There’s been a lot of writing—and arguing—about worship, especially over how it ought to be done. I’m not going to rehash the existing hash, which is now solidly stuck to the bottom of the pan. But I did have a thought recently about the specific area of congregational singing.
As a prefatory note, I’ll observe that many these days seem to think “worship” and “congregational singing” are exact synonyms. I would suggest that worship is much broader than congregational singing; I think the whole Sunday gathering is worship—if it’s done with the right attitude—and that in fact our whole regenerate lifetimes should be worship. The word means, after all, ascribing value, “worthship” (what the Hebrews called chabod [“glory”], or “weight”), to God.
But that’s another post. Here I’d like to address just a part of that, the congregational singing.
To begin with, it’s worth noting that if the singing is part of worship, then it is an offering to God. While worship is a joyous thing, bringing delight to those offering it, the worshipers are not the audience; they are the worshipers. As such, they should be focused primarily on bring delight to God; their delight will certainly follow, but it is a side effect, not a goal.
That principle has a good many ramifications, of course. Most obviously, we should offer God what he wants, not necessarily what we want. That’s the thinking behind the Presbyterians’ “regulative principle”—the idea that we should offer in worship only what the Bible specifically commands. Even those who don’t follow the practice should be able to agree that its underlying principle—offering God what he wants—is indisputable.
Of course, the “worship wars” were all about arguing over how we can know what kind of music God likes, and that degenerated into pretty much everybody taking his toys and going home.
But to my point. When we sing as a congregation, we are offering a sacrifice of praise to God. We need to make it the very best offering we can. And I would suggest that we need everybody on board for that to happen. That means that even those who can’t sing well need to contribute. The offering is from everyone.
I’ve never been much of a singer; I was in my high school’s chorale, since I could hit the notes, but I never had any tonal quality. It’s a mystery to me where vibrato comes from, and my abuse of my speaking voice is the stuff of vocal coaches’ nightmares. As I’ve grown older, the tonal quality has stayed flat, the likelihood of my hitting the correct note has decreased, and the breath support is pretty much nonexistent.
So should I just mouth the words and let the singers make the offering?
I don’t think so. (Though if enough of my fellow church members say otherwise, I’ll respect their judgment.) I’m not singing for my own enjoyment, or to impress my fellow pewsitters.
I’m singing to God. He knows what my voice is capable of, and he wants to hear from me.
So I sing.
Anybody who’s been on an athletic team knows what’s going on here. We all—together—do the best we can, and we are brought together by our joint participation.
And God is praised.
Our own enjoyment, as I’ve said, is a side effect, not a goal, but by God’s grace we do reap enjoyment from our team effort. We are delighted as individuals, and we are drawn together as teammates.
Every Sunday, when we gather, we thrive by singing our praise to God—together—and by uniting our hearts in worship. It’s no surprise, then, that one day, in a perfect world, we will gather, from every kingdom, tribe, tongue, and nation, and sing our praise to the Lamb with one voice.
Until then, let us praise him. Together.