A few months ago, although I only read it today, was an article in churchleaders.com entitled, “Why We Need to Sing in Worship Even When We Do Not Know or Like the Song” by Chuck Lawless. You can click on the title to see the link. It is pretty brief and lists
- It’s right to sing God’s praises.
- Not singing sends the wrong signal.
- Some songs you don’t like are quite biblical.
- We can learn a song best by singing it.
- We model worship for others as we sing.
- Singing with the rest of the congregation promotes and reflects unity.
- Singing encourages the ones leading the singing.
I will ignore part of the article that looks at those who don’t sing a song because they don’t know the words. For me that is just kind of lazy. One may as well take the time to learn a new song once in awhile. Because of that, I will ignore reason #4, since my bigger concern is those who don’t sing because they do not like the songs.
I find myself sympathizing with those who do not sing because they don’t like the songs, even though I USUALLY DO sing. That is because I found great freedom in recognizing that I had a choice to sing or not. Years ago, my family were members of a church in Virginia that had a great music program led by a very competent worship leader. But he had one specific quirk that I really struggled with. So many services he would have us sing, over and over and over, the chorus portion of “Surely the Presence of the Lord is in This Place” — a song with NO discernible merit. We would keep singing it and I would get annoyed. Over the weeks, my annoyance moved to humor. It was funny in away… like a person who can’t stop saying “Ummm” while talking (I have that problem). Then I moved to being analytical. I started going through each line. Every line was either untrue, obviously true, or trite (or a combination). Eventually, I moved from irrituation to humor to analysis and finally to anger. Why should I be held hostage by the worship leader and forced to sing a crappy song?
But then one day I had an epiphany. I don’t have to sing. I can stand there, close my eyes, meditate perhaps, and just tune out the song. My attitude improved almost immediately. Since then my experience in worship services has improved immensely because I found that unity does not necessitate uniformity. And it goes beyond simply singing. When the worship leader says things like “Clap if you love Jesus” I don’t have to see it as cyncial manipulation, but as a simple suggestion. I can also NOT CLAP to show I love Jesus!!
Looking at the reasons listed above (ignoring #4 as I said before) the one I have the biggest problem with is #3: “Some songs you don’t like are quite Biblical.” I am totally at a loss what to make of that. Eating is EXTREMELY Biblical, but I can’t see that it is wrong to skip a meal or go on a diet. A song that is strong in theology has a greater obligation to connect mind and heart than some pithy anthem. I can hardly see how being Biblical (or I would prefer theological) lowers the standards one places on a song.
Probably the reason that bothers me next most is #6. “Singing with the rest of the congregation promotes and reflects unity.” It points to two issues that I have. One is the suggestion (that is so common in church) that unity implies uniformity. The unity argument has been used to argue against blended (style) worship, to argue for homogeous group churches, to require all members use the same Bible translation, to maintain certain dress codes or hair stylings, and more. More generally, it supports the idea that the majority (or the clerical minority) establishes the culture and the rest need to go along to “demonstrate unity.” The second problem is the general tone that BEHAVIOR IS WHAT COUNTS NOT WHAT GOES ON IN THE HEART OR MIND.
In fact, it seems like a lot of the arguments have that as the unspoken assumptions. One could rewrite most of them to make the unspoken spoken.
- It’s right to sing God’s praises our way.
- Not singing our songs our way sends the wrong signal.
- We model going through the motions of worship for others when we sing as we are told.
- Singing with the rest of the congregation promotes and reflects uniformity of behavior that can be imagined to be worship.
- Singing encourages the ones leading the singing not to change a thing.
Franklhy, I am not that radical. I dislike an awful lot of songs that are popular in the church today, but I usually sing. Commonly I sing to show unity with the congregation rather than for the sake of worship since singing really isn’t my form of worship. But there are a few songs that sabotage my church (read “worship” if that helps you) experience. (That song that has the chorus “Yes Lord Yes Lord Yes Yes Lord” is one that immediately comes to mind). In such situations, I feel that embracing my diversity within a unity that does not require uniformity isn’t so bad.
Frankly, we live in a multi-ethnic, multi-generational, multi-tradition Christian world. The church really should find ways to honor this rather than simply pushing people to “do exactly what the song leader tells you to do.”
And if the worship leader starts to question the wisdom of mimicking his favorite Hillsong videos (right down to every move and intonation of the lead singer), or rapidly supplanting old songs with new because— well— they are new, or generally turning the “worship” experience into a performance-based “spectator experience”…. hey that is not such a bad thing either, now is it? I know the counter to this is that if the congregants have problems with the songs, they should talk to the church leadership about it privately. Fair enough. But just as in church some people vote with their hands, some with their wallets, and some with their feet (regardless of leade’s preferences in this area), one should not be surprised if some vote with their singing voices, not just with their speaking voices.