October 24, 2020

The Evangelical Liturgy 9: Singing.

06Y25054For beginners, read the Introduction to this series, then visit the categories menu and hit “Evangelical Liturgy” for all previous entries. In a sentence, I’m walking through all the parts of the traditional Protestant worship service and discussing the value of recovering our own liturgical tradition.

Singing. Oh yes….singing. I love to sing. I learned to sing before I was a Christian, first at school and then at church. I miss singing more than I can say. Our students don’t sing. Most of the adults I work with don’t sing much. I loved choirs and hymn-sings as a young Christian. It’s one of the worst things about the evangelical wilderness. Nothing is as wonderful to me as singing in church.

Congregational singing. One of evangelicalism’s great legacies, thanks to Isaac Watts, the Wesleys and some great music in the midst of the not-so-great flood of music out of revivalism, the Jesus movement, CCM, etc.

Not somebody or a group singing to the audience….uh…congregation, but congregational singing. Worship by singing. Proclamation by singing.

First, off, let’s be clear. Singing is mentioned in Paul’s instructions about worship in a descriptive way and in a prescriptive way, so it’s part of worship. Second, that doesn’t mean from that point on, we can do whatever we want because it’s mentioned in the Bible.

Music is dominating most evangelical worship these days and I, for one, am ready to have less of it in most instances. There’s a serious need for regulation and moderation of music in an atmosphere where many “churches” are becoming more like entertainment venues than any previous conception of worship.

I am tired of standing for long periods of time. I’m older and my back hurts. Many people are older, or have bad knees or other problems. This isn’t the Olympics.

I’m tired of singing vast numbers of new songs, some of which are too high and very, very hard to sing. (I know many old songs are hard to sing and you are tired of them as well. Amen. Point taken. We aren’t having that argument.)

I’m somewhat angry about having this avalanche of industrially produced music forced on me for a dozen insufficient reasons. The way the church’s canon of singable, theologically meaningful music has been detonated in the name of anything that creates what growth oriented churches demand is stunning. We’ve been brutal in this process and we’re going to be sorry in the long run.

I’m also amazed at the sudden conclusion that humans can’t be taught to sing, but must have a major sound system blasting sound at them so they can experience it.

When I was a young Christian in Western Kentucky, I thought the Church of Christ was nuts for promoting non-instrumental congregational singing. Well….I’ll get back to you on that one.

The Lutherans have a solid and reasonable approach to congregational singing. Read what Pr. William Cwirla said in the recent Liturgical Gangsta discussion of the hymnal.

Traditionally, the Lutheran hymnal is the “third book” of Lutheran piety and devotion, next to the Holy Scriptures and the Book of Concord (the Lutheran confessions) which together comprise Lutheran tradition. The hymnal puts into practice what is believed, taught, and confessed from the Holy Scriptures. It is the worship that corresponds our doctrine, the lex orandi of our lex credendi, though not to the same extent as the Book of Common Prayer in the Anglican Church.

In Lutheran churches, hymnals have a quasi-official status and are approved for use by our body of churches. You can see this practice already in the 17th century Lutheran church orders which spelled out in considerable detail what hymns and liturgical materials were to be used in the territorial churches. …I must note by way of “truth in advertising” that the concept of a normative “hymnal” seems to be waning in some Lutheran congregations. The Lutheran understanding of “adiaphora” (that is, those things neither commanded nor forbidden in the Scriptures) lends to freedom in matters of worship. The influence of American Evangelicalism on Lutheran worship has also been considerable, introducing revival forms of worship not indigenous to Lutheranism. Rare is the Lutheran congregation today that does not offer some kind of non-hymnal based “contemporary service.” This is the on-going tension and struggle in the Lutheran version of the “worship wars.” To what extent are we willing to forego outward unity in worship for the sake of what we perceive to be relevant, contextual, or meaningful to the unchurched? The debate continues.

In my grandparents’ generation, everyone had their own copy of the hymnal which they brought to church with them as dutifully as Baptists bring their Bibles. The hymnal resided in the home. In my parents’ generation, the hymnal moved to the pew rack in the church. Tomorrow’s hymnal will likely reside on a computer disk, if it indeed exists at all. What effect this will have on Lutheran piety and practice remains to be seen.

This is the “canonical” approach to congregational singing, with a realistic flexibility for churches to be creative. It’s the right way to go. Hold on, but be reasonably open. Don’t be in such a mad rush.

Churches can teach their members to sing by investing a small amount of time with the congregation and more concentrated time with young people. There are times and places when choirs are appropriate in worship, but the greater payoff is the ability to sing, appreciate music and read music.

Congregational singing is nothing less than congregational preaching and proclamation. It’s that important and should be viewed that way. What is sung will have enormous influence on those who sing.

Singing is an activity that engages mind, heart and body. It’s contribution to worship is in allowing a worshiper to raise his/her voice in praise and proclamation with fellow Christians and with the larger Christian tradition across time and culture.

A singing congregation is a great witness, much greater than a kickin’ band. The band is fine as an expression of creativity and even leadership, but the Wesleys and Lutherans and revivalists all knew that a singing congregation was a congregation open to the Spirit and engaged in the praise of God. Today, fewer and fewer churches can find the necessary instrumentalists and singers to do contemporary music. We’ve reached a point that only a few churches can produce what we’re being told is “worship,” i.e. music by bands/singers with the congregation joining in, but being heard only secondarily.

Newer songs should be accumulated and kept with real discernment. Momentary popularity should not weigh much in that process. Once a year, wise elders should review what is being sung and how singing is influencing the total life, formation and liturgy of the church.

Many of us will find ourselves at churches that are poor singing churches. Sing anyway. If you have a voice, sing. Sing out. If a guitar makes singing better, then use it. If drums help, use them. Simply make it the goal to sing the best lyrics, the most anointed and spiritually influential songs and to sing with all the skill a congregation can be taught to utilize.


  1. re: standing. You’re a wuss. I’ve been to numerous services in Ukraine, both Greek Catholic and Orthodox. No pews. One bench for the REALLY infirm. My back was killing me. The old folks just kept going. Make that “we’re wusses”.

    • David Bates says

      I would like to officially register the term “Liturgical Lightweight” 🙂

    • I wonder if there were ‘benches’ for the ones who stayed with Christ during the hours of the Crucifixion?
      Mary was getting older, but she, the Mater Dolorosa, stood in an agony only a mother can imagine..
      I don’ t think she felt the pain in her back as much as in her heart. Pain is relative, I guess.

      • Christiane,
        With all due respect, this is an aspect of Christianity which really bothers me:
        I have developed major back and knee problems over the last 5 years. Standing for 10 minutes now will put me in agony. Why must I be forced to suffer in a way compared by you as watching the Crucifixion during the singing part of a worship service? Especially when the tone and mood of the moment is meant to be joyful? Is that the attitude of all Christians towards those with real physical pain problems — “deal with it, after all Christ suffered worse”?
        (I apologize if this sounds harsh, but I actually had someone — young & healthy at that — tell me that once).

        • IMO
          Compassion = “Rise as you are able.”

          But even then some suffering pain may feel pressured to rise.

        • Our comfort is one thing.
          Our suffering beyond what we can endure another.

          I myself had a knee replacement.
          In our Church, all those who are handicapped and wheel-chair bound are brought to the front near the altar. And there, they are the first to recieve communion.
          No one stands before them to block their view.
          And they are kept at the heart of the congregation.

          I do understand your comment.
          I’m sorry you are suffering pain.

