I have been thinking about this for a little while… and this is something that I want to and, I think, am growing (hence the blog name) in. There may be statements in here that make you think “bah, you’re just trying to get at ” but that’s truly not the case, with one exception: yes, I’m trying to get at the group of people that sing for the wrong reasons. I know for a fact that I have sung and still catch myself singing for the wrong reasons and have thought about corporate “worship singing” wrongly.
Why do we…
Perhaps you, like me, have sometimes wondered: why do we sing in church? Before answering this question, I think there’s an important question that necessarily precedes it. Why do we have/go to church?
I know my own typical response to this question. Because the question is “why do we [do something],” I kinda immediately put on my theological/”Christian” hat, it seems. I tend to think of those nice, Christian sounding answers like “to glorify God” or “to praise and worship God.” Or perhaps I go for the horizontal aspect – “to encourage each other” or “to stir up one another to good deeds.”
I think of the question differently, though, when I ask it this way: why do you go to church?
Why do you?
Suddenly, I’m required to not think about the theological reasons for going to church in general, but to examine myself and to question why I, Paul, go to church. Not why it’s good to go to church or why people in general go to church, but why does Paul Ellsworth go to church.
I can’t simply answer with Biblical reasons, because that’s not the question. The question is not a right-or-wrong answer sort of test question, but a question of my own motives, my thoughts, my heart. It’s not why should Paul go to church but why does Paul go to church.
There are lots of options here. Tradition (Paul goes to church because that’s how he was raised), social (most of his friends are at church), encouragement (I am encouraged), worship (I go to worship God) …. teaching, admonition, instruction, preaching, conviction, exhortation, etc. Rather than go into detailed explanation of my own thoughts, I’ll just leave this point at a question for you to ponder: why do you go to church?
The Purpose(s) of Church
With the challenge aside… let’s go back to the original “we” question. Why do we go to church? We could delve quite deeply and lengthily into ecclesiology, but I’d like to keep it relatively short. The passage most will likely think about is Hebrews 10:25, about not forsaking the assembly. Verses 24 and 25 are:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
The author of Hebrews specifically grabs onto a horizontal function/purpose: encouraging one another. Now, we know from elsewhere in Scripture that we definitely do praise, worship, glorify, and serve (and many other words) God, not only in gatherings of believers but in everything we do in life. And there are various aspects of our gatherings – remembering the death of Christ in Communion/the Lord’s Table, baptism, preaching, praying, prayer, singing, teaching, exhorting, encouraging, confessing.
But the author of Hebrews, in drawing attention to the importance of meeting, grabs onto one particular function: encouraging each other.
The Purpose of Singing
So, church (a gathering of believers) is non-exclusively for mutual encouragement. How about a particular activity – singing? The two passages, of course, that come to mind are Colossians and Ephesians. I have posted about those before, so I’ll summarize here: Paul specifically grabs onto horizontal aspects as well; addressing each other, teaching and admonishing each other.
Again, we have numerous other passages that talk about praising and glorifying God through singing and through instrumental music… but Paul latches onto the same horizontal aspect as the author of Hebrews: encouraging each other.
Why do you sing?
This leads us to the question: why do you sing in church? When you come to church, sit down, and some guy gets up in front of you and asks you to join him in singing, what is the motive for you to join in? What goes through your head? What are you consciously doing?
In the past, I think I had one thought: praise/worship of God. That was it. It was me and God. People were around me, sure, but they weren’t the point; the point was just me singing to/about God in praise.
Or perhaps the answer might be peer pressure; everyone else is singing, you look weird if you don’t sing.
Perhaps the answer is that you like singing. You don’t get to sing during the week because it’s just not in our culture. Church is a place you get to sing.
There are numerous other ones, I’m sure. Your parents tell you to; your pastor tells you to; you want to look good; you have a good voice and feel like its your duty.
I need to remind myself of this: these are not the right reasons. The primary goal, of course, is to worship God. But a very important and specifically mentioned in the epistles purpose is to address each other with the goal of encouragement.
I’m sure you can figure out what some of the wrong reasons might lead to. If I sing because I like singing, then I won’t sing if I don’t like the music (whether it’s too old or too new or too loud or too soft or the wrong instruments or whatever). If I sing because of tradition, then I’m not … really … worshiping. I am honoring God with my lips but not because I want to; I’m just doing it because of ritual. Israel got in trouble for that one. If I sing just because of peer pressure … same thing. If I sing only to sing to God, then I’m missing out on a very specific biblical reason given for singing… and, again, it won’t be a big deal if I don’t sing for whatever reason (don’t like the music, don’t like the song, don’t feel like it, don’t like the leader, don’t like the people next to me, whatever).
