Many people may not realize this fact, but before the Reformation worship was dead and lifeless. It was through the Reformation that congregational singing was reintroduced in the life of the local church. Today, over five hundred years after the Reformation a consistent struggle among many local churches is centered on their worship through song. Sometimes it’s friction between the members and leaders on style. In other cases, it’s the lack of seriousness placed upon the worship of the church by the leaders and members collectively. In some circumstances, you have discouraged members who desire to worship well, but they feel hindered by the song selection or the church members who are moving their mouths while expecting leaders to sing out for them (which typically leads to one loud voice and a quiet congregation). How can both leaders and members help one another worship through song with excellence?
Leaders: Choose Singable Songs
Within the life of the church, what separates a good song from a great song is whether or not it’s singable for the congregation. It may be a song that’s loaded with solid theology, but if it was arranged for a praise band or soloist rather than a congregation, it will likely fall flat on the Lord’s Day. When reading in the Old Testament recently, I came across this verse in Psalm 57:7, “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast! I will sing and make melody!” All through the Old Testament, we see verses centered upon singing to the Lord. In the Psalms, we find a great number of the songs beginning with these words, “To the choirmaster…” which is a testimony to the fact that they were written and arranged not merely for worship, but for a group of people to sing to the LORD.
With the boom of the contemporary Christian music, the older hymns of the faith have taken a backseat in many contexts on the Lord’s Day. While there is nothing wrong with new songs, there is something to learn from the older songs from church history. When you look at the high poetic style and the musical composition—the songs were of such quality and arrangement that allowed the gathered congregation to exult in God through his holy Word and sing loudly with excellence. We must remember that while the older hymns were greatly successful and profitable to the church, they were never the product of a lucrative music industry. They emerged from pastors, theologians, and musicians who spent time in God’s Word and penned songs for the glory of God.
When the church is gathered for worship, on most occasions, there is a noticeable difference between the quality of worship from a well known hymn of the faith and a newly arranged praise song. It’s not merely because the church is fixed on old things, it’s often due to the ability of the congregation to sing the song. Leaders must be able to notice this and make adjustments where necessary. Just because it’s old doesn’t make it good and just because the song is new (and popular) doesn’t mean it’s worthy for the Lord’s Day worship service.
Church: Sing and Play with Excellence
Whatever we do, we should do for the glory of God. There should be a spirit of excellence in all that we do in this life—especially in worship. We don’t go to a football game with a heart that’s barely connected and disinterested in engaging in the fan frenzy of cheering on our team. We go with the expectation to lift up our voices and clap our hands. We walk into the stadium as a fan. When we assemble on the Lord’s Day for worship, we should enter as a worshipper who anticipates engaging mind, heart, and voice in the worship of God. Never be satisfied with the idea that the big voice or the skilled vocalist is the one responsible for your worship. You are responsible for your worship.
We see that the people of God in Scripture put effort into their singing. Notice the words of 2 Chronicles 30:21, “And the people of Israel who were present at Jerusalem kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with great gladness, and the Levites and the priests praised the LORD day by day, singing with all their might to the LORD.” They didn’t merely move their lips, they exerted themselves in singing. However, in order for the people to engage with all of their might, the song must be arranged for the congregation rather than a praise band. Furthermore, the congregation must not approach the worship of God on the Lord’s Day as if they are looking to be entertained or satisfied with their music style.
A former pastor of mine as a boy once made the following statement, “If you come to church looking to see what you can get, you will leave empty. If you come to church looking to see what you can give, you will leave full.” This is a fitting statement in regard to how we worship. If we come as a spectator, we will likely leave unfulfilled. If we come with the understanding that we are involved in the production and that we have a part in the weekly worship—it will cause us to leave full. Imagine if you showed up for church next week and noticed your name in the printed order of worship. Would that cause you to become nervous at all? Have you considered the fact that while your name might not be printed in the bulletin—you are part of the worship each week?
Consider the words of Psalm 71:3, “My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed.” When we connect mind (the knowledge of our redemption) with our heart (the gladness for what our God has done in the work of redemption)—our lips will respond with joyful worship. If we stand there looking for the choir to impress us, the praise band to entertain us, or the vocalists to satisfy us—we will cause the church’s worship to sink lower and lower as that mindset spreads through the church. Each of God’s children are called to sing to him as worshippers. When each one of us seeks to sing with excellence—soon enough the church collectively will begin to approach worship with a spirit of excellence rather than selfishness and consumerism.
If there is one thing that needs to die a hard death in the evangelical church today—it’s the spirit of consumerism. What a selfish little sin—the sin of consumerism.