Archive for the ‘worship’ Tag

Killing congregational singing

Some of the greatest joys of my college days at James Madison University were experienced during Intervarsity Christian Fellowship’sLarge Group” meetings. God used those days to give me a glorious taste of what it meant to sing to Him. I’m a guitar player and I love to play guitar, but even more than that, I love to hear the people of God singing hymns and psalms and spiritual songs with a passionate heart and a loud voice. The Lord produced my love for congregational singing in those days. I had the great privilege and responsibility of being “song team leader” for a couple of semesters there at JMU. You have no idea how strong my flesh was prior to my conversion to Christ. I took great joy in wowing people with my guitar prowess. But God so changed my heart that by the time I moved into the role as song team leader at JMU’s Intervarsity chapter, I no longer sought to wow people and was actually uncomfortable when others tried to get me to do this or sought to do it themselves.

In an issue of The Briefing, Michael Raiter writes an article entitled, “The Slow Death of Congregational Singing.” In it, I found the perfect explanation for the work that God has wrought in my own heart over the years. He talks about the performance oriented worship that goes on in so many churches these days – where the congregation is more like an audience at a concert rather than the people of God at a worship service. He writes, “It’s time for congregations to sensitively but firmly rise up and reclaim congregational singing. We must remind song leaders (or, perhaps, teach them in the first place) the purpose of their ministry…The role of the song leader is to help us to sing, and they will know if they have fulfilled that ministry when they can hardly be heard because of the praises of the congregation filling the room.

I liken the ministry of song leaders to that of John the Baptist. They must decrease as the people of God increase (John 3:30). When the song begins, we may hear the voices of the leaders and the sounds of the instruments, but by the end of the song, it is the voices of the people of God that should dominate.

But sadly, in most churches, the very opposite is happening: John the Baptist won’t leave the stage. John the Baptist has forgotten why he’s come. As I travel around visiting churches, I’ve noticed again and again that, for all their good intentions (and the vast majority are, I believe, well-intentioned), the music teams are killing congregational singing. I know that sounds harsh, but I see it in case after case. I enjoy the sound of an electric piano, the beat of the drums, the rhythm of the guitars, and the backing of the saxes and flutes, but my favorite instrument is the human voice. Nothing lifts my soul like being a part of 50— 100—300 saints in full voice, singing the praises of God and the glories of the gospel. Unfortunately that’s a disappointingly rare experience.”

I pray that the sound of 50 to 100 to 300 “saints in full voice, singing the praises of God and the glories of the gospel” becomes the norm at our churches.

The Call to Worship and the Church’s Responsibility

Psalm 96

Worship in song is enjoying great popularity in our day. Even the aspiring artists on the show American Idol are seemingly getting in on the deal. Apparently this past season they sang the worship chorus, “Shout to the LORD”. Now, were they worshiping when they sang this song? I have no idea if the young people on that show were worshiping the LORD or not when they sang, but I do know that just because they were singing “Shout to the LORD” does not mean they were worshiping the LORD.

Let’s be clear that singing songs is a great way to worship – but it is not all that there is to worship. We do not stop worshiping the moment we finish singing during a worship service.  Just because you are singing, does not mean you are worshiping. And if you are worshiping – this does not necessarily mean that you are singing. Can you sing a song to the LORD without worshiping him? Yes you can. Can you worship the LORD without singing a song to him? Yes you can. The word that is translated worship in the Bible is really a couple of different words that can mean to bow down or fall down prostrate.  It can also mean to come along side and serve or give an offering. So there is more to worship than just singing a song.

So American Idol is just pop-culture – what about the church?  I am fully convinced that there will be many in churches across the world this weekend, even at my own church, who will stand with those around them to sing to the LORD yet they will not be worshiping the LORD.

There is an abundance of good quality Christian music being produced in our day and this makes for a dangerous situation. We could very easily deceive ourselves and others in the church into thinking that we are answering the Psalmist’s call in Psalm 96 to worship the LORD, but in fact we are just singing a song.

This is why the Psalmist doesn’t just say sing a new song to the LORD and leave it at that. He gives us several reasons why we should worship the LORD. He says the LORD is worthy, the LORD is glorious, the LORD is sovereign, the LORD is Creator, and the LORD is the righteous Judge over all the earth – so sing a new song to the LORD. Worship the LORD. Ascribe glory to the LORD! This is the task of the church, of God’s people. We must not fail at this point. We don’t just say to the world, “Join us in singing to the LORD.” We tell them about the one to whom we are singing. If we do not make it clear why we sing to the LORD, why we worship Him, why we glorify Him, then who is to say if the nations are just singing songs or if they are truly bowing down, falling down before Him in worship.

Let’s remember this as we worship the LORD this week.