By Michael Mancha
Growing up in the current American Christian landscape, there are so many things that become staples of church and faith. They are so ingrained into the fabric of one’s faith that they are often inseparable from what is truly faith and what is a religious tradition. Singing corporately can become such a tradition that it tears away from its meaning and its tie to faith.
This is the crossroads where we find ourselves. How do we navigate a universal function of the corporate body that our culture is slowly viewing with lessening fervor? Is singing in a church setting meaningful anymore? Is it a valuable part of who we are or simply a part of service?
WHY SING TOGETHER?
In church leadership, when we are evaluating a ministry or function of the church, we often ask the question, “why?” Why do we do it? And if we can’t find a real reason why then the next step is asking if it belongs anymore. This is a difficult thing to ask about singing in worship. Why do we sing?
Now, we can look at all the books on Western Christianity, reformed theology, and the contemporary church. We can find the historical place that music and singing have had in the liturgy of the church. But that is not what we are really asking. What we are really asking is, what is the purpose of singing? Worship is supposed to be a lifestyle, something that we should do in every aspect of our life. So why does the singing part matter anymore? For me, the answer goes back further than church institution. It goes back to the biblical example.
BIBLICAL EXAMPLES OF CORPORATE WORSHIP.
In their book, Getting a Handle on Worship, authors Whaid Rose and Israel Steinmetz highlight how music and singing was something that was done early with God’s people. 1 Moses, Deborah, David, Paul, and Silas were all Biblical figures who employed singing to declare their honor of God. But when we read the Scriptures, it is valuable to learn that their use of song was not done as a requirement or as an order in the church service. It was an organic reaction to the fullness of God, to His work, the presence of His Spirit.
Paul sat in prison with Silas and worshiped God. He was probably in the least likely place for singing, yet he and Silas are unable to keep their praise quiet. Singing was an outward expression. One that was centered on the emotions felt towards God. Paul would tell the church in Ephesus to be, “singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.”(Ephesians 5:19) When we examine why we sing in our churches, we face a hard reality. Most of what is done in that setting is often not organic. It is simply what we do and when the assembly gathers together, following an order.
SINGING IS AN EXPRESSION OF EMOTION.
The Psalmist writes that all the earth will praise Him. (Psalm 66:4) The joyful song is an expression as natural as creation. Singing songs as an expression of emotions or as a unifier of communities is something that is built into who we are. If you look at other areas of life, song fills them as well. We sing Happy Birthday as a group with joy to celebrate life, we sing the National Anthem together at events with patriotic fervor, we turn up our radios in the car, and we sing along at concerts.
And if we aren’t singing, we are still influenced greatly by music. Have you ever watched a well-known movie scene without the cinematic score behind it? It’s boring and loses its impact. Music is a bonding agent that connects our emotions to something bigger than us and singing together is something that gathers people together. Even one who claims that singing in worship is outdated and unnecessary can’t deny that.
OUR APPROACH TO WORSHIP
Rose and Steinmetz write about the spirituals of the enslaved African-American people in the 1800s. They said, “The African slaves had a song, and they couldn’t help but sing it. It was the music of their soul, the one thing that could not be taken away from them.” 2 Music and singing is a unifier and a symbol of true community. It seems that the growing reaction of our church culture is that singing together corporately is an antiquated practice and no longer important to gather as a whole. The question that this stirs in me is not whether it’s important anymore but rather, what are we doing wrong in the approach?
Imagine a plane coming in to land on a runway. If the pilot is approaching the runway at the wrong speed, the wrong angle, and the wrong altitude, no one is assuming that we should abort landing altogether but there is probably a strong consensus from all involved that maybe he should examine his plan and fix the approach.
SINGING EXPRESSES OUR CONNECTION TO GOD AND EACH OTHER.
If we view singing together as unnecessary then we are missing the immense Spirit-filled connection that God can make with us, but if we refuse to examine the approach to our singing then we are like the pilot who forces the landing regardless of his error. The reality is that we sing because our hearts, one way or another, are connected to God and the song is a natural expression of that connection. Also, singing together as a community is something that we do so often without a second thought because its unifying power and the connection that it breeds between us.
Singing together connects the hearts of people together and connects us to the heart of God. As a church, especially as leaders, we have to be willing to examine our methodology and ask ourselves, is our approach wrong? It’s not the singing that’s the problem, it’s the narrative behind it and the way that we arrive there. Our desire should be to harness the spiritual power of music and singing, not to formalize it.