  2. In Orthodoxy, just about everything is sung, or chanted, even the Gospel and Epistle readings. The Carpatho-Russian tradition is congregational rather than having a choir. We say that when you sing your prayers, you pray twice!

    Once you get used to Orthodox a capella singing, instruments become superfluous. The best instrument to worship God with is the one God made, the human voice!

  3. Steve Newell says

    Good hymns of the faith is one of the greatest ways of sing the faith and teachings of the Church into our hearts. In my view, the quality of the lyrics is more important than the quality of the tune. There is a great amount we can learn by reading the lyrics of the hymns. I have starting reading the lyrics of hymns sung at my much and trying to time them back of Holy Scripture.

    On of the greatest weaknesses of many of today’s hymns and songs is that they are theologically weak. They use to much of the pronoun “I” as in “I want to praise you” and many do not focus on what Christ has done by what we want to do.

    • There are some fine new hymnwriters who deserve support and consideration. And probably many more than most of us know. We should all be alert to promote good hymn creators.

      • Steve Newell says

        Agreed. Likewise, there are many bad hymns that we should lose that have been around for over 100 years.

    • Re: too much use of the pronoun “I”

      When the lyrics consist of things like “I want you to fill me,” “I throw myself before you” etc., I found that the act of singing made me into a liar, since I frequently did not actually want any of the things prescribed in those lyrics.

      • Another thing…I play semi professionally and so I often go on craigslist to find music jobs, and I often see ads from churches seeking a drummer or something, and they are offering permanent paid compensation! I’m all for musicians getting paid, but not in church. I wouldn’t tithe to a church if i knew they would use that money to pay worship band musicians.

        • Interesting. My church’s organist is on staff, I believe.

          • I wouldn’t mind having a paid pipe organist on staff. The pipe organ is the only instrument invented specifically for use in church, and you have to be kind of a genius just to play the thing.

          • The Guy from Knoxville says

            As a church musician (organist) I have found, and been told, that one of the major reasons in these days we live in to pay a couple of musicians – usually pianist and organist – is to enable the church to have trained, reliable musicians for the services and rehersals each week. Most band are made up of church members who volunteer to play and spend time on their own practicing but you need the regularility and reliability of the paid musician these days in order to reherse your choirs in addition to service playing – it’s a vital part of keeping a church music program at a high level in terms of preparation for weekly services.

            You don’t have to be a genius to play the organ but it takes a little more attention to detail because of the vast resources available sound wise and the correct mixing and matching of the sounds (registration) is one of the biggest parts along with the keyboard and pedal technique.

            As to congregational singing – it’s of the utmost importance but needs to be placed throughout the service in appropiate places but at the same time you don’t need to overuse or have unusual extended time of music unless the service is specifically for that purpose such as a hymn sing. Also, don’t underestimate or downplay the benefits and importance of training (properly) childern and youth in singing, instruments, sacred choral music, a little music theory and hymnody – this will go a long way in turning the church back to a correct path from a music standpoint.

        • (This is actually a reply to your comment below, which won’t allow a reply):
          You said:
          “The pipe organ is the only instrument invented specifically for use in church”

          That’s not actually true. The Romans invented the pipe organ (as a mechanical way to play more than one wind instrument at once). Its invention and use were not solely limited to church (or Christian church, for that matter).

          • i stand corrected

          • The Guy from Knoxville says

            The organ did come into the church many years later after its invention however, it did pre-date the piano in church music from the instrument standpoint. Initially the organ met with stiff resistance in some church bodies but over time came to be accepted as a regular support for congregational singing and to accompany the church’s choir. Other instruments were used – namely orchestral instruments such as violins, violes and perhaps woodwinds and brass if they were available. Some churched utilized a small chamber group of musicians to provide music in services as well.

        • Tim, the fact that you are okay with the organ but not with other instruments and would consider tithing for payment of one musician vs. the other is hypocritical. Tithing or offering is not a matter of “what suits me”, but rather of thanks for what God is doing. I have issue with tithing when I don’t feel led… and give of my labors and resources when God points me to a need. A/C or new pews or whatever isn’t a need. It’s a preference, too.

          Why do we pay pastors? Mostly because of training. Not because, sorry pastors, of what they do throughout the week. Sure they prepare a sermon, but most of them do what the rest of the body should be doing. Loving and tending to one another’s needs and encouraging the rest of the body to do the same thing.

          So, if we pay pastors for training, then should we not pay musicians for their training? I live in a pretty repressed area of the country and I pay $35 an hour for piano lessons (30 minutes per kid per week). for my daughters. 40 weeks a year (less lessons in the summer and holidays) puts me at $1400. Not to mention if they attend festivals, seminars, or go to school for music. That’s training. No different than public speaking or how to write a sermon, really.

          Of course, I have issue with paying a pastor who (oftentimes) is paid specifically so people who don’t “love one another well” don’t have to learn to “love one another well”.

          • Paul was tentmaker but we pay pastors and for good reason (mostly). I admire pastors that are bivocational but appreciate having full time staff. Why not pay musicians? They often minister to many of the congregation as much as a pastor does in the time they are utilizing their giftedness and talent. Why would we want to muzzle the ox while he is threshing the grain?
            Now, why must the volume of the amplified music be so loud that OSHA would require earplugs for any employee of the church? Is this any way to treat the temple that is our body? I first found myself appalled by ear splitting loudness while a “normally aspirated” pipe organ was bleeding my ears.
            Finally, I recall my mother asking (fussin’) the question, “Why do we spend so much time singing these little praise songs?” Three choruses sung straight through one time each with barely a pause between each was too much time. Each was pulled from Psalms, these “little songs”. Hard to improve on the work of the Psalmist, Handel’s great work notwithstanding.

      • The language of liturgy and hymns should NOT accurately reflect where we are when we walk into church. It teaches us what we should want. What we are singing might at times be lies if it were considered self-expression. But it is something other than self expression.

        But I think you may still have a good point. Perhaps what is wrong is that some of these songs not only speak of things that not only you or I do not want, but in some cases speak of things we should not want. They WERE the accurate self-expression of someone who should not have included his own peculiar feelings in a hymn. I’m afraid that “Sometimes When We Touch” is the template for too much worship music.

  4. Why is it so important to sing, or have music at all? I mean, it’s not like our souls depend on it.

    Yes, I realize that Christianity has a history of this (to put it mildly). But in liturgical churches (which all churches were until the Reformation, and most continue to be today), the musical element was like priestly vestments–pretty, but non-essential.

    Today, given our vast cultural and generational gulfs, I wonder if music is not inherently divisive. On the other hand, for churches outside the liturgical tradition (and many within it), for whom hymn-singing is arguably one of the main church activities, one wonders what could possibly take its place (other than other forms of music).

    • Given the commands in the New Testament- not just examples- and in Psalms, it would be hard to Biblically justifying that.

      But why would we want to? It’s a great part of human creativity and using beauty to glorify God. It can be divisive, but we can’t ban art because it’s divisive. We should use it rightly and deal with our divisions like grown ups.

      • Why would I want to not have singing? Because each week (at my Catholic parish) it’s getting harder and harder to endure music that I find bad, dumb and ugly. It doesn’t elevate, it degrades. It doesn’t glorify, it insults. There, I feel better now!

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Come to St Boniface in Anaheim, CA. Our music is pretty good. Haven’t heard that lightweight “Gather Us In” in years, and most of the hymns are either classical (primarily on feast days) or more contemporary but still with lyrics taken from the Psalms.

      • Catholics who want to complain about the singing at their church are going to be charged a dollar. Please put your money in the jar. 🙂

        I can make some serious coin off this deal.

