Monday, March 9, 2009

Where did all the singing go?

Blair and I love to enjoy a good bowl of ice cream together. Most would agree that after supper a bowl of your favorite ice cream for dessert enhances the enjoyment of the whole meal. However we wouldn’t replace the meal with it and we shouldn’t make it a regular part of our diet. This illustrates many elements that can be introduced in corporate worship. Recently I’ve had suggestions, urgings, and even rants for more “choir specials”, solo performances (as the big number before the sermon), and drama skits. I am not wholly against weaving these elements into the tapestry of a congregational worship service but like ice cream there is a time, a place, and a certain moderation that needs to be considered.

The point of the Sunday worship service is for the membership of the church to gather together for the study of Scripture, the corporate offering of praise, the yielding to the Lord together in prayer, and the observance of the Lord Supper (we observe this ordinance every other month and planning to do so more often). The “meat and potatoes” of our spiritual meal together should be the reading and preaching of the Scriptures but the other elements are essential for the service as well.

One of those elements that have taken a real blow in recent years is congregational singing. It has become more common to be observers rather than participants. In services that feature a more modern-rock feel (a la Chris Tomlin-style) congregants often stand, clap, move to the music, but don’t sing. Take a look around the next time you are in one of these services. More traditional worship services with an emphasis on hymnody that are led by a piano, organ, and choir are just as guilty of this. Instead of standing and clapping, the congregants sit and stare. The singing from many rarely rises to a level above mouthing the words along with the song director.

The desire for more “specials” from the choir or from the stronger singers of the church often reflects that yearning to be impressed or entertained. Now in fairness, those “specials” can (like ice-cream) at times enhance the spiritual meal but what about the congregational offering of praise? When the soloist hits the high note at the end of the song right before the sermon do we say “amen” and applaud because of the rich truths of God that have just been magnified through music? Or do we respond in such a way because we are conditioned to on the high note? What if the singer hit the high note while singing about attaching new gutters to the side of his house? Would we still applaud with “amen’s”?

There needs to be thought in what we are doing as a congregation because we are doing it unto the Lord. We do not need to check our brains or voices at the door. When the members of a church gather for congregational worship we should do just that- worship as a congregation. The thoughtfulness, participation, mental engagement, and unity glorify the Lord.

For more reading on this subject check out this article- “The Slow Death of Congregational Singing”.

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