It’s no secret that I love to sing (which is good, since I’m a church music director). And I know I’m not the only one who loves to sing. Just look to your right and left when stopped at a traffic light. You’ll see everyone from mild-mannered business men, to teenage girls, singing along to the radio (one of my favorite games, is trying to figure out which station they’re listening too). People will sing anywhere! And what is it about the shower that makes everyone think that they are the next Luciano Pavarotti? So I know I’m not alone in my love of singing, because people love to sing.
And we sing for a variety of reasons. We sing lullaby’s to our children to comfort them as they go to sleep, or when they’re afraid; we sing songs at Christmas that make us nostalgic, and we sing to give voice to our emotions in ways that words just don’t express. We sing out of sheer joy, and we sometimes sing to preoccupy ourselves while bored, and doing a mindless tasks. Paul and Silas sang hymns in prison (Acts 16:25), and it opened up a massive opportunity for evangelism. Of course, the Bible values singing so much, it even provides us with a hymnbook in the Psalms. The scriptures are full of singing. One of the first recorded hymns is at the Exodus:
Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord, saying,
“I will sing to the Lord,
for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” (Exodus 15:1-2).
And even though we’re not afraid to sing out in the car by ourselves, where it’s trivial and meaningless, so often I hear people tell me, “Oh, I don’t sing in church, I don’t know how to sing.” Here’s a clue about singing. It’s really not that hard. It’s so simple that even Buddy the Elf gets it: “It’s just like talking, except longer and louder, and you move your voice up and down.” I’m going to take a stab in the dark, but I suspect the reason you don’t want to join with your fellow believers, in lifting your voice to the One who bought your soul with His own blood, is your own pride. You quietly ask yourself “what if people hear me?” And if you’re not singing, I guarantee you this… you’re missing out on one of the greatest blessing we Christians have been afforded.
But even more so, as believers, we’re commanded to sing (1Cor 14:26; Eph 5:19; Col 3:16-17)! God’s people, those who serve a Risen King, above all, have the most to sing about! King David was a singer, Paul and Silas were singers, Jesus Himself was a singer and saw the value in it (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26). As mentioned earlier, worship through song was important enough to God, that He included a hymnbook in the Bible.
So now, I hope I’ve established that singing in the life of the believer has biblical precedent, and that it is vital, particularly when believers gather for corporate worship. But when you bring people of all backgrounds, talents and abilities together, are there any rules for singing? Absolutely, because 1 Corinthians 14:40 tells us that “all things should be done decently and in order.”
John Wesley, penned these guidelines for his congregation’s corporate singing in 1761. His rules are not inspired, but they are helpful. And while they may at first glance seem archaic, I do hope that you can see how you can apply them this upcoming Lord’s Day. John Wesley’s original rules are bold and in the italics I’ve added my own thoughts.
- Learn these tunes before you learn any others, afterwards learn as many as you please.
It is good to sing a new song to the Lord! There is no denying that our faith should inspire us to write and sing new songs. However, Wesley is encouraging the Church to develop a repertoire which is engrained in the hearts, minds and voices of the people, which serves as a foundation with which to build upon. A familiar repertoire, so that people aren’t constantly frustrated and give up. We’ve all been in church services where no one but the one leading knew the song, and it becomes his solo performance with a bunch of dumbfounded spectators trying to mumble there way through the music. Worship leaders, you don’t have to sing every new song that’s running up the charts. Some songs fall off the charts as fast as they rise. Find repertoire that has an enduring quality. Once you’ve got a good foundation of songs to work from, introduce a new song every couple weeks, but don’t only sing it once, and then never again. Make it last in your church.
- Sing them exactly as are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.
Nowadays, most churches have words on the screen and thus, people are no longer exposed to seeing notes on a page. It’s a shame. (Try to get the hymnals back in your church, please). But worship leaders who rely on a screen can help the congregation out in learning a song. Avoid heavily syncopated rhythms which can be difficult to grasp. When you lead, sing the melody, consistently. Don’t change it up every time you sing it. We musicians are “artists” and want to express ourselves differently each time… here’s a clue… get over yourself and your artistic expression! You are a worship leader, not a rockstar. If you’re trying to be fancy, your congregation won’t know where the basic melody is. Set aside your desire to be artistic, and teach the simple melody. Make sure the congregation gets it, and then stand back, because they’ll start singing it.
- Sing all. See that you join the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.
Hebrews 10:24-25: “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.” Singing corporately is a blessing. You can be an encouragment to your brothers and sisters in Christ, and they can be an encouragement to you, simply by joining with them in song. Ecclesiastes 4:12: “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
- 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, no more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sang the songs of Satan.
I’m thankful to be part of a church, that when I look out Sunday morning, people are engaged and singing boldly, and it shows that they know the truth of what’s coming out of their mouth. This past week, it was almost difficult to hear the band because the congregation’s voice was so strong. On Sunday mornings, corporately we come humbly before the Throne of Grace, but we don’t always need to be stoic and quiet. Psalm 150 is the doxology of the psalms, and it’s loud and bold. There’s no way a congregation should be able to timidly sing “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.”(It’s way better to belt out the truths of God’s Word than Taylor Swift’s latest breakup anthem.) And don’t forget to remind your face of what your heart is singing.
- Sing modestly. Do not bawl so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation that you may not destroy the harmony, but strive to unite your voices together so as to make one melodious sound.
This does not contradict the previous rule. Sing out, but don’t showcase yourself. You don’t need to have everyone around you turn around and say “O my, what a pretty voice you have.” If you do, check your heart at the door. Rather, this rule reminds us that we sing collectively, and not one person, other than Jesus Christ should be the focus. What I love about choral music is that it serves as a picture of the Body of Christ. Many parts (people with different voices, singing different harmonies) working together, yet distinctly, in one unified purpose, and creating one cohesive, glorious sound. Any person that tries to showcase themselves, creates cacophony.
- Sing in time. Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before and do not stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices and move therewith as exactly as you can and take care not to sing too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
When our worship team gathers together for rehearsal, we make sure we’re all on the same page of music. We sing the same rhythms, we play the same chords, in the same tempo and we seek to be unified in our sound. There is no room for laziness in the rhythms or melodies. Why? Because a little chaos in the leadership, brings massive confusion and chaos among the followers. Also, if you’re in the congregation, do your best to engage not only your heart, but your mind enough with the song to remember the music. This will help the following week, when you’re not having to relearn the song from scratch. It’ll save you lots of frustration.
- Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.
I don’t need to add anything here, it speaks for itself.
Soli Deo Gloria!