It is weird that the music style in churches is so often the battleground and thing that divides people. It should be a wonderful expression of unity in a congregation. In my experience as a Christian who has sung as part of a congregation, as well as someone who leads a congregation in worship services, I feel that we often don’t think hard enough about singing.
Singing doesn’t just fulfill one purpose in a church service. It has a variety of functions. We can sing to praise our glorious God and recount what He has done. We can confess our sins before God together. We can explain aspects of God’s great plan to others. We can look forward to Jesus coming back. We can respond to a sermon, or calm our hearts in preparation for the sacraments. Songs can help with all of these things.
One thing that doesn’t get enough attention in congregational singing is the fact that the whole congregation sings together. I am very grateful for the movement in recent years to write songs with this in mind, with simple music that even people like me can follow and sing with! So often in a church service most people are listening: listening to prayers, service leaders, Bible readings and the sermon. Singing is something we can do together.
(If there are any aspiring Christian songwriters reading this, make sure you write songs that are intended to be sung by a congregation. That doesn’t just mean simplicity; it also means it should be common to have the word “we” in the words. Look at any hymn book and you will find a great number of songs starting with “I” and very few starting with “we”.)
Some songs are written to be sung to one another. We are recounting the glories of God to those in our congregation. At the very least, even the most individualistic song is sung along with other people. So please, keep your eyes open! In some church cultures there is some kind of Christian peer pressure to close your eyes and reach out your hands as you sing. What you do with your body doesn’t make you more or less holy, but if you always have your eyes closed you are ignoring the wonderful truth that you are singing with other people. These people are not just all there singing individually to God as well; they are there to sing together with you. So be encouraged with your eyes and your ears.
A service leader at my church commented recently that there are few songs about paying taxes with joy, despite there being clear Biblical teaching in this area. I have also commented many times on the lack of good songs of confession. There need to be not just praise songs, for praise is only one aspect of our response to God. Good songs have a teaching and reminding element to them, and it is great if we can sing songs that cover the range of responses and Bible teaching. We should be able to sing the whole counsel of God, not just hear it in sermons.
Don’t go to a church service simply hoping the music will be to your taste and the songs ones you personally like. Whatever your church service is like, remember that the congregation singing together is a wonderful blessing. Here is a show of unity between diverse elements of the body of Christ, people Christ died for. Sing with gusto, encouraging the others around you, even if you wouldn’t have chosen this song yourself.
Let’s make congregational singing the show of unity it should be.