Before you think this is going to be a diatribe against Contemporary Christian Music and radio, sorry to disappoint, you’re reading the wrong blog.
Attend a biblically-solid Christian conference and many things will encourage you. Powerful preaching, rich fellowship and robust congregational singing. At different events such as T4G, Shepherds’ Conference, Sing!, Ekklesia, or my own church’s Steadfast Conference, what often strikes people is not the caliber of musicianship, but the glorious sound of voices exuberantly working together to drown out the musicians. Some events have full orchestras and bands, while others simply have a piano. Interestingly, in my observation the most robust singing at these events almost always happens when the instruments completely drop and the only thing left is thousands of voices in glorious four-part praise.
We sing because we’re commanded in Scripture. “Sing praises to the Lord, who sit enthroned in Zion! Tell among the peoples his deed” (Ps 9:11)! “Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name” (Ps 30:4). “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts” (Ps 33:3). “Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises” (Ps 47:6). But of course, it’s not just the Psalms, or even the Old Testament that make this command. “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” (Col 3:16). James 5:13 says, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.”
However, even though we have all these wonderful commands to sing, we can sometimes tune out, go with the flow, or get distracted – exactly opposite of what it means to come as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2). We can simply become listeners and observers and not active participants. Our minds are “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.”
Brothers and sisters, we are never to be observers on Sunday morning. When the preacher preaches, we engage our hearts and our minds (Deut 6:4-7). If you don’t, you’re not just wasting your time, the preacher’s time and the churches time, but you’re dishonoring the Lord. Quite filling a seat, just to make you feel good about checking off the church attendance box. The same goes for the time of singing. As a Christian, to not sing is to go against Scripture. From where I stand on Sunday I see a lot. I see those who are engaged, and those who are just waiting it out. I’m not ashamed to guilt trip you, but you can be the biggest discouragement to my Sunday, and those around you notice too. Listening and waiting it out is not only offensive, but you’re wasting precious time with the body of Christ, and dishonoring the risen Christ who deserves more from you.
You might be a singer, and are shouting a hearty “Amen!” about now. “I’d never pass up the opportunity to sing.” You might be thinking, “He’s preaching to the choir right now. Stick it to ’em, because I’m always singing my heart out.” But what about those times you’re so moved by the music and want to share it with others? Maybe you’re so awestruck, you want to preserve this moment for ever and ever? This is a noble desire, yes?! But have you ever considered that it comes at a cost. The Lord is the only one to be high and lifted up, not your smartphones and tablets. Think of what happens when you begin recording. Now you’re not only a distraction to others, but equally importantly, you are no longer a participant, but an observer. Your focus has shifted from Christ, to camera angles and trying not to sing too loud into the microphone.
Just remember, your church musicians are not playing for you. This may come as a surprise, but they don’t need you to be impressed with their talent. Your church musicians are there to accompany YOU. They are not planning and rehearsing to put on a concert to be observed, they do all this, so that you can sing! They perfect their craft, so that you can fulfill the command of your Saviour.
When you go to work each day, you expect fruits from your labor. Some might be slow growing, others immediate. But when you see the fruit grow and develop, you’re encouraged. It makes you excited to work hard. It motivates you to press on. Are you encouraging your own pastor by demonstrating with your life, the fruits of his labor? Do you want to make your Pastor’s think that they’re wasting their time? Nothing breaks the heart of a pastor more than people who call themselves believers, who don’t engage with the body of Christ when they sing. They simply listen. They drink their coffee. They check their phones, or use their phone to video as if they’re at a concert. Remember, you’re not at a concert… you’re at the Throne of Grace.
As a Christ follower, you are never to be an observer. Set the example and lead those around you by not listening to worship music, but participating in it with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind. By doing this, you’ll be fulfilling the greatest commanded to love the Lord your God, and your neighbor.