A few weeks ago I was visiting a church that I hadn’t attended in years. There’s always that moment, when you walk into an old setting and your nerves kick in… at least that’s what happens to me. There’s the nagging thought that maybe I’ll run into someone I recognize, but cannot for the life of me remember their name. Or what if I run into someone who “unfriended” me on Facebook (how dare they!). It’s curious that I never think I’ll run into someone I actually want to see? Thankfully, in spite of my insecurities for which I need to repent, that day I ran into some old friends, and it was great to catch up.
To be honest though, the biggest reason for my trepidation of going into that mornings worship service was my expectation that the music was going to be a disaster, leaving me frustrated and angry. I was expecting an emotion-driven rock concert, with little to no depth. Or something horrific like this:
(my apologies for making you watch that)
Thankfully, in this case, to my great surprise I was wrong, and I was overall pleased by the musical selections, including the respectful way in which they were presented. It was a blessing to sing praise to God, to focus on His accomplished work on the cross and fellowship with the body of Christ through music. There was one problem. One critical element was missing, and it really bothered me. My preconceived notions of irreverence and trite worship had been corrected, causing me to want to sing out with the grand choir of voices, and I was eager to join with the saints in lifting our hearts together in song to worship God. However, the most important instrument in corporate worship was completely absent…
Was it the acoustics? Yes, in great part the room sucked up sound like a leech at a blood donor clinic. But as I looked around, I couldn’t see people’s lips moving. They sat there (yes, we sat the entire time) and stoically watched what was going on up front. As a congregation, most people were totally disengaged with what was going on around them, and more interested in sipping a Starbucks coffee while reading the bulletin.
I was so deeply grieved by what I was witnessing, because the most important instrument in corporate worship, is the corporate voice. There is no piano or organ, soloist or worship team, guitar or banjo, cowbell or whatever, which can replace the uniting voices of a congregation. Nothing should drown out the sound of God’s people singing. If worship is to be holy, if worship is to be set apart, there’s nothing that more separates Christians from the world, than believers singing together. Where else do you see this happening? And there’s nothing that prepares us more for heaven, than worshiping together by “Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph 5:19).
Why is corporate worship so important? Because it’s a Biblical mandate. Colossians 3:16 says: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Notice that it doesn’t talk about having the best, most polished band, even though we do want to do things decently and in order (1 Corinthians 10:40). What is the mandate? It’s to teach and admonish one another. Teaching and admonishing does not happen by yourself. It requires multiple people. “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” (Heb 10:25).
Now in case you think I’m saying worship can only be done with an older saint, playing an organ, wearing some weird 80’s bedazzled blouse, you’re wrong. But did you hear the people singing? It was loud and robust, and God-exalting. Every year, men gather from around the world for the Shepherds’ Conference in LA, and they sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs passionately. So much so, that sometimes it’s virtually impossible to hear the worship team, piano and organ… even when they’ve literally pulled out all the stops.
Honestly, I think congregational singing is one of the clearest representations of the Body of Christ. What better models diversity working together to serve a common goal? People come together from different backgrounds, skill sets, voice types, ages, ethnicities, economics, male and female. Then, with this vast diversity they sing different lines of melody and harmony, and yet it all joins to make one cohesive, beautiful sound to the praise and honour of Jesus Christ. Isn’t that the church? (1 Cor 12:12-31) It’s a privilege to be part of such an amazing act of God. Just like I don’t want to live my Christian life as a spiritual hermit, neither should I think that way when I gather with God’s people to worship Him through song.
So I’m writing to two audiences here
1. Worship Leaders – In your planning, please don’t forget who the most important musician is in your worship team… it’s the congregation.If they are simply doing Worship Karaoke, you’ve got to ask yourself who is the focus of the worship service really? You might be rockin’ out pretty great, but if the congregation is not singing, that makes you a glorified rock star and the focus is probably going to the wrong person… Help you’re people understand Romans 12:1-2.
2. Congregation Members – I hear a lot of people say they’re not singers, but I know better. It’s a terrible excuse. I drive next to you and when we pull up to the red light, you’re belting out songs on the radio pretty loud (it say’s “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord” in Psalm 98:4, not a beautiful one). Seriously, if you don’t think you’ve got a great voice, work at it. Is the corporate expression of worship not important to you? Make it a priority. You take care of your physical health, and more importantly your spiritual health, so why can’t you work at contributing to corporate worship? Worship was never meant to be comfortable or easy. You don’t have to be the next church soloist, but you can demonstrate to your kids and to other believers in the church that you “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).
Don’t let the missing instrument in your church be the corporate voice. There’s nothing more beautiful.