The Virtues of Singing (& Listening to) Music in Church

In the last few years, the internets have been chalk full with blogs about the (good) reasons why people are not singing in the (American) church.

Here’s Nine Reasons People Aren’t Singing in Church.

Also: Why They Don’t Sing, Christians Stopped Singing, and more Not Singing. These blogs are a dime a dozen (maybe a dollar a dozen—they have value!).

There are even more biblically-inclined, theologically-inclined, and historically-inclined arguments for more congregational singing.

There is a huge chorus of blogging directed towards more congregational singing—I am for them! But, there is an underlying presupposition behind all these posts that I want to at least make you consciously aware of.

More (Congregational) Singing = Better (True) Worship

Brief aside: I have referenced this before (and even made a pretty cool info-graphic to boot).

The same general list of contemporary worship critiques has been circulating for 3 or 4 years now, and for good reason.

But with every popular pendulum swing in the church it is helpful to challenge the tide so as to not be swept away unthinkingly by (even helpful) popular opinion.

It is this presupposition: more people (heartily) singing equals better worship of God, that I want to bring into the light of analysis. This unspoken goal of every blog post listed above is high on my list of priorities as a worship pastor. However, let me point your attention to my favorite mid-twentieth century musical curmudgeon, C. S. Lewis, for some balance.

In Lewis’ essay entitled, On Church Music, he provides  some helpful thoughts to challenge this unquestioned presupposition of our day. Lewis in my estimation undervalues (or at least does not address) the pedagogical value of music as a vehicle for memorization and for shaping the mind/heart.

But what Lewis does get overwhelmingly right is the idea that only in dying to oneself (turning from our own desires and preferences) that we can be sure that we are at least beginning on the path towards true worship of God. Whether your preference is to heartily sing alongside your buddies (or fellow members of the Body) or to sit back and appreciate the beauty of well-executed orchestration, whether in a contemporary or ancient setup; both of these kinds of people, hearers and singers of the good news, should be nurtured in the church.

I myself employ pretty much every bullet point on the lists of the blogs mentioned above. However, my goal isn’t necessarily for more people to sing but for hearers and singers to hide God’s word more deeply in their hearts.

Some people digest music better by appreciation, maybe or maybe not humming along, but all the while digesting the content, enjoying the goodness of excellent music, and differing towards their neighbors’ preferences with every song either listened to or sung.

Still others prefer to sing, and I encourage this (for pedagogical reasons). But I also occasionally force them to listen to a choral song or (gasp) “special music” so they can practice the discipline of appreciation, and to digest words entering their ears (and not leaving their mouths).

Concluding Thoughts

I am happy for this post to simply be considered just one more entry in the pantheon of worship music blog posts on not singing in the church. But…

If one or two people learn to shut their mouths and simply hear the music next Sunday, or a person of the completely opposite persuasion makes a joyful noise unto the Lord, then I will give glory to God for making music less about us and more about Him.