        • Very funny – but alas, very true iMonk. Just don’t get me started about the guitars … I’ll shut up and go away now.

        • Do you take euros? ‘Cos I could fill up the jar, if so.

          I’d be happy with any kind of singing, if only we could manage it in my local church, though I have to agree with Donna G about the insipid 70s stuff still hanging on grimly.

          On the other hand, I can’t sing. Not a note. About the only hymn I can sing is “Soul of My Saviour” because for some lucky reason, it’s in my register (all three notes or so).

          That, and the “Tantum Ergo.” Chant is *very* forgiving for the tuneless and toneless amongst us 🙂

          • Martha,

            I agree that chant is very forgiving for poor voices. My favorite part on the “Women in Chant” CD is toward the end. A nun with cracking, aged voice is alone, and it is the best track on it. You can just hear the dedication.

        • still shopping for new tires I see….

        • RE: Catholics and complaining about music: My earliest experiences with music as a very young child were of my parents leading the music at our parish. I’m pretty sure they used the Glory and Praise series. I gotta tell you, that’s good stuff. The Catholic “folk” music here in the States from the 70’s and 80’s is lyically/scripturally meaty, musically interesting, and has serious nostalgia for me. I’ve also noticed that among my Catholic friends and family, there’s no “worship wars.” I.e. having a blended musical style is just the way things are. I seriously think that the Catholic Church has a leg up on us Evangelicals when it comes to music.

          • I remember my father, now of blessed memory, singing at Mass. Very loudly and alway very off-key. I used to cringe a bit then.
            But, oh Lord God, what I would not give to hear his dear voice again, loudly and off-key and so full of faith. . . . .

      • Scott Miller says

        I have gone to evangelical churches where they play the CCM stuff, but no lead guitar or vocal solos. After all that would be glorifying self.
        And it gets so bad that they don’t even have the correct bars turnarounds between verses.
        Even worse is that the latest CCM worship hits are meant for one singer. The words are crammed in there and can’t be sung by multiple singers, let alone by a congregation.

      • The intended music for the psalms, unfortunately, has not survived.

        Yes, music is a great art form. So is dance–yet we do not expect churches to have dancing (though I’m sure some of the more adventurous have tried it). Nor do we lay out art paper and invite the congregation to join together in finger-painting (except perhaps in Sunday school).

        • PS. On the issue of biblical “commandments” to sing, I see these as just as problematic as (for example) Christ’s commandment to wash one another’s feet. To what extent we are intended to actually do this, and in what circumstances, is far from clear.

          • Many of us do it often in church.

            My baptist church washes feet at least twice a year. And not the quiet liturgical Maundy Thursday stuff either, but good old Appalachian men up front women in back, pots, pans, towels type ordeal. It really is a nice service.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Yes, music is a great art form. So is dance–yet we do not expect churches to have dancing (though I’m sure some of the more adventurous have tried it)

          We RCCs have experimented with “Liturgical Dance”, but it didn’t work out. At all. Remember “7-11 praise choruses — seven words repeated 11 times”? Well “Liturgical Dance” is that translated to dance moves in long choir robes — spin around (but not too fast), raise hands (usually not both at the same time), sync with the other liturgical dancers (like Busby Berkeley), repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat…

          Like I said. It doesn’t work.

          • We have a mime troupe that is basically like a liturgical dance. Works very well.

          • Kozak – a mime troupe? Moreover, a liturgical mime troupe?

            My views on that are rather similar to those of Lord Vetinari, who banned mimes from Ankh-Morpork and who punishes those who violate the ban by hanging them head-downwards in a scorpion pit opposite a sign saying “Learn the words” 🙂

  5. I was told by a pretty famous ccm guy that much of the new music is written by people who are not Christians but they learn the lingo and make a bunch of money. sigh…
    When i was involved with a campus ministry i suggested we not sing for a week or two so we could focus more on the message. I was greeted with blank stares.

    • Invariably discussion about singing denigrate into slam the new stuff, slam the old stuff.

      This comment by Aaron is offensive.

      Aaron, go to ccli.com. Look at the top 25 list of songs that are being sung in churches today. (That is the topic at hand – singing in church.) Which ones are written by non-Christians? Here are 12 authors representing 20 of the top 25 songs sung today.

      Tomlin, Chris (6 of top 25)
      Morgan, Reuben
      Redman, Matt (2)
      Hughes, Tim (2)
      Baloche, Paul (2)
      Zschech, Darlene
      Doerksen, Brian
      Founds, Rick
      Townend, Stuart
      Mark, Robin
      Ruis, David
      Jernigan, Dennis

      “Much of the new music is written by people who are not Christians”??? Certainly not the stuff we sing in church today.

    • Did the “pretty famous CCM guy” also tell you about the Satanists & witches involved in CCM? Because a Bible college student visiting my church about a decade ago told us that with absolute certainty. It is to our credit that we greeted him with blank stares.

      I think the real problem is “Music speaks to the *gasp* FEELINGS! and we CAN’T TRUST OUR FEELINGS!”

      Because, you know, God wants us to only use our brains, because they’re unfallen. *dubious*

  6. In our new (as in not-a-year-old) little fellowship, we’re meeting in a borrowed sanctuary that’s simply too big for us. A couple weeks ago we were bumped to the youth room ‘cuz the host church was having some event. Well, it was awesome to actually fill a room and hear each other sing!

    We just purchased our CCLI license along with one of their “Song Select” programs. One of the things the CCLI license allows is creation of a congregational songbook/hymnal. I’m looking forward to spending the next year or two archiving our songs in preparation for creating one. I’m also planning on archiving our weekly responsorial arrangement of the psalms and our liturgy for inclusion in the final book. The elders and congregation seem almost unanimous about that being preferable to projecting lyrics.

    • Please make sure you do all the stuff that CCLI requires of their license-holders. Count your copies of each song… As well as how often you play the stuff in a church setting (or non church setting, but when others are around for it).

      That’s how the artists get their CCLI royalties.

  7. As I once said in my music appreciation class, “Music completes the conversation.”
    In my honest opinion, one of the most beautiful things about going to Divine Service (worship) is the congregation singing together- praising God and proclaiming His mighty acts of salvation. Young and old, united together in song, speaking forth the Word of God in a way that mere talking cannot do.
    As Herman said, “He who sings prays twice”.
    When I was younger, I used to make fun of the 80 year old ladies who sat in the front pew, wobbling out the hymns with fervor that should have shamed me. Now, whenever I am privilidged to hear such things in church, I shed a silent tear, for it is a beautiful thing to hear.
    And such a shame that congregations singing together seems to be dying out.

  8. I serve at a church that is still healing from divisions over music style. I have found it very unfortunate how selfish we are (young and old alike), equating our musical preferences with “real worship” That said, we as leaders need to prayerfully and humbly deal with it by continually teaching what scripture actually says about worship because this area of unfortunate conflict isn’t going away.

    Look at the last 500 years of music, in the church or the bar. Prior to the last 70 years, very little change. Last 70, a lot, And music, is very emotional and to often confused with the Holy Spirit by immature Christians of all musical preferences.

    Sorry is that’s to much of a tangent for the thread.

    • A trend I noticed in the late 90’s and early 00’s was that many of the better Christian musical groups were reviving hymns (albeit with more modern arrangements). That’s a really cool concept IMO. Whenever I’m leading the music, I try to pick songs from across the stylistic and generational lines. It’s neat to see “A Mighty Fortress is our God” in the same set as “Open the Eyes of my Heart.” I’ve actually got four hymnals that have a good variety in both genre and generation: the ’08 Baptist Hymnal by Lifeway, both editions of Gather Comprehensive by GIA (a Catholic publisher), and the ’94 Avodat Y’Shua by Purple Pomegranate (aka Jews for Jesus).

