Let the Church Sing!
Standing in a room of 12,000 evangelicals, most of whom are Caucasians in their fifties or sixties, we stuck out like a sore thumb. We were the minority in every way. Being Malayalee and Pentecostal we were acutely aware that the ten of us did not fit the ethnic or even denominational mold. Nonetheless, when the music started to play, we sang. Everyone in that room…sang. And in that moment, it no longer mattered whether you were silver haired or a newborn, which corners of the earth you were from, or what denomination you were a part of. Nothing mattered more than the song of the redeemed echoing in that room.
Last week, ten of us had the privilege of attending the 3rd annual Sing! Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. Sing! is a conference that is led by Keith and Kristyn Getty (aka the people who wrote ‘In Christ Alone’), where Bible believing Christians from all over the world gather to learn and sing the truths of God. It was three days of sermons and breakout sessions, and each part of the conference had much to glean. We heard from giants in the faith like Lennox, MacArthur, Piper, Dever, and Carson about the significance of birth, death, resurrection, and commission of Christ. We also heard the testimonies and advices of creative geniuses from a variety of different arenas. But for the sake of this article, I will just share some of the most important things that we learned.
1) We are commanded to sing:
‘Singing’ in the eyes of the world is a skill. For many it is a hobby, for others, a passion that leads to pursuing a career. But for the Christian, singing is a command. Singing is not optional, it is not something only the worship leaders do, it is for every believer. If you were to combine all the phrases that command us to sing, extol, praise, lift high etc., we would see that by and large it is the most frequent command in all of Scripture. “Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; tell of all His wonderful acts” (Psalm 105: 2). There is something amazing that happens when we sing: we are encouraged, we are made joyful, chains are broken, and people are brought to Christ. Paul and Silas sang in prison, “two giants of the faith were singing men because they found it was vital to them” (John Piper) and when they sang, they were able to walk free, with another brother added to the Fold. Keith Getty said the Church has the “right and privilege to sing” and we should make full use of it.
2) We need to sing songs that tell of the totality of God’s story
The Church lives in a time where there is no shortage…of anything. We are oversaturated and overstimulated by the constant influx of information. Songs are no exception. Now, more than any other time in history, there is an abundance of songs for the church to pick from. Leaders should be especially careful when choosing songs to sing because of inherent ability of songs to shape the theology of their congregations. The near-exclusive emphasis on hymns at Sing! was very much intentional. We were reminded that the gruesome deaths of their brothers and sisters likely remained a vivid memory in the hearts of those singing the songs born out of the Protestant Reformation, where the truth of Scripture was again held with the highest regard, even if it led them to the stake. The common thread binding these “songs of the ages” are the glorious truths that have been passed down to the saints once and for all (Jude 1:3). Historically, the focus of the psalms, hymns and spiritual songs of the Church was (and should remain) the Gospel, for it is “Gospel theology that shapes corporate worship” (Mark Dever). As Keith Getty aptly noted, our songs should last “30 years, not 30 weeks.”
3) We need to emphasize congregational singing
Obviously, our worship is for God, but it is the job of the worship leader to ensure that they are guiding the congregation before them. It is vital for worship leaders and musicians to understand that “it is not about platform; it is about people” (Keith Getty). More than lights, production and belting the highest of notes, what causes people to worship is the acknowledgment of the truths of who God is. Therefore, try and make sure that singers and musicians are not the main point of congregational singing, but rather the Church and their voices. “There is nothing more powerful than hearing God’s Word spoken to each other” (Mark Devers). Anything that we, as leaders, do on that stage is simply to help, not hinder. Voices first, always. For when we hear the praise of God’s people, we join in with heaven’s eternal song of “holy, holy, holy”.
4) Singing, artistry and creativity are assets to the Church
Though the individual is never the focus, it is also important for the Church to not trample upon the creation of new songs and poems, or any other form of creativity. When we are first introduced to God, we meet Him as THE Creator (Ross Wilson) and everything He made was good. Therefore, in every facet of life – be it work, education, parenting, or artistic endeavors – we must seek to create good things that honor God; we can only create good things if we know our Creator. Dr. John Lennox said, “be the best musician you can be, but make sure your faith is growing deeper and faster than your musical abilities,” and this applies to any creative expression. Each of us were created as individuals and so each of us has a unique way that only we can reflect God’s glory; and because He is always deserving of glory, we should never fail to give our best to Him.
Like I said, there was so much more that we learned at Sing! and we will try to implement these lessons into our church. I hope that you can do the same for your congregation. I cannot wait for that glorious day when the Church will be able to sing “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever” (Revelation 5:13), but until then…let the Church sing!