Why Aren't We Singing?
Graham Kendrick tackles the issue of why we don't seem to be singing during worship
Very often I find myself in worship contexts. The band is pumping out some great music, the worship leader is lost in wonder, love and praise, with an expression intensity on their face, but I look around and a lot of people are barely mouthing the words. And I'm thinking 'why'?
Actually, I think there are quite a number of pretty straightforward reasons why we're not singing. Firstly, there has been a shift of culture. It's ironic, in one sense there is more music than ever but singing actually has, I think, become rather specialized so in a sense we are singing against the tide in church because we are actually expecting people to do something they're not quite so used to doing. Sometimes, I will deliberately begin worship with a vocal warm up. I get people humming a note or may be doing a little scale. Sometimes I turn into a little sung hallelujah, and really I'm putting out a message that we've got voices - let's use them!
Secondly, we are currently blessed presently with masses of new songs, which is fantastic. The downside of this is if we don't really teach those songs properly or let them 'bed in'. In a local church situation we have to think carefully about the number of songs that we introduce and how well we introduce them.
Now I'm obviously making an assumption that it's a good thing that we should all sing, and I suppose some people might question that. I think Psalm 103 sets that out really beautifully;
'Praise the Lord O my soul, all my inmost being praise the Lord.'
Everything! When you sing heartily it involves your whole body. You have to give your whole self to it. You could argue that the very gift of voice, singing a melody and the ability to do it together is gifted to us so that we can give it back to God, even though you might not consider yourself a very good singer. You might not be able to hold a tune very well but you have got a voice - you can make a noise. Make that noise, that joyful noise back to God.
Thirdly, people aren't singing because, very simply, the songs are too difficult. The big test of this is to just listen to the leap in volume soon as a well-known, accessible song pops up in the set list - it's astonishing! I've sometimes heard the volume multiply two, three, four times over, because suddenly the congregation think 'Oh we know this one' and it's easy to sing. Let's enjoy all the great songs being written and the recordings and so on, but when it comes to picking songs for our local congregation we have to ask these questions;
Is this suitable for our people and where they're at?' and 'Can we really sing this'?
Think of the people of different generations and different ages, different backgrounds... It can be quite a challenge but we just cause frustration if we ask people to sing songs that are too complex, too high and too sophisticated. Also, if the band can't quite deliver the arrangement or parts that they heard on the album it can all fall apart especially if the song hangs on a specific arrangement as opposed to a really singable melody.
Fourthly, I would suggest that another one of the factors here is that much of the church has embraced a performance style. I think, to a great extent, we have copied the 'concert' model, so that what's coming from the platform is almost complete in itself. We're surrounded by screens and all sorts of personal devices that deliver entertainment to us, that deliver performances to us, and we've come to expect that what happens on that screen is going to do something to us. It's going to entertain us or it's going to inspire us, it's going to make us laugh or cry and it's very easy to find ourselves in a church context and what's happening at the front is just another screen, and we are looking to that screen to do something for us.
But, of course, the essence of being part of the body of Christ and being 'church' is that everybody brings something. The singing can be a symbol if you like, or an example of everybody together, bringing something. Don't come to church to worship. Come worshiping! It's very easy to think that worship is all about what happens in this church building, but if we begin to think in terms of coming already worshiping and bringing something that contributes to the whole then, for a start we won't exhaust our leaders quite so much, demanding that they deliver this thing to us.
The Psalms of course, have to be our model for what worship is really all about. It's very interesting that as a collection the Psalms end with a total, exclusive focus upon God.
'Praise the Lord, praise God in his sanctuary,
praise him in His mighty heavens,
praise him for his acts of power,
praise him for his surpassing greatness,
praise him with the sounding of the trumpet
praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with tambourine and dancing,
praise him with the strings and flute,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with the resounding symbols,
let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord.
And that is where we are heading!