Every Movement Needs a Melody

By Tricia Rife

Although style changes over time, singing hymns and worship songs still serves a powerful purpose: inspiring us to worship God. Four gifted songwriters and worship leaders offer their perspective on questions about music in worship.

Why do you write music?

Elizabeth Rhyno,instructor and director of music at Kingswood University in Sussex, Brunswick, Canada:

Songs affect us. Songs stick, and, therefore, they teach. What we sing in everyday life impacts how we handle trouble in this world.

Josh Lavender, songwriter and worship leader at Trinity Church in Indianapolis, Indiana:

Music gives the Church a beautiful way to remember together what God has done, is doing, and will do.

Chris Morgan, worship leader at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia:

We are made to be creative, in the image of God himself, and so it's natural for us.

Jenn Petersen, singer/songwriter, worship and outreach pastor; church planting in New York City, New York:

Songs can be birthed out of new seasons. God is always doing something new, and if we can respond to that with a new song, it communicates well.

How do you prepare yourself spiritually before you lead worship?

Chris: Before a service, I try to spend time with people. It reminds me why we do this as people start sharing their stories. God is inviting us to do something profound—meet with him.


I am prayerful as I plan for worship, trying to spend as much time in prayer and God’s Word as in song selection. I ask God to keep my ears open to his voice throughout the week.

Jenn: Investing time in reading God’s Word and personal worship. Also, building a healthy chemistry with your team is vital.

How do you help set the right spirit or tone for people to be in the right attitude of worship?

Elizabeth: People are distracted by all of the “stuff” of their lives, sometimes scarcely aware that God has invited them there in the first place. So people really need to be shown him. I remind us all that we have been invited, and then let Scripture speak.

Josh: The Word of God is so central. A psalm that calls his people to respond can help set the tone.


Worship is when we authentically say "yes" to God's great invitation to what he has given us through Jesus.

What is the biggest misconception people about worship?

Jenn:Worship is more than singing; it’s our response to what God has done for us. It’s how we live.

Elizabeth: We must not forget that worship begins with God. God reveals himself to us and graciously invites us to join in heaven’s song.

Chris: The bigger vision is: worship is honoring God with our lives for what he has done and for who he is.

In some churches, the tension between having traditional or contemporary music is still heavy. How is this resolved?


Over time by catching a bigger vision of worship. When a grandfather sees his grandson engaging with God during a contemporary song he may loosen his grip on a specific style. The same goes for young people watching tears fall from weathered faces.

Elizabeth: Missionaries strive to learn the language of the people. The same should be true of the worship leader and a congregation that wishes to reach a community. What is everyone’s heart language in music? How do they best resonate their song to the Lord?

Chris: Decide upon a vision for who you are as a church. You adopt a style that is conducive to that. Then, do it really well. Make it compelling.

What is the most rewarding part of your job? Most difficult?

Josh:I remember a moment when, for the first time, I heard a congregation singing a song I had written. As I looked around and saw people engaging with God, I remember thinking, “This is why I do it.”

Elizabeth:Most rewarding is the knitting together of hearts as I catch eyes with worshipers. When I see the same song on the lips of those grieving and those celebrating, God reveals his faithfulness. Most difficult: Worship leaders have to concentrate on multiple technical tasks that are often unseen. Even so, they must be prayerful, pastoral, and creative for the glory of the Lord and the discipleship of his people.


As a songwriter it is so rewarding writing a song for or with someone for a special purpose. Most difficult: When you have spent years pouring into other lives and they walk away from God. But it’s all worth it when you see someone who started out far from God made new in Christ before your eyes.