The Spiritual Side of Singing in the Church

In a previous post I began writing a response to a popular article floating around the internet. In one of the weekly e-newsletters I received today, another article just posted as another chain in the dialogue this topic has created. Though many churches maintain a high caliber of musician and vocalist for the churches, there continues to be a percentage of our congregations that are not participating in this very biblical portion of our services.

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The first post talked about some practical ways to create an environment that invites as many as are willing to join in worship. That is just one side of the coin when it comes to this concern. Quite often, this is the only side that is addressed in these internet articles. Change the key; stop singing “girly” love songs; make church “manly” again. Some of those ideas are great ideas. But addressing the practical issues of singing in our churches is only half the battle.

Worship is a spiritual act, after all. While it involves physical rules like musical scales, keys and chords, it is a spiritual offering from a spiritual individual to the only true God. Therefore we have to examine whether there are any spiritual reasons for the lack of participation in worship.

The danger of leaning too far to the practical issues in worship places all of the blame, and thereby all of burden, effort and responsibility on the shoulders of the worship leader, worship team or pastor. Let’s not be too hasty in passing the buck to the leaders, for those who are not leading are meant to follow. Let us, as worshipers, use these ideas to take a close look at ourselves.

1)  Do you know worship’s purpose?

One reason that many people do not join in the music is because they do not understand the purpose of worship. I mentioned earlier that worship is biblical. When King David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, he instituted a system that provided musical worship in the presence of the Ark at all times (1 Chronicles 6:31; 1 Chronicles 25:1, 6). The Psalms were songs written for this system. In the New Testament, we read that Paul and Silas sang while they were in jail (Acts 16:25), and Paul encouraged the Ephesians to utilize psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19).

Not everyone understands the purpose of worship. It takes more than putting words on a screen and expecting people who may or may not have a relationship with God to express their heart to God in song.

Worship is about personal expression to God. It is a mode to express your thankfulness for all that He has done for you. You can tell Him how much you desire to follow Him and ask Him to fill your life with more of Him and His power. Worship is a confession that declares God’s goodness, as a reminder to our own hearts and a testimony to the world around us. Sometimes worship is a cry of our hearts for God to show up and do something in our lives because we cannot go any further in our strength.

Worship is powerful this way in that it puts to words what we often cannot find the words to express. It also deposits these messages in our hearts and minds in memorable ways. Maybe you just need to discover that worship is a tool, like prayer, to communicate your heart to God’s heart.

2)  Are you committed to your church?

One of the practical reasons that we had for a lack of participation was the issue of familiarity. Worship leaders have to be sure to give the congregation a chance to hear and learn the song before expecting them to really understand and feel the song. Again, there is a flipside to this argument. A worship leader might be repeating the song over the course of a few weeks or months to help the congregation learn the song in preparation for the day when that song’s message will really make a difference. But the only to get familiar with the song is to be there when it is being sung.

Do you know who is most likely to complain about not getting a chance to learn the songs in church? People whose attendance is sporadic. A worship leader goes through a lot of songs each week if s/he has to prepare for Sunday morning, Sunday night, a mid-week Bible study, or a prayer night. This creates a lot of opportunity for a new song to find its way onto the schedule. However, if a song is used once or twice a week for six weeks, but a churchgoer only hears it once because they are not at church, where do you point the finger for not knowing the song?

If you are getting defensive on this point, preparing to write some heartfelt but angry comment below, it’s probably time to be honest with your commitment issues. In this case we aren’t talking about proposing to your longtime girlfriend, but about how committed you are to the church.

Now, I am not saying that you have to be in the church every time the doors open. But as Christians we are spiritually connected to a Body that is shaped from all of those who confess Jesus. If your left arm only showed up once every three or four days because it liked to sleep in or wanted to get some down at the beach, what impact would that leave on your body? And yet so many of us think that is okay to maintain a here-and-there commitment to our church, our local Body of believers.

Worship is one of the first places our commitment to God and His people can be tested. If we aren’t worshiping, if we aren’t familiar with what is going on in our church, we have to honestly evaluate how committed we are to being part of the Body.