When’s the last time you specifically thought, while singing, “I hope this encourages the person standing next to me.” I might add that the point isn’t to encourage with your musicality. I love music, but singing in a secular choir is not “encouraging” the way Paul is thinking. In other words, you are not “more encouraging” because you sound amazing… or, well, you shouldn’t be
On a personal note, I am most encouraged during times of corporate singing when I see others singing that, well, don’t care what you think; they are corporately worshiping God. They are consciously aware of others near them. They actually seem to want me to know that they are worshiping the same living God that I am. That’s encouraging.
So. Why do I sing? I’m working on it… but I hope I continue to grow in singing to both worship God and encourage others.
Why do you not sing?
And this brings me to the “negative” side. When I don’t sing … why don’t I sing?
There are some good reasons… like not knowing the song.
There are also some bad reasons. I don’t feel like it (had a hard morning or a long night). I don’t like the music style (man, it’s just so boring, why can’t they play some lively music?) or speed (it’s so slow, how can I possibly worship with that?) or the leader (man, HE sure doesn’t look like he knows what he’s singing) or those next to me (they are so out of tune!) or … the lights, the lack of sheet music, the presence of sheet music, the boring white-on-black text, the distracting pictures in the presentation, the imbalanced music, the distracting person two rows in front of me that is raising their hand…
We are good at excuses. I’m good at it. I can come up with an excuse pretty quickly. What convicts me in times like this is the following: replace “sing” with “encourage.” Why don’t I encourage?
I don’t encourage the person next to me because I just don’t feel good this morning. I am not going to encourage the person next to me because he’s out of tune. I’m not going to encourage the person next to me because the church didn’t give me a hymnal. I’m not going to encourage the person next to me because there’s an organ playing and I hate organs.
When I think about it that way, I realize just how selfish I am in singing. Something as silly as someone being out of tune can cause me to get distracted in worship of God and encouraging others? How ridiculous of me. Sadly, this happens more than I’d like to admit.
It’s hard. No denying that. New song? New music style? Someone out of tune? Someone doing something distracting? In the back of the church where you feel removed? Perhaps these are all things that could be helped and minimized, but ultimately, that doesn’t excuse me from worshiping God and encouraging others. I sometimes think … if God simply asked me, “why weren’t you singing my praises last Sunday along with everyone else?” and I had to answer “Well, the person next to me was out of tune” or “well, I just don’t like this style of music… it’s for the [old or young] folks, not me.” I somehow doubt God would think that a valid excuse.
Which leads me to my final instruction to myself and anyone else willing to read it
Work at it, Paul… Try.
Is there a new song? Okay, Paul, you are faced with a choice: decide to simply give up then and there with “oh, it’s a new song again, ugh.” Realistically, though – and this obviously varies with everyone – I can probably pick it up the second or third time through the melody. So if there are three verses, Paul should be singing on that third verse. Or the chorus, which is usually shorter. Or at least look like I’m actually thinking about what I’m reading.
Is there someone next to you that is out of tune? Sing anyway. Sing with just as much conviction as if you were surrounded by a chorale made up of the 50 best and most faithful Christian vocalists… because it’s not about the musical ability of you or the person next to you, it’s about manifesting the Holy Spirit and having the Word of Christ dwell in you (no really… read the context of the Colossians and Ephesians passages).
Is it not your preferred music style? Without getting into a big discussion about what music style should or shouldn’t be used in a given church … sing and encourage others anyway (do I seriously think that God is pleased if I stop singing His praise and encouraging His people just because it’s not my preferred music?! It sounds so silly when I put it that way, but so easy to do). Do you have a hard time with it? Try to learn. (“Pastor, I just have a hard time encouraging people that are different from me … so, I just figured I don’t have to anymore.”).
There are other things that certainly should be brought up and discussed. Music too loud? That’s not good. Music leadership look like they don’t care about what they’re doing? Not good. Does it feel like people didn’t practice their instruments? Not good. But even with all these, I need to make sure that the reason I’m concerned isn’t just that “I don’t like it” or “it bothers me” but that “I think this is hindering/not encouraging worship of God and mutual encouragement in the body.”
I’m having a hard time coming up with a good excuse. There are certainly things that are, in fact, problems that the church or music leadership or whatever should work on, can do better, etc. But the imperfections of someone else is not a valid excuse for refusing to do what God wants me to do for Him.
I still get distracted, have my preferences, etc. But I am working at remembering (and practicing) that I’m singing to both worship God and encourage others, and allowing myself to get distracted by silly things and imperfections in others is not good; using those distractions as an excuse to not worship and to not obey God is … well, wrong.