  9. I know that this man is extremely controversial, but I think he has something good to say. Rob Bell, in his book, Sex God, says that singing is so important because it brings about community. He said to look at a concert (and I’m not calling worship a concert; I’m using it as an example.). He said that if a group of people went and heard their favorite band, they would be singing at the top of their lungs, enjoying the presence of each other and the community of each soul (since beautiful music touches the soul.) Just a thought.

  10. CCLI is about to destroy our (Church of Christ) long tradition of acappella congregational singing. As more PowerPoint lyrics are displayed song books are disappearing. Some of the churches project the music as well but it can’t be read by most. I’m so thankful that our small group continues to sing from the book.

    • As far as I understand, CCLI is about licensing, not pimping projection. I’m not sure why they’d be the culprit in destoying a capella singing. In fact, with some of their add-on services you can print out hymnal-style sheet music for the songs. While they also offer tools that makes it easier for folks who use projection, it seems to me that their add-on services just make whatever way you use music easier. As I said above, we’re using those services to actually make our own songbooks.

      • The problem is that CCLI allows projection.

        We have congregations that make their own books. A few even have small folders of just the songs to be sung during that assembly — these have no published hymnals. I have no problem with this, except some (many?/most?) are 7/11 types.

    • I’ve visited three churches over the past couple of years that didn’t have hymnals at all. The songs were projected.

      I figure if you can’t read the lyrics, make up your own. It’s all repetition of choruses I’ve never heard before, anyway.

  11. iMonk, thanks for addressing this. As a music teacher & church musician for many years, this is something that I feel pretty strongly about.

    I think you hit on something when you talked about choirs, working with the young, learning to read music…my observation, for what its worth (and you get what you pay for, ha!), is that as the level of musical literacy in a congregation goes down, so does the quality of its musical expression. Sounds like a no-brainer, but very few congregations have invested much–if any–resources into teaching their children to sing anymore.

    “Singing Schools” popular in the early part of the 20th cent. were one way that this used to happen. My father in law remembers fondly the singing school teacher who came around and gathered them all together for awhile to teach the basics of shape-note music reading. This guy (my FIL) was a farmer, not a college educated fellow, but read hymns very well and taught his family to do the same. When “off the wall” songs with no notation and difficult to follow melodies (not to mention no written harmonies) made their appearance in our church in the last 20 years, he was lost. All of a sudden, what he had once been able to join into heartily, was cut off. And since he didn’t listen to pop radio or CCM, he was doubly lost.

    More recently, as a teacher, I have seen that it seems to take more and more to get students to the point of music literacy. Families don’t sing at home anymore, even Christian families and that is a sin and a shame. I greatly admire some families that I know who DO sing, even though the parents themselves never had any training and don’t consider themselves musicians. Amazingly, their children are getting it, just because they do it, every day at family worship.

    • Andrea,
      You’d be encouraged by the choir I had the pleasure of hearing during a summer placement. They have a youth choir which follows (if I picked it up correctly) the general guidelines of the RSCM – http://www.rscm.com
      The interesting thing about the youth development programme was that, not only did it develop the music skills, but it also taught the theology and Biblical understanding behind church music and the words that are sung.

      • You are right! I would be encouraged by that! Sounds like a fantastic program…I’m going to check out the links I saw there for USA participation. Thanks for the tip…

    • Andrea,
      The singing schools actually date back to the 17th century in colonial America and are a wonderful American tradition created with the belief that all people can learn to sing and worship God, as opposed to the prevailing European view that only a select few had any musical talent and could be reasonably expected to sing in church. We’re actually studying this topic in my PhD program right now. Interestingly, the singing schools originally taught metrical psalms and “fuging tunes”, and when our “traditional” hymns were introduced in the late 18th century this caused a tremendous intergenerational rift in many congregations that mirrors the worship of today. The singing schools eventually dissapeared from New England as the proponents of the more “cultured” European hymn styles prevailed over what was considered to be a coarser and less “educated” style, but the singing schools moved south and west and still survive in some isolated pockets of the south today.

    • Families don’t sing at home anymore, even Christian families and that is a sin and a shame.

      A shame perhaps, but I’d hesitate to call it a sin. Unless God led the family to sing in their home and they ignored Him.

      Am I the only one who wonders why the “young people” are being blasted for not knowing how to read music? I’m sure some more “mature” folks don’t know how either.

  12. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Christian music. I enjoy CCM, but only in a ‘personal devotional’ way – by which I mean I can use it as part of my personal devotional time, reflecting on the relationship between ‘I’ and God. But it just doesn’t work in a congregational setting – it’s just too personal. I was at a service on Sunday there where the singing was led by a guitarist, pianist and a single vocalist. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with that setup but it sort of worked and I was encouraged to hear the singer change many of the ‘I’ lyrics to ‘we’ (despite having ‘I’ projected on the screen).
    And that’s my next bug-bear. Congregational singing is one of the few times the congregation actually gets to participate in worship (at least in many Protestant churches). And it angers me when the organist takes such a ‘high’ view of music that the congregation is left floundering and unable to participate. I spent the summer in one of our congregations in continental Europe where they seemed to have hit a good balance. It was a good-singing congregation, but the (excellent) choir were able to add another dimension to the singing without overpowering the congregation. I also recall a service (in another church) where a ‘reflective time’ was utterly ruined for me by the pianist who played what was, I’m sure, a very technical piece and, to music lovers a very ‘grand’ piece, but was utterly out of keeping with the moment. It was jarring, not soothing; it was ‘jaggy’ and staccato rather than flowing; and it was simply distracting rather than complementary.
    My final point is about the theology of our hymns. Again I have to say I generally enjoy CCM but some of the theology is just downright awful. It’s either exceedingly shallow or borderline misleading (and I’m being generous here). That’s not to say that the ‘old hymns’ got it right. I think that our hymnary also needs to be included in our semper reformanda cry. But as our worship is increasingly ‘dumbed-down’ so to is our appreciation of the words we sing. And the concerning part is that when the sermon is long-forgotten, it’s the words of a catchy hymn or praise song that will run in our head. All the more reason to be discerning in what we sing. I confess that choosing the final hymn for a service causes me almost as much agonising as the rest of it – because it’s the last thing that’ll stick in the memory of many of the congregation.

  13. Whatever the make up of the instruments and musicians used, the main goal is congregational singing. Singing is not an optional menu item on the worship cafeteria ala carte line.

    Singing is commanded. Skillful accompaniment should serve the singing, not replace it. We have a kick’in band, and some incredible musical resources and gifts, including an expensive sound system. But this all serves singing and engaging the congregation to participate before the audience of One.

    I also really like this essays description of congregational singing as proclamation of the gospel. I feel that functioning as it prepares me to preach the gospel week by week.

    • Why do you think singing is “not an optional menu item”? Some churches do have spoken services, you know. Others have silence (though the Quakers do have hymns too).

      Again and again I see people saying how they like music (or certain kinds), how music brings us together (but so does kissing), how some churches find a way to make it work. But…does it have to be there in all cases? If it doesn’t work, should we be made to feel bad about it, or could Christian services potentially focus on something else?

      iMonk I think will point to some Pauline verses which he sees as prescriptive, but you know, people get all kinds of things from Paul. It’s often hard to say which were meant for his time, and which are applicable generally.

