Saturday, July 12, 2008

Singing and making music to the Lord

Michael Raiter at Matthias Media has noticed that congregational singing is on the decline. He thinks he knows some of the reasons why. He doesn't like the trend - for biblical reasons - not just personal taste. Brief excerpts [read it all here]:
I was at a convention recently, seated near the rear of the auditorium. The music team at the front were ‘leading’ (and I use that word advisedly) and we were singing. Well, we were meant to be singing. And so I did what I've done quite often lately: I closed my eyes and listened to the singing. The song leaders with their microphones were clear and distinct. I could identify each of the several instruments accompanying the singers. But if you blocked out the ‘worship team’, all that was left around the building was a barely audible murmur. I opened my eyes and looked around. Most folk were either standing silently, not even making a pretence of singing, or were little engaged in the activity.

I turned to a friend next to me and commented, “No-one's singing”. He looked at me as if I'd just observed that no-one was flying. Of course they're not singing; we haven't really sung here for years. Whatever was happening that morning, it was most decidedly not congregational singing. In many churches, genuine, heartfelt congregational singing has been in its death throes for some years now. ....

[I]t's time to reclaim congregational singing. As I indicated in my opening words, I'm at the point of despair with congregational singing. It's only because I've flown first class once or twice (upgraded, of course) that I find economy air travel so awful. Similarly, it's only because I've experienced true congregational singing—singing where the people of God are taught and led to truly sing—that I find it hard to endure the drab alternative that characterizes most gatherings. Of course, first class air travel is for the elite; edifying singing should be for all the saints.

It's time for congregations to sensitively but firmly rise up and reclaim congregational singing. We must remind song leaders (or, perhaps, teach them in the first place) the purpose of their ministry. Putting a microphone in the hands of someone who can sing no more makes her a song leader than, as the old proverb goes, sticking someone in a garage makes him a car. All the microphone does is make someone a very loud singer. The ministry of the song leader is, surely, to guide and lead the people of God in singing. The role of the song leader is to help us to sing, and they will know if they have fulfilled that ministry when they can hardly be heard because of the praises of the congregation filling the room.

I liken the ministry of song leaders to that of John the Baptist. They must decrease as the people of God increase (John 3:30). When the song begins, we may hear the voices of the leaders and the sounds of the instruments, but by the end of the song, it is the voices of the people of God that should dominate.

But sadly, in most churches, the very opposite is happening: John the Baptist won't leave the stage. John the Baptist has forgotten why he's come. As I travel around visiting churches, I've noticed again and again that, for all their good intentions (and the vast majority are, I believe, well-intentioned), the music teams are killing congregational singing. I know that sounds harsh, but I see it in case after case. I enjoy the sound of an electric piano, the beat of the drums, the rhythm of the guitars, and the backing of the saxes and flutes, but my favourite instrument is the human voice. Nothing lifts my soul like being a part of 50— 100—300 saints in full voice, singing the praises of God and the glories of the gospel. Unfortunately that's a disappointingly rare experience.

Finally, singing reminds us of our raison d'ĂȘtre. The reason God made us, redeemed us and sanctified us, and the reason he will glorify us is so that we might live to the praise of his glory. That's something we express with our lives, our minds, our wills, our hearts and our voices. Singing is indispensable in expressing that. That's why the New Testament's picture of heaven is not a celestial Bible study or an eschatological morning tea, but a heavenly choir forever lost in wonder, love and praise. I long here and now for more glimpses and foretastes of that. Don't you? [more]
Thanks to Jonathan Leeman at Church Matters for the reference.

The Briefing Library: The slow death of congregational singing

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