By Matt Papa

A Singing Crisis

Singing is lame.  At least that’s what our culture, even our evangelical church culture, seems to be saying today.  There was a day when families and communities were united by music and singing…when things got dull at a party or a family get-together, there were no smartphones to hide behind.  You would actually sing together.  “Daddy sang bass, momma sang tenor”, to quote the reverend Johnny Cash.  Children were trained from a young age to read music and to interact with the folklore and musical heritage of their time.

Not so today.  But the problem is much deeper than musical illiteracy or technological isolation.  Our worship is lame.  Most of the time, we arrive to church about the time the music is finishing up.  Or we arrive on time, we tolerate the music, and we wait patiently for the “real part” of the service to begin…the preaching. 

Men don’t sing... boys sing, we think.  Women don’t sing… Disney princesses sing.  We may not say it, but that’s what we’re seeing.  Sadly, for many of us, singing has become something we endure, rather than a gift of God we enjoy.

Let me be clear, the heaviest blame for our despair of song should not fall on the broader church culture at large but on worship leaders (on me), who have for too long ridden a wave of performance-oriented corporate worship, which is (perhaps entirely) an oxymoron.  Often times the music covers up all the voices.  Often there is not a clear melody for people to follow, or if there is, the melody is so chipper and seemingly inauthentic that grown men are often embarrassed to try to sing it. There has not been a great vision casted for why we sing, or to what end, or what is actually going on while we sing, and therefore, we don’t sing.  We watch others sing, and the Church and the individuals in it are suffering for it.


A Singing Discipline

The Bible contains over 400 references to singing and 50 direct commands to sing.  I think we often view singing in a romantic way…that it’s something we should do whenever we feel “in love” with God.  Should it be this way?  Absolutely.  But might singing be a cross for us to carry, just like the rest of our Christian life?  Might it be not only a response that shows our love for God but also a discipline that creates our love for Him.  Might it be that God commands us to sing, not only for His great glory but for our own personal, practical good?

Singing is not mere “preparation for the sermon”.  No.  We don’t sing that the nations might preach, we preach that the nations might sing.  Worship is ultimate, as John Piper says. So, sing.

Harmony has been defined as the combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce chords and chord progressions having a pleasing effect.  Isn’t that our great hope for the church?  That we would possess sweet, pleasant oneness?  A race-surpassing, age-surpassing, caste-surpassing unity?  Oh, what a sound the church can be.  What a symphony when her unique instruments and rhythms and textures and melodic colors come together in humility and love.


When You Don’t Want to Sing

I am so thankful for the movement of rich theology and “gospel-centeredness” that we in much of the church find ourselves in.  “Behold” then “Behave”. “Done” then “Do”. This is thoroughly Biblical, truly transformative, and most natural (2 Cor 3:18, Matt 13:44). But, we should be honest, the Christian life does not always feel natural.  Sometimes it feels like splinters of wood in your back.  Sometimes all hell is breaking loose and you don’t feel anything.

Sometimes you just obey.

This is very-little-talked-about idea about in evangelicalism today.  We (evangelicals) have a category for a natural obedience (worship), and we have a category for an unnatural obedience (legalism), but there is a kind of obedience that God is pleased with that is known as a hard, unnatural sort of obedience.  And it is not legalism. Legalism is when I think that I am more loved by God because I obey Him. It is not legalism to dutifully do something that is a good in and of itself.

Is this kind of obedience ideal?  Of course not.  But do we wait until we feel zero awkwardness in sharing the gospel to share the gospel?  Do I wait until I feel like loving my wife to love my wife? No.

Sometimes love is a feeling that leads to a choice, but perhaps more often it is a choice that leads to a feeling. Jesus said this truth in this way, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Most of the time we think what Jesus meant here was this: we give our money to whatever we love.  Our treasure follows our heart. This is true, but I don’t think that’s what Jesus said here. What Jesus said here was that our heart follows our treasure. Read it again. In other words, we can actually shape our loves by the practical choices we make about our money. Hopefully, you see the connection to our physical engagement in worship.

And so we serve, we pray, we give, we sing.  And this hard obedience is sometimes one of the Lord’s favorite channels of grace.


A Final Word

We should remember that when we sing, whether we are on a stage or in a crowd, in good times or bad, we are leading worship. “Sing to one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs”. To one another? Yes. Every Christian is a worship leader. But we forget this.

Because of the narcissistic, autonomous bent of our entertainment driven post-modern culture, the horizontal, simple, communal aspect of worship has been mostly replaced by a trendy, loud, dark-lit, “just me and Jesus” kind of experience.  No one can hear me, no one can see me. Let’s worship.

But that’s just the problem. I need to hear you. I need to see you. I need to see your smile when you sing that.  I need to see your tears when you sing that.  I need to hear the longing in your voice when yousay that over my life. When you sing, you are saying with your countenance, your posture, your words, and the intensity of your voice, “This is how worthy Christ is. This is true. This is real. This is everything.”

{So, this weekend…for your own soul and the souls of those around you…Sing with gusto.}

Of course (I feel obliged to say), the loudness of our songs and the virtue of our lives will never correspond to…even combine to correspond to…the value and worth of Christ.  We are ants applauding the B Minor Mass. We are gold dust, coalescing speck by speck into a trophy to be laid at His feet. But, I will add my applause. I will bring the speck that is my life. All of it. I will sing and give my best for my King.

I want to also acknowledge here that for all of us, there are seasons of life where the grief is so heavy that it seems we cannot sing. The Biblical example of people meeting tragedy is that some say “Blessed be your name”, and others simply tear their garments, fall down, and weep.  Both responses are appropriate. But the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is that the Christian cannot go on living in despair. I mean living in it. “We are pressed but not crushed. Persecuted but not abandoned.” The minor always resolves to major for the Christian. The Christian is one who, in the midst of devastation and loss, can (eventually) pick up their cross, for the joy set before them, and sing.

ArticlesMatt Papa