      (Somewhere, some church is working to figure out what a “timbral” is and how to play one.)

  14. As a United Methodist and member of a great (but small) choir, I love singing. We often sing the communion liturgy and new members receive a UM Hymnal. A few times we’ve had a projector for some songs, but as mentioned above, that places emphasis on words with little attention to the tune, as if the tune is unimportant.

    Wesley’s commands on singing are still great reminders, particularly: Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, then when you sung the songs of Satan.

    I’ve also found the EP pamphlet “Being Subject to One Another as We Sing.” to be a good reminder: http://tinyurl.com/mgotrh

  15. David Bates says

    A few extra thoughts:

    * iMonk, I’m going to try very hard not to give you that dollar 😉

    * I’m quite surprised that nobody has mentioned the relationship between the songs we sing on a particular Sunday and the theme of the readings or sermon. At my last parish I was heavily involved in the church’s music and we would always spend a long time picking the songs to fit in with the lectionary, feast days, baptisms etc.

    * There hasn’t really been any talk about where the band/choir/music group is placed. It annoys me when they band/choir/music group is the focal point of the congregation. Either at the side at the front or behind the congregation seems to work well.

    * Anyone that’s been around “high” churches (RC/Orthodox/Anglican etc.) will have seen the Sunday’s psalm set to music. It’s usually very simply arranged and sung in a responsorial fashion – the cantor sings the verses and the congregation sings the response. I have to say, this is probably one of my favourite moments in the Mass – a chance to meditate on a short passage of scripture (e.g. “Oh that today you would listen to His voice, harden not your hearts”). I haven’t seen this used in a “low” church – you guys are missing out.

    * This brings us onto new songs. I was at a parish where the music group were working through all the psalms in the lectionary, setting them to music. The psalms were written by many different people in the group, in many varying styles. New songs, particularly when they spring from *within* the congregation, can help galvanize it, particularly if the songs have associations with what that particular church was going through at the time.

    • As a protestant I would love to use the responsorial psalm singing you describe in my baptist church setting. However, there is a learning curve involved and I am not even able to get away from my church long enough to go and observe an anglican church doing it. The one episcopal church in our area only sings on sunday mornings when I am already comitted. But I think it would make a great crossover tradition. I have episcopal and lutheran hymnals and they don’t seem to describe how it is done enought for me to implement it straight from the book.

      • Miguel,

        I’m not sure where you are, geographically. Is there a Catholic monastery near by? I know that visitors to St. Meinrad, are encouraged to join the monks in their communal prayers which include responsive psalms.

        • I’m not entirely sure if there is but thanks for the tip! I’ll look into it. Even though I’m protestant, it does sound like fun.

  16. iMonk’s comment about there being “too much singing” in Protestant (esp. evangelical) churches today rang true to me…until I read the comment about Eastern Orthodox churches. I’m thinking it’s not that American Protestant churches sing too much – it’s that they’re not doing the right kind of singing enough.

    Two comments from above tie into this: first, so much of the modern worship setlist is just pablum. Many of the songs are very, very lightweight WRT theology or substance, and are just 4-6 lines sung over and over. And, as also pointed out above, so much of the new worship setlist seems very humano-centric; far too many “I” lines, “me” lines, and “my” lines. Shouldn’t worship be lifting us out of ourselves, shifting our focus on God for who He is, not what we want Him to do for us? I don’t mean that worship songs shouldn’t mention the cross, the resurrection, the forgiveness of sins. Of course they should. But I wish they would do it in a way that wasn’t all about how good that makes _me_ feel; rather, they ought to be trying to tell us more about God and put the emphasis on His nature and glory.

    David Bates, commenting just above me, also hit on something that I think is a huge weak spot for churches today; making the band the focal point. Many evangelical services now are far more concert than participatory, communal worship. Having a great worship band may bring in more people, but I’m wondering if such measures actually diminsh the community-building of a church; it’s easier to be more anonymous and less integral to a service when your singing is drowned out by bass and drums.

    I recently joined a group throught meetup.com that meets once a month to play and sing folk songs (though you can really bring just about any song and we’ll sing it). We have anywhere between 10-20 people there, depending, and I come away more refreshed, more “awake”, than from any worship service that I’ve attended for more than a decade. Music and singing have power to them; I wish the church was better at harnessing and channeling that power.

    • first, so much of the modern worship setlist is just pablum. Many of the songs are very, very lightweight WRT theology or substance, and are just 4-6 lines sung over and over.

      Hmmm, have you checked out the top 25 list, at CCLI.com. Seems like your characterization of the modern set list is a little off.

      • I wasn’t aware of the list. I was writing from experience – from the evangelical services I’ve attended over the last several years. Pablum is a good word to decribe most of the lyrics we sang. (Most – not all. I’m not saying every single contemporary worship song is lightweight babbling. Just that the worship services I’ve attended used songs that consisted of the same 6-8 lines repeated over and over, and those usually just smacked of the feel-good, surface level faith I’ve no interest in anymore.)

      • Bob Sacamento says

        FWIW, I don’t know anything about the CCLI list either, but my experience with what is actually sung in church these days lines up very well with what Aranion said.

        I will go so far as to admit that things are a bit better than they were maybe ten years ago. The writers seem to be growing up or something.(?) But I don’t know why we need to wait for things to continue to improve when we already have such a rich musical heritage to draw from. (Yeah yeah yeah, together with a bunch of hymns that really aren’t that good etc etc. Doesn’t matter. Get rid of all of the bad ones, and there is still a ton of great ones left.)

        • I checked out the list…it looks like it hasn’t changed in five years. Is that adding to the frustration?

          • I checked out the [CCLI] list…it looks like it hasn’t changed in five years.

            So then are you saying your beef with CCM music is not that it’s not Christian enough, but that it’s not Contemporary enough?

  17. Singing is part of our createdness. It is part of how we worship God, just as when we read scripture, preach, greet one another in love, serve, work, sleep, eat, etc. The opportunity to do this together in a faith community is a grace. Personally, I’m caring less these days about the style and how well it’s performed vs. our being more intentional and dependent on the Holy Spirit to use our heart, mind, soul and bodies – individually and corporately – to love God through our singing. This will include emotion but is beyond mere emotionalism.

  18. The article and comments have been interesting reading. The small Episcopal church that I attend basically only has congregational singing. We sing a hymn at the beginning of the service, a hymn at the reading of the gospel, and a hymn at the end. We also sing the gloria and the doxology. It’s a small church so instead of a band we have an organ and a small choir. I don’t think we’ve ever sung anything written after 1889. I enjoy belting out all of these old (and often times rather slow) anglican tunes, although I can understand why the kids might find them a bit dull.

    I honestly had no idea that congregational singing was becoming a thing of the past. I live in a very rural area in West Virginia and in all of the evangelical churches around where I live congregational singing is still going strong. It’s a real shame it’s falling out of favor in other areas since a church service is supposed to be about the congregation actively worshipping God together, and not passively watching a concert.

  19. I have to say that I do not understand why people think they can not worship God just because there are guitars, drums and a sound system. I personally do not like to sing because I am not that good at it. However I have played the drums in a worship band for 4 years and I worshiped more when I was using the gift God gave me on stage in front of a singing congregation. I NEVER thought of myself as a performer and never thought of the congregation as an audience. I understand that not all churches use music appropriately but that does not mean all contemporary music is bad!

    • I don’t know that anyone is saying modern instrumentation prevents or inhibits worship. I think it’s about the way they’re used – volume, placement, song choice.

