I love being a part of worship. I also love to sing. When you put the two together, for me, you really have something. I don’t understand why people don’t sing in worship. “Well preacher you have never heard me sing.” While that may be true, God gives us permission to sing bad and as long as its joyful. Well, that is my interpretation of “Make a joyful noise.”
Being in worship and looking across a congregation and not see any mouths moving could lead one to believe worship is a spectator sport. Such thinking (and it isn’t just in our music) is saying we need to leave worship to the professionals. According to Mr. Webster, worship is both a noun and a verb. We remember the noun pretty well, “I am going to the church for worship.” We tend to forget the verb part and it’s scriptural roots, “Worship the Lord your God.”
I ran across an article yesterday Renewing Worship North Carolina by Kenny Lamm. In the article gave nine reasons he believes church folks don’t sing anymore. Let me share those with you.
- The people don’t know the songs.
- The songs aren’t suitable for congregational singing.
- We sing in keys to high for the average singer.
- The congregation can’t hear the people around them singing.
- We have created worship services which are spectator events, building a performance environment.
- The congregation feels they are not expected to sing.
- We fail to have a common body of hymnody.
- Worship leaders ad lib too much.
- Worship leaders are not connecting with the congregation
I agree with Lamm in some of his ideas but I don’t think you can lay all this off on pastors and worship leaders. Without question, the singing isn’t as good when we sing a song the congregation doesn’t know. But, how will we learn the songs if we never sing them. At one point, “Amazing Grace” was a new song the Church didn’t know.
We sing songs not suitable for congregational singing and sing them in keys to high for the average singer. While I do love to sing I understand these but I also know contemporary Christian music often receives the blame. There are many hymns in our hymnal that, as far as I’m concerned, that are written entirely too high. I am a bass with a limited range. As a pastor, I remember some years back, singing a hymn that was difficult for the congregation. The congregation would slow. That would make the musicians slow. Hearing the musicians slow, the congregation slowed. Then the musicians slowed again and it was a vicious circle and by the end, it was painful. Lamm is right about these things but it is not just a problem with contemporary music. Pull an obscure hymn from your hymnal and watch the reaction.
The congregation can’t hear the people around them singing. I had a youth group one time that, after hearing me complain about the volume, came to youth one night, all wearing t-shirts that said, “If it’s too loud, you’re too old.” Perhaps I am. I have my reasons for wanting the volume to stay down. Somewhere high on that list is, I don’t think God intends for worship to make us deaf. But I also think Lamm has a pretty good thought here, except I think he neglects one thing, In other settings, concerts and such, people sing with the music and it is just as loud, if not louder.
We create spectator events and then call them worship. While there is an attitude that sometimes invades the church, “let the professionals do it.” Worship often lacks any form of participation by the congregation. It isn’t just in the music. I don’t know any worship leader who has created a worship experience where they intentionally leave the congregation out.
The congregation thinks they aren’t expected to sing. Really? Worship from early times was part of what the congregation did. In the front of the United Methodist Hymnal are “Wesley’s Rules for Singing.” In 1761 John Wesley wrote down his rules for singing that were to help lead early Methodists in their worship, particularly the music. There are seven rules. Six of the seven begin with the word “Sing!” Today, 259 years later, I say the expectation is the same.
There are a lot of songs out there. We have access to most of them but that doesn’t mean we should try to sing them all. Over the years I have done a lot of music in a lot of retirement centers and nursing homes. I came to realize some time back, that people in a nursing home that can’t tell you their name will know every word to the hymns we sing. But, the hymns we sing, they have been singing for 70, 80 , 90 years. They remember the old Cokesbury hymns or the Stamps-Baxter hymns or the Broadman hymns. I still preach there, maybe five minutes and then we get back to the music. It will do more good than anything I will say. There is a certain group of hymns that I draw from in that environment. Using those hymns, people sing. Lamm is right here. We need a body of hymns, even if it is a local congregation, a body of hymns that almost everyone knows. These songs should not be our only songs in worship but they should be part of it.
Worship leaders ad lib and are not connecting with the people they lead. The ad lib part of this can be problematic. It can be easy for a congregation to get lost in what the worship leader does. Even for we who read music, did he just skip the repeat? If you ad lib I will probably miss it and then we are no longer connecting.
The internet is full of articles ranging from 1 reason to 25, perhaps more of why people aren’t singing in worship. But I would submit that the problem isn’t just in our singing. Way too many of our congregations have few, if any, who participate in worship. Music is one, but congregants having no response during the sermon is also way too common. We all need to remember, worship is not just a noun, it is also a verb. Worship may be at 7:00 tonight. We may go, but will we actually worship. Our singing would be a good place to start.
Have a great evening.
Seeking the Genuine,
Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All rights reserved.
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