Song lyrics are a form of communication between believers, or between believers and their Creator. Their direction is defined as horizontal or vertical.
Horizontal lyrics are “about God” and sung to each other. We sing these songs as a congregation to testify about our faith and share our story (testimony). They can be any tempo and are “conversations” that can be “we-about” or “I-about.” The main “hook” (usually the chorus) or the primary theme of the song will contain pronouns like He or Him. Examples are “Overcome” (Elevation Worship) and “The Lion and the Lamb” (Leeland).
Vertical lyrics are “to God” songs that are lifted up and directed toward our Lord and Savior. The lyrics are aimed, from earth, heavenward. They can be any tempo and are “conversations” (or prayers) that can be “we-to” or “I-to.” The main “hook” or the primary theme of the song will contain pronouns like You or Your. Examples are “Great Are You Lord” (All Sons & Daughters) and “This is Amazing Grace” (Phil Wickham).
Both are essential in worship.
There is a significant difference to effectively leading each. And although these differences may seem intuitive and obvious, worship leaders often confuse (or blur the lines between) the two. More intentionality must be employed to successfully lead both.
Horizontal songs should be led with open eyes and open posture. More than that, since the worship leader is having a conversation with the congregation, he/she should be making direct eye contact with individuals throughout the room. Ephesians 5:19 (in part) says, “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Colossians 3:16 says, “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” So, leading these types of lyrics is “addressing one another with thankfulness in your heart.” Both verbal and non-verbal clues are in play here. One important non-verbal clue would be contextual body language (i.e., movement, hand motions/gestures, etc.). A grateful person is usually more animated, enthusiastic, and passionate when sharing their story.
It’s weird and awkward (perhaps just wrong) when a worship leader sings a horizontal song with their eyes closed while (lyrically) having a conversation with the people in front of them. Someone should yell, “hey, I’m down here!”
In fact, it’s not really any different than the communication skills utilized by the speaker when presenting the message (sermon) from the platform. He (she) utilizes various mass communication skills to connect with the people in front of him (her), and to persuade or otherwise affect the behavior, the attitude, opinion, or emotion of the person or people receiving the information. This is why I highly recommend worship leaders study (and master) public speaking.
To the contrary, vertical lyrics can (not always) be led with closed eyes and closed posture. The exception might be “we-to-God” lyrics. But certainly with “me-to-God” lyrics, although you are still in a room full of people, now the focus is personal. It’s just you and God in a space just big enough for two. The worship leader shifts gears to usher people into a more intimate connection with Jesus, centered on the character and work of Christ. Body language changes to more of an upward bearing. Hands are reaching up toward Heaven (vs. toward the people or waving them around) to be picked up and held by our Father.
As with horizontal lyrics, it’s equally weird and awkward when a worship leader sings a vertical song with their eyes open, focused on the people in front of them while (lyrically) having a personal conversation with God (i.e., not them!).
Of the two, it seems that leading songs with horizontal lyrics presents the greatest challenge to many worship leaders. Perhaps it’s more intimidating and uncomfortable. Maybe, like public speaking, it feels too scary.
But if we don’t effectively engage people in horizontal worship, we may never inspire them to a vertical experience.
What are your thoughts?