      I’m an awful singer – if you take the Biblical phrase “make a joyful noise,” my singing is definitely more noise than joy. However, we’re not at church to sound good, or to worry about our singing voice. Again, the emphasis is to be on God, not ourselves.

      Michael, it’s great that you never had the mindset of being a performer. That has likely allowed you to avoid a lot of spiritual pitfalls. However, I feel confident in guessing that many worship leaders or people on stage at church do – they have to smile the whole time, worry about their facial expression (too spiritual? not spiritual enough?). Additionally, the very arrangement and placement of the worship area essentially screams “concert” or “performance”: the congregation functions as the audience, with all focus on the musicians and singers.

      There are many wonderful contemporary worship songs. I myself am not a huge lover/appreciater of hymns. I just wish the songs used in the services I’ve been to were far less “me-centric” and more about God; I wish they contained some substance beyond cliched, feelgood Christianspeak.

    • Bob Sacamento says

      I have to say that I do not understand why people think they can not worship God just because there are guitars, drums and a sound system.

      That’s not really the point. You might want to read some of the earlier comments again more carefully.

      I NEVER thought of myself as a performer and never thought of the congregation as an audience.

      I would venture to say 1) that’s great! and 2) you are in a very small class of people.

      • Similar observations could be made of preachers.

      • I was refering to the comment imonk made that “a singing congregation is a greater witness than a kicking band.” There are alot of comments and I can see where someone might lose my point. That being said I remember reading several posts were people would say that the volume might be too loud or the placement of the band might be distracting. I was just making a general comment that people let outside appearances and sound distract them too much. Since singing is part of worship we should try to concentrate on worshiping in spirit and truth and not whether we are using a hymnal or a power point.
        One issue I do have is that you say that I am in a very small class of people. How do you know? I do not think it would be wise to guess at the condition of peoples hearts. I try and do it all the time and most of the time, if not always, I am wrong. I am sure that there are contempary worship bands that have wrong motives, we are sinful humans after all. But the same could be said of anyone not just band members and worship leaders.

  20. As a small inner city church, we have not been able to build the kind of musical worship we would like, but we have been committed to singing regardless. It has been very rewarding, so I appreciate your affirmation in this regard.

    By the way, since we’ve been engaging your ideas in this series, we have seen such a marked difference in our church. Thanks for this!


  21. Excellent piece. IMHO the CCM creep into the worship of the church has been a detrimental thing. CCM is by nature and design commercial. This is not in itself a bad thing, but it is what it is and in large part contrary to a good theology of worship. Your comments about bands singing to the “audience” with the congregation heard only secondarily is both a cause and symptom of the deterioration of real worship. I hope we can somehow recover that which we are rapidly losing.

  22. As a former non-denominational, Evangelical worship team member, the transition to the Lutheran congregational hymnal singing was very off putting to me at first. The hymns are very much a part of the liturgical order for worship and it took me awhile to fully appreciate it. The accompanying instrument being mainly an organ really was different from the “rock band” type instruments we used at the church I left (which I left because of the lack of Law/Gospel preachings).
    Yet, IMonk, the biggest and most striking difference is this. In the Lutheran worship the choir and musicians are seated behind the congregation, facing the alter and the sacraments. I find this practice very revealing because it takes man out of the equation. Much as the Pastor wears vestments, the performing choir’s fallen humanness is cloaked from the congregation’s view. I always felt that the Evangelical “rock” worship leaders performing in front of the congregation was/is in danger of becoming a ‘celeb” and not a mouthpiece for God’s word.

  23. I love singing. I particularly enjoy singing chorally (I’m an alto), and the only hymns I remember all the verses to are the ones we sang in my Christian high school choir 15 years ago. I have wonderful memories of my grandmother singing hymns while she worked in the kitchen, and my mother-in-law does it now, and I mostly feel like I’m missing out; I’ve been in stereotypical evangelical churches most of my life, singing “I Love You, Lord” and (more recently) “Shine, Jesus, Shine”. Now we go to a church with an accomplished band (and I do mean Band – we are very much the audience), and I miss singing with other people – I can barely hear myself sing, let alone the folks around me. Singing in church, IMO, only builds community when you can hear the people you’re singing with.

    Now I take my 3-year-old to Music Together, a 45-minute class teaching children about rhythm, melody and other aspects of music and movement. It’s all a capella, and we do a lot of folk songs that have parts, and it’s so refreshing to sing the harmony to “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” and hear it blend. I wish I had that at church still. I love our church, I just wish the worship service was more interested in building community and less about the show.

  24. So can we say that except for special music meant for contemplation, the main instrument ought to be the united voices of the congregation?
    I notice that the louder the amps, the quieter people sing–if they sing at all. If you can’t hear your own voice you don’t know if you’re on pitch or not. And if the song is complex… and if there’s no hymnal with the notes…
    I try to make sure I complement the “worship team” after a service where they let the congregation sing: maybe a little positive reinforcement will help.

  25. In my earlier post, I denigrated the notion some had of music being disposable or distracting from woship. Let me add that I agree that modern Evangelicalism often OD’s on music. My local AoG Sunday service opens with 30-45 min of congregational/praise band/choir, etc. I come to the service after working night shift & usually use that time to nap so I can be refreshed for the sermon. I could take maybe 20 min of music at first and maybe 10 at the end and probably stay awake for the whole service. I really like the balance proposed by Dr. Halley in his Bible Handbook.

    As for the importance of music overall, I give you this from Cat Stevens, with help from Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon. (some of you are smiling already *G*)….


    Btw, for a real treat, try showing Harold & Maude to an Evangelical church singles group. I did & survived. Then again, I also once showed them Eraserhead.

    • EXCELLENT MOVIE! Never considered it for church though…. I’m commin after you if I get fired. 😛

  26. Jonathan Hunnicutt says

    A few things. Personally, I think all services should blend old hymns and good CCM. A lot of CCM is junk, way too individualistic, emotions based, etc. However, CCM has gotten better. We Evangelicals have segmented way too much along age lines. I think we need to train our congregations to appreciate that we like different songs, and that’s OK. We need to train the old folks that it’s OK that the kids love the CCM, and perhaps to get vicarious joy from watching them worship. And similarly, we need to train the kids to enjoy watching the old folks enjoy the old hymns, even if they don’t.

    I also agree that we need to be careful about the placement of the choir/band, etc. I think churches should seriously consider hiding their choirs or bands. I was going to a church that sat us in tables, and we would have a short discussion after every sermon point. That was cool. However, one night, they scattered the band amongst the tables, so that the stage was empty. Except for a wooden cross. So the band was a part of the congregation, and the cross was our focal point. It was awesome. Of course, they never did it like that again… But I think we can learn from things like that.

    Also, some churches do need to turn down the volume of the music. Since it makes the acoustical focus of worship the ‘performers’ not the congregation. The problem is not that it is too loud, but that I cannot hear my neighbors, or sometimes even myself. This is really tricky, because the appropriate amount of sound is going to be different for different traditions, different services, and different times in the service. If you have a church were people stream in, the music should be softer at first, because there are less bodies to absorb the sound.

    We also have to learn to balance a more contemplative moments with celebratory moments of worship singing. Most churches simply do one or the other, or at least lean heavily on one or the other. Jesus is worth standing up, dancing, and shouting for. I have learned from my mostly African American church that worship is a fully embodied experience of joy in the Lord. I have also learned from the Anglicans that we needs times to be quiet and kneel. Why can’t there be churches that do both? Why can’t we shout, dance, jump for Jesus and then get quiet and kneel?

