Worshipping God in song
I received an email in my inbox this week that referenced an article entitled, “Nine Reasons People Aren’t Singing in Worship”. The article caught my attention because I had just preached about the importance for congregational singing in the context of corporate worship on Sunday mornings. I wondered whether the article had any light to shed on the recent plea I had made for passionate (from the heart), God-orientated (to the Lord), with variety (psalms, hymn, and spiritual songs) of singing (making melody) as Paul has written in Ephesians 5:19.
Here are a couple of summary excerpts with my corresponding observations for ECCC:
Prior to the Reformation, worship was largely done for the people. The music was performed by professional musicians and sung in an unfamiliar language (Latin).
The Reformation gave worship back to the people. This included congregational singing. It employed simple, attainable tunes with solid, scriptural lyrics in the language of the people. Worship once again became participatory. The evolution of the printed hymnal brought with it an explosion of congregational singing and the church’s love for singing increased.
Then came the advent of new video technologies. Churches began to project the lyrics of their songs on a screen. The number of songs at a church’s disposal increased exponentially. At first, this advance in technology led to more powerful congregational singing, but soon, a shift in worship leadership began to move the congregation back to pre-Reformation pew potatoes (spectators).
There is certainly a risk that we re-professionalise church music and singing in such a way that people no longer worship God in song. God never wanted a group of spectators in a church service. What we desire at ECCC are passionate, participative, worshipful meetings.
Here are the nine reasons that were given (although I have summarised them into six):
1. They don’t know the songs, and 7. we fail to have a common body of hymnody.
We should be singing new songs, but if the rate is too high it will kill our participation. New songs need to be repeated for several weeks after they are introduced. People worship best with songs they know. In the old days, the hymnal was that repository – today we need to have a set of songs with which the congregation is familiar and comfortable.
2. We are singing songs not suitable for congregational singing, and 3. in keys too high for the average singer.
The rhythm and range of the song should be considered for the average singer
4. The congregation can’t hear people around them singing.
Music can be too loud (or too soft) to encourage congregational singing.
5. We have created worship services which are spectator events, building a performance environment, and 6. The congregation feels they are not expected to sing.
Lighting and visual arts can be used in such a way that they become the focus and not the congregational singing. A ‘professional production of worship’ can feel more like a production to watch than an invitation to engage God.
8. Worship leaders ad lib too much.
Some ad lib is nice and can enhance worship, but too much is too much.
9. Worship leaders are not connecting with the congregation.
The worship leader needs to be sensitive to the congregation and how they engage in the worship singing.
On most of these scores I think we are actually (mostly) hitting the mark. In our services on Sundays there is good congregational involvement in the singing. There will be some who will say it’s too loud and there are too many new songs, but that is balanced by those who would say it’s too soft and they would like new songs more regularly.
Mike Begg once pointed out that the designation “worship leader” is unhelpful in the church context. Rather, we should call those people who lead the bands “lead worshippers”. More important than whether the worship leader connects with the congregation is that he/she is directing their own worship towards God – that is the best kind of leadership they can offer. The whole congregation is there with one purpose: to express heartfelt, God-directed worship. We do it in a variety of ways: songs, prayers, preaching and engaging in community building.
We are therefore reminded of what Scripture frequently calls us to do:
give God the praise and honour that is due his name; offer ourselves before him
as living sacrifices; join with the joyful throng; and approach the throne of
God’s mercy with boldness and humility because in Christ we have found
forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God our Father.