3)  Do you know what the song means?

This simple question forces us to internalize the songs that we are singing. It works for those in the congregation and for worship leaders. If you cannot narrow down the point of the song you aren’t very likely to make much use of it.

Well, that’s only half true. To be honest, this is one my biggest pet peeves. There are songs that people sing that have a meaning opposite to the way they are used. Some songs are sung because they have a good beat or chord progression, or are easy to sing, but they aren’t biblical or don’t make sense.

A worship song with meaning can revolutionize and individual, a family, a church, or a community. There is power when a song touches a specific need or value. If the meaning is lost in code or only appears for one line in a multi-verse concerto, there will be many left lost and confused. Here is the worship leader can help from time, explaining the message or how this song completes a theme with those around it.

But finding the value is ultimately the role of the individual. If you are having trouble with a new song, get a copy of the words from your worship leader or pastor. Find the recording that inspired the song’s use in your church. Search the Scriptures for that theme and allow the Spirit to write God’s truth on your heart. Then see how you respond the next time that song begins.

4)  How healthy is your relationship with God?

This is the big question that we fail to ask ourselves. We explain away any connection between our relationship with God and that weirdness that hipster tries to get us to be part of on Sundays. The question begs to be asked, though. If worship is a spiritual act, how much involvement can be offered by someone who does not have a spiritual connection with God? I believe this question sets us up for two valuable observations.

To those who have no interest in singing any of these songs about or to God, there is hope that you are not crazy. If you want to find out what these songs mean, what these Jesus people are so excited about that they clap and sing and shout, all you have to do is open yourself to God. Speak to Him like you would a friend in a coffee shop, and ask Him to reveal Himself to you. Tell Him you want to know Him, His message and His purpose for your life. And see what happens.

The other observation is for pastors and worship leaders. Maybe it isn’t the song that you are trying to sing. Maybe it isn’t the message that you are trying to communicate. Maybe it isn’t a lack of commitment or disciples or understanding. Could it be that there are people in your church who don’t know God? If that is the case, continue using worship to confess the goodness of God to those who do not know Him. Keep in mind the practical lessons from before, but don’t lose hope. Let your light shine.

* * *

I began leading worship when I was fourteen years old. A youth pastor kind of assigned it to me. That was twenty-three years ago this Fall. I have led worship for children, youth, adults and seniors. I’ve led in churches, home groups, senior centers, around campfires, and in living rooms with friends.

There will always be some who join in and some who don’t. If we are leading, we have to be careful to keep the group along for the ride. But don’t be afraid of those moments when God wants to use you to declare His greatness because you have gone further down the path and discovered something more. If we are in the group but something doesn’t touch us, take a look at yourself before you go pointing fingers at anyone else. Remember that your leader is a gift from God to you. And make the most of worship as you consider that it is far more than singing a song or two. Find God in and through your song.

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5 thoughts on “The Spiritual Side of Singing in the Church

  1. Thank you for an interesting read. I agree with your statement that worship is about a personal expression to God, but it is more than that. Worship is a conversation with God. In our worship we express our thoughts, prayers and praise to him, but we also sit at his feet and hear him speak. We also, by the way, encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25). In the end, the most important part of worship is not what we say to God, but what he says to us.

    I actually just wrote an article about the focus of worship on my blog. If you have a chance, check it out: http://364daysofthanksgiving.com/isnt/. I would love to hear your thoughts on what I wrote. Thanks!

    1. I think the thought that raises from your comment is to determine the difference between worship and prayer. I would consider prayer to be the line of communication to speak with, including hearing from God. Worship, though, is about declaration rather than communication. It is given to God and directed towards Him alone. It is confessed before men and is a witness to them. Worship shouldn’t be offered to receive something in return, but given because of Who God is and how His nature relates to our specific situation.
      Now, I also believe that worship prepares our hearts and minds for prayer and God’s word in our lives. Worship and prayer are powerful together, but they also operate separately. Maybe I’ll work on a future post along those lines.
      Thanks for your link. I’ll join your conversation there.

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