    • Jonathan,
      All good points. Some of the CCM is good stuff, but real discernment is needed to select that which is both theologically sound as well as appropriate for congregational singing. As for turning down the volume…amen to that! My church has a huge problem with this and it is reaching a tipping point. I have observed time and time again that as the volume goes up the congregational participation goes down. Not a good thing. And finally, your comment about balancing contemplative with celebratory moments is so needed. Why does it have to go full tilt either direction? A little balance can go a long way.

      • Jonathan Hunnicutt says

        Agreed that real discernment is needed for CCM. Many have brought up that worship music is more theologically formative than the preaching. I wholeheartedly (and sadly) agree. I think we should ask questions like: “If we were only using worship lyrics to teach children the Christian faith, would our children understand the important things? Would they have a grasp of the big picture?”

        I would add that hymns need discernment too. However, let’s face it, the often the ones that last often last because they are good.

    • Sound reinforcement is always really tricky in a Church setting. At my old church we would have a constant battle with the sound guys over monitor mix to the point where they stopped turning on the mains for a while. I.e. we musicians asked for it to be so loud that the mains weren’t even needed. So, I told the band to listen better because it was just too loud on stage. That helped. But there’s always a problem with loud speakers drowning out the people. I visited a church where the ear fatigue from it being so loud was similar to some rock concerts I’ve gone to.

      • Jonathan Hunnicutt says

        I know nothing about sound stuff. I do know that the sound guys are often faithful servants with a vital and thankless jobs. Really good sound balance is probably very hard.

        As for speakers, I think it would help to have lots of little speakers all over the place. That’s pretty easy to do now-a-days with wireless speakers. Well, actually I have no idea, but I bet it’s easier. However, this might be difficult for churches that meet in schools or other places where they have to set up and break down. Most churches (mine is one of them) just has two giant speakers, because it’s easy to set up.

        Here’s a business idea for the iMonk community: How about a sound system that is ultra easy to set up and break down? Lot’s of wireless speakers, software that automatically does sound balancing? All in one easy system that can be fitted into a few trunks for easy storage? I bet pastors would be willing to fork over a little extra cash for something that would save them and their congregation a lot of time (and grumbling!)

  27. Hi: can I recommend to readers Richard Hooker’s discussion of music in his “Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie”……………music as part of the “sensible excellencie” of public worship?

    He was debating the same sort of issues being discussed here with Puritans in the late 16th century. He’s known as the “judicious Mr. Hooker” for good reasons.

    Good wishes, John

  28. I have covered alot of what is being commented on at my blog Sound Doxology (sounddoxology.blogspot.com).

    Many of you have echoed some of what I’ve said there already, but I figured that if anyone was interested in this topic would find something of worth at my blog.

    • specifically these posts: Why I Love and Hate Christian Radio (pts 1&2), Music is Servant to Words, and What’s the Real Issue?

      Hope that helps

  29. I think you probably could have just written the last sentence and made your point well.

    I’m going to use some cliches here so be prepared.

    I’m a music guy. I’ve lead music at three different churches (and a smathering of retreats), sometimes paid and sometimes not. I didn’t grow up in the church so my background with music is 90’s punk rock and not so much hymns. Having said that I’m in no way sold on the idea that music, particularly contemporary, should or even can do much to produce growth (real genuine Jesusy kind of growth) in a congregation.

    One of my deepest dreads when we sing hymns, though, is that though they are more theological sometimes that theology is lacking or just plain unbiblical. The catchy and enjoyable tune, “I”ll Fly Away” for instance….

    Contemporary music (which I am most familiar with) more often ends up being “Jesus is my boyfriend” than anything helpful for instruction. Though there are emerging some great artists who have taken up the theological challenge of writing good music.

    Music should be for three things:

    1. Adoration/Praise

    2. Uplifting of the body and admonishment of one another – speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs

    3. Teaching

    Most contemporary services do number one and call it a night.

    My hope is that the music of each church is generated by the folks who go there – that it is an outward expression of the spirit moving deep within their soul. I hope that it is creative and new and vibrant and deeply rooted in tradition. I hope that it is soulful and playful. I hope, above all, that it honors God.

  30. Personally I am sick of songs that coerce me to brag about how purely my heart is set on God. It’s just not true! “You’re all I want…” well, not if I’m being honest… “I love you more than life…” well…, um… you probably wouldn’t guess that about me by looking at how I live past any surface level of depth.
    The problem with all these man-centric worship songs is that they are all about glorifying ourselves and completely neglecting what God has done. When we lite up and glorify Christ and His work through our lyrics, then we don’t have to force some sort of emotional experience out of us. It flows from the truth of the Gospel at work within us. It puts us in the right place to sing out of response to the tremendous love of God, instead of us just trying to conjure up loving feelings for God in some sort of pelagian dedicationism. I’m sick of trying to appear as if I’m having a deep intimate experience with God just to fit in with the crowd. It doesn’t usually happen. Can we just be honest for a minute and sing about the percieved distance of God from us at times, like the psalms do?
    More “Out of the depths” and “Your hand is heavy upon me” instead of “I’m so happy” all the time or “I give it all to you” which has technically never actually happened. The psalms are 69 percent lament. Those songs speak to the heart. Does that have a palce in the modern hymnal? I’m not too sure, especially since Christ’s work on the cross is now complete. But I strongly feel that we should focus our worship lyrics more on God for who He is and what He’s done, and our response to that more as an afterthought than the main point.

    • Jonathan Hunnicutt says

      Amen brother.

      We should sing laments. Every service. Someone in the congregation is going through pain, and we should give them a voice. And yes, Christ work was completed on the cross, but he still bears the scars. Also Paul thought that Christ’s work was completed, but he still said things like: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death.” We can become like him in his death, by lamenting like Jesus did on the cross.

      In fact, I would say that we don’t lament in church because our theology of the cross is so shallow.

      However, I can only imagine the backlash from doing this in most churches. Most churches would absolutely flip out.

    • One effective way that I have addressed this topic in our church is by offering the category of objectivity. (Not in a radical modernist sense) In conversations with our worship minister we have discussed the value of balancing songs that are only true if I feel that way with songs that speak of God’s goodness and our faith that transcends my current emotional state. So we still sing some songs that have the theme, “I love God so very very much today.” But we also make sure that we sings songs that say things like, “God is holy and mighty. God is good and God’s goodness transcends my present emotional state.”

      I used to just ask, “Why can’t we sing some of the old great hymns.” This not only turned me into a stereotype, it also gave the impression that my issue was about music style.

      This new category has helped my communicate because it introduces a non-musical category that is easy to explain and to discuss without fighting. We look at the songs and we ask, “Is this song true for all Christians regardless of how they feel that day?” Then we try to make sure that the for the significant majority of the songs we sing the answer is yes.

      I know this doesn’t move all the way to the value of lament that interests you but it is a significant step away from smiley happy Jesus.

      • Excellent advice, Ethan, and very timely for me. I have been thinking on and working out this category as well as a way to help with the singing in our church.

  31. My husband and I are lucky to belong to a congregation of robust singers. Even so, we’ll drive hours to participate in hymn festivals; they’re just that much fun.

    The other thing that’s great about congregational singing: you’re singing those words not just for yourself, and not just to God, but also for the mutual comfort and consolation of the brethren, including your pastor up there at the front. He needs to hear the words of the hymns as much as you do. SING OUT! Serve your neighbor with the words of the hymn you’re singing.

    Many times I’ve choked up or teared up while singing, overcome with emotion, but still found myself carried along in the church’s song. Praise be to God! It’s an auditory picture of the body of Christ.

