those who complained, but they felt a sense of pride, and it also taught the boys and girls to dress properly. This is greatly needed in these days.

(4.) There should be a weekly workers’ meeting for the discussion of curriculum, etc. This meeting could be held immediately before the choirs meet or at any other convenient time during the week. We have found it helpful to keep a definite order of curriculum in our choir programs. Such things as scales, rules of music, song leading, etc., maybe taught to a smallest boy or girl. A meeting of directors may help with the planning of such a program.

(5.) Children line up at the door and march in. This is a time much like the Daily Vacation Bible School. This will help the children to learn obedience and will also help the order and discipline for the entire session. They will line up at different doors of the auditorium and march in quickly and quietly for an opening assembly of all choirs. Then each choir is sitting together during this assembly.

(7.) Choirs then march in line to the individual practice rooms. Notice before the child is ever taught music, he is taught how to dress properly, he is taught discipline, and he is taught to follow orders. These are vitally important to any organization.

(8.) Use choruses first in the choir rehearsal. Boys and girls should get the idea that choir practice is fun. Start off with choruses that they like to sing and gradually work into the curriculum of the day. This curriculum should always contain the learning of some musical knowledge as well as the rehearsal of some song the choir plans to sing. It should include such things as constant practice on how to stand and sit together, how to hold the songbook, how to stand during performance, etc. The same methods of standing, sitting, holding books, etc., we use in the adult choir should be taught to the entire program. By the time the children become members of the adult choir, this habit will have become part of them subconsciously.

(9.) Have a surprise once a month. This surprise will be in the form of refreshments or a guest, such as a ventriloquist or magician, etc. The actual day of the surprise should not be announced. it should be about once a month on a different day of each month and should come as a complete surprise to the boys and girls. This should help them to come regularly.

(10.) A different choir should sing in the church service once a month. This should keep the boys and girls interested and keep the parents happy. It will also help the attendance at the public service.

(11.) A roll should be kept of choir members and a letter sent to absentees. We have found it beneficial to have three types of letters and cards sent. One for the first absence, one for second absence and one for the third. These are sent to each absentee each week. It simply lets them know we care.

29. The adult choir should be properly organized and well trained.

Members should be enlisted properly. The enlistment of choir members should be done the same way that Sunday school teachers are enlisted and a challenge should be presented to a potential member personally. To ask folks in the congregation to come to the choir shows the sign of both the lack of concern and the lack of preparation. How a choir member is enlisted will determine to a great extent his interest and faithfulness to the program.

30. Choir practice should always start on time.

Nothing encourages tardiness like the leader being tardy in starting. If only two people are there, he should start the moment it is scheduled to start. Nobody wants to miss anything. Then, too, we aid our people in developing slipshod habits if we are delinquent in starting on time.

31. Choirs should be organized properly.

The choir should have a president and he should be given time to preside briefly at each choir practice. He could welcome new ones in the choir, say a word about any social activity the choir is planning, and briefly make necessary announcements. Then it is often wise to have group captains and maybe even a secretary, social chairman, etc. The practice always should be well planned and conducive to conducting God’s business with dignity.

32. Each group captain should keep an attendance record.

Absentee letters and postcards should be sent and even visits made to insure a good choir practice attendance.

33. Each choir member should have his own seat.

He should be required to see that it is filled at all times. Some churches even find it wise to have the person’s name on the seat.

34. The choir practice should last approximately one hour.

It should include the rehearsing of congregational songs for the next Sunday. It should be spiritual as well as informal and gay.

35. It is wise to practice a special at least three weeks before it is presented.

This will insure each choir member having enough practice to guarantee a good presentation.

36. It is good to present some new members to the choir each week.

Nothing will hurt choir practice attendance any more than a lack of a challenge. Few things present less challenge any more than a lack of number of “repeats.” People respond to something new, and the choir is challenged to faithfulness by knowing that something new is waiting for them at every practice.

37. The choir director should choose choir music carefully.

In our church services we use no anthems. We use arrangements of gospel songs. The choir director should select these carefully so that the performance of these arrangements will add to the atmosphere of evangelism.

The choir arrangements should be suited to the overall ability of the choir. The use of extremely simplified arrangements fails to challenge the members. Interesting selection will keep up their interest if care is taken to avoid overly difficult numbers which would discourage and embarrass the choir.

38. The choir arrangements should be studied by the studied by the director before the rehearsal.

Because the director is the “leader,” he should be prepared to lead the music. It is disconnecting for choir members to give their time to the rehearsing of selection with which the director is not thoroughly familiar.

When a choir director is personally prepared, he can more efficiently and confidently lead the choirs in their rehearsing of the specials for the Lord’s Day.

39. The choir should have some social life together.

About four times a year the choir should have some planned social activity. This would help develop a choir spirit. this is necessary for the success of any organization.

40. Some general music suggestions.

(1.) A piano class. Many churches are plagued by a lack of qualified pianists. The church pianist could have a piano class one hour each week. In a year’s time these people would be qualified enough to play the simple gospel songs and could be used as accompanists as needed.

(2.) A song leaders’ class. Most churches need departmental song leaders. Adult men could be trained for this by the church music director. This should also be a weekly matter. In a few months the Sunday school could be staffed with qualified departmental and class song leaders.

As the reader has probably surmised, music is very important to this preacher. It is important enough that we should be giving it our best. This is the greatest business in all the world and is worthy of nothing less than out best!


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