    • “…you’re singing those words not just for yourself, and not just to God, but also for the mutual comfort and consolation of the brethren..”

      I agree, Elephantschild. And I tear up every time I am fortunate enough to attend Mass on Sunday and we sing together. I love it. It’s the only time and place I get to sing with anyone. I think it is really needed.

  32. A couple of things

    1. I live about 30 minutes north of an area that is sort of considered one of the last “pockets” of real authentic sacred harp singing, it is very impressive

    2. the dominant singing around here is convention style shape note singing, there are still several singing schools a year around here

    3. My church, not my idea, has called for and wants to have an “Old Fashioned” Sunday in a month, long story short they have done this for years, I don’t like it, they all plan to put on overalls and think about how good the old days were when they rode to church in a wagon, picked cotton, and heated themselves by a pot belly stove, even almost none of them left have done any of the three, now I like history etc. I’m a history guy but this sort of sentimental soap opera just doesn’t sit well with me

    that said, I think on that Sunday I’m going to lead them in singing a psalm since they want “old school” so bad, i’ve found a site that has psalms set to already known tunes, has anybody tried this before?

    • What’s the site? I could use the link

    • Shapenote singing is powerful worship and the lyrics are much more lament than fluff (the Dying Californian is an often-sung tune, for example) There are singings all over the country, though the best ones are admittedly in the South

    • “they all plan to put on overalls and think about how good the old days were when they rode to church in a wagon, picked cotton, and heated themselves by a pot belly stove, even almost none of them left have done any of the three,”

      The generation just ahead of me grew up in the 30s and 40s. My step-grandmother was a part of this and did all three of your items. And if you’ve ever picked cotton by hand you have no illusions about the good old days. As she used to say the best thing about the good old days is they are GONE. She liked running water, indoor plumbing (which she got in the early 60s), thermostats, phones, TV, etc…

    • Lucky you. I adore Sacred Harp singing. Having that much fun shouldn’t be legal.

  33. This will probably sound really cheesy, and it’s not anything I’ve ever discussed before, but …

    Hearing/singing really good harmony makes me think of the nature of the trinity because it’s various distinct voices (alto, soprano, tenor, bass) but a single sound. Really beautiful vocal harmony–and to a lesser degree, the harmonies of musical instruments–causes me to meditate on the three-person entity that is one God.

    Also … you know how the alto or the tenor will, a lot of times, sound kind of odd by itself, and only seems to make sense when blended with all the other voices? I think of God’s plan as that way–it doesn’t always make sense to us, but we must trust that His will is being done. Only later do we realize how it all fit in.

    Harmony makes me reflect on this–the perfection of God’s orchestrated plan.

    These are thoughts I first had when learning harmony as part of a youth choir. (I was, and am, a pitiful singer, by the way, but that didn’t lessen the value of the experience.) It saddens me that harmony, music-reading, etc., are not taught part and parcel with the singing of hymns in churches. To hear harmony is one thing; to take part, to do my small part with others to create beautiful sounds to God in worship, in it is both humbling and uplifting, on so many levels.

    So many lessons, and so much fun and fellowship, can be had through this kind of music study.

    These aren’t things you can really get when you’re an “audience” to a band, when everyone is singing the same basic melody using words on a screen, or when we’re all drowned out by the sound.

    • When preparing music for church this idea of representing the trinity through vocal arrangements has come to mind often. Particularly with songs that focus on God’s message to us.

  34. Bob Sacamento says

    I am tired of standing for long periods of time. I’m older and my back hurts. Many people are older, or have bad knees or other problems. This isn’t the Olympics.

    I know you said many things more profound than this here, but this one really goes to my heart! (and lower back) Thanks!

  35. Oswald: Since your email is bogus, I have to tell you here. Your last comment was deleted for being off topic and all your future comments will be in moderation.

  36. I was listening to a podcast today on this subject. One of the interesting points raised was about how our current use of music in worship reveals the AUTHORITY problem in evangelicalism. Regardless of what you think of them, one benefit of a denominational hymnal is that it is reviewed by recognized leaders for theological soundness and liturgical appropriateness, then published with approval for congregational use. Who does this review process in today’s churches? Can or should we rely on CCLI or Christian radio or CCM music sales to guide us? Can’t that lead us to focus on what is most popular and catchy rather than on what has been thoroughly tested? (And then there’s the whole troublesome commercial aspect.) Do theologically-trained pastors and elders thoroughly and regularly review the music sung in the non-denominational churches? What standards are we using and who sets them, and who enforces them?

    IMHO, a tremendous problem for evangelical worship.

  37. My church used to have a choir, which I had the opportunity to be a part of for several years. This church has always done contemporary worship with a band, yet they found a way to incorporate a choir into the sound. This was a great way to involve the congregation, as the choir helped to form a connection which does not exist when it is just singers and a band on stage. Unfortunately the choir was discontinued several years ago, because of the change in musical styles and the shift toward a louder rock sound.

  38. Oh, I saw a YouTube video of Matt Redman (who is starting a church in Atlanta with Chris Tomlin) talking about how the lyrics to CCM praise stuff is just too un-masculine. Kinda like the “Jesus is my boyfriend” mentality. And he seemed disappointed in even his OWN lyrics to stuff.

  39. Rob Bell (Mars Hill Bible Church) is doing a podcast series on the disciplines of a Christ follower. There’s one about singing. Excellent listen. And an outreach for the people who don’t sing or can’t sing or who have been told they don’t need to be singing…

    My wife was told years ago that she had no business being on a music team in church. She knows her limits. But she’s better than she thinks she is (and better than this person thought she was, too).

  40. I’m somewhat angry about having this avalanche of industrially produced music forced on me for a dozen insufficient reasons

    Hymns were written to be sung by congregations in churches. That’s why they work. Melody and harmony. CCM is written to be produced in a studio for an album by an artist, where freedom of personal emphasis in riding the cutting edge is fine. Vibrato, special effects, electronic enhancement, raw emotion. Adapting it to congregations is difficult. There’s nothing worse than trying to sing a contemporary chorus a capella by eight people in a bible study in somebody’s living room. Just plain awkward. I’m not dissing contemporary music at all, just pointing out why it doesn’t lend itself well to congregational worship.

    • That’s the difference between “sung poetry” and “pop music.” I agree that hymns, or modern hymn-like songs, work best for unaccompanied singing. But with pop music, even if one person plays an acoustic guitar along with the singing, the awkwardness you’re describing is basically solved. You just have to be able to choose and employ songs and styles which are appropriate to the situation and resources at your disposal. If I were planning songs to be sung by a group in a situation where I knew there would be no instrumental accompaniment, I would lean heavily toward hymns, old or new. Good thoughts.

  41. The problem for our congregation is that the room in which we worship doubles as a gymnasium, and thus has very high ceilings and mediocre acoustics. It’s pretty difficult for a group of people singing to even hear one another. Thus having a team of instrumentalists accompanying the singing seems to infuse people with enough confidence and support to sing out boldly. The times that the instruments are not present, or play less, the congregation becomes noticeably timid.

    I value congregational singing over instrumental music/accompaniment – but sometimes it’s hard to encourage people to sing confidently without strong accompaniment.

  42. And by the way, since Michael encouraged the support and endorsement of good modern hymn-writers, I thought I’d point you to:

    Keith & Kristyn Getty http://www.gettymusic.com
    Stuart Townend http://www.stuarttownend.co.uk

    Townend and Getty co-write much of their music, and they’re creating modern hymns rich in theological and devotional content, and with compelling and singable melodies.