“Do You Hear the People Sing?”

Frank_Tengle,_an_Alabama_sharecropper,_and_family_singing_hymnsA couple of weeks ago, I sat in our living room with a couple of church members after dinner.  As we talked, I asked them, “Why don’t people sing during our church service?”  It was an honest question.  What ensued was a long discussion about the role of music in the church and a rehashing of many failed attempts to encourage the people of the church to participate in singing.  Different possible culprits were accused: “Perhaps they don’t know the songs?”  Well, that might be true in a few cases, but even the “old standards” were weak at best.  “Or maybe we aren’t playing the songs at the right tempo?”  We all agreed this wasn’t a problem.  “Are they having a difficult time reading the hymnal?”  Each of our members grew up reading the hymnal, so it would be difficult to blame the music book.  At the end of the night two things were agreed upon: (1) Our congregation ought to sing out in our services, and (2) we can’t figure how to help them!

Perhaps the soft mumbling of your congregation that some try to pass for singing doesn’t bother you as much as it does me.  The contrast between what we do in our churches and what God’s people did in the Bible is stark.  Consider the words of Psalm 106:

My heart is steadfast, O God!  I will sing and make melody with all my being!

Awake, O harp and lyre!  I will awake the dawn!

I will give thanks to you, O LORD, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations.

For your steadfast love is great above the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!  Let your glory be over all the earth!

That your beloved ones may be delivered, give salvation by your right hand and answer me!

(Psalm 108:1-6)

Is it possible to sing those words with a monotone, expressionless face?  The Psalmist is engaged in shouting God’s praise with all of his being.  His desire is that God might be buoyed up on the melody of his heart; he sings aloud so that God’s glory may be spread across the earth.  When he recalls God’s steadfast love, faithfulness, and salvation his heart soars with the melodious sonnets sung by flaming tongues above!

Perhaps we don’t sing in church because we forget that God’s presence has descended into our midst.  We have to realize that we are not engaged in a dead ritual, and we are not at church to be passively entertained.  We are engaging the glorious and exalted God of the heavens; we are enlisted in spreading his glory from east to west!  When your church gathers for a Sunday morning service, you and the other Christians there have come to meet with your God.  As you participate in singing, prayer, and confession, you are communing with the almighty God of the universe!  Nothing ought to be able to smother the praises of God’s people when he has gathered with them.

The other possibility is that we have forgotten the amazing act of salvation God hath wrought.  In Exodus 15, when the people of Israel made it safely to the other side of the Red Sea, they turned around to see their enemies swallowed up by the waters, and they immediately burst forth with praise.  When David was finally delivered from the hand of Saul, his lungs filled with the praises of 2 Samuel 22.  When God moves in a mighty act of salvation, his people cannot contain their praises of thanksgiving, honor, and glory toward their Savior.

Do you truly “stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene”?  Do you wonder with awe “that [you] should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood”?  Do you mean it when you sing, “O, precious is the flow that makes me white as snow?”  Is it true that, “A mighty fortress is our God”?  Then let your praises ring!  Make the rafters shake this Sunday as you glorify our great God!

(photo credit)

Published by Chad C. Ashby

Instructor of Literature, Math, and Theology at Greenville Classical Academy Greenville, SC

9 thoughts on ““Do You Hear the People Sing?”

  1. Chad,

    I’m currently serving in what is more or less a traditional Bible-belt, small town SBC church. It is by far the most traditional church I’ve served in. Much of the same difficulties are in our congregation. While we do a mixture of hymns and few newer songs, much of the congregation does not sing; many stand with their arms crossed and barely mumbling if even moving their lips at all. It has been difficult to encourage them to engage in actively praising God and singing out to the rest of the congregation.

    Not offering “the” answer, maybe not even an answer… but it seems to me that we almost have to remind people, very deliberately and explicitly, what it is we are doing when we do the musical aspect of praise in our services. Along with that, perhaps we need to remind them to hope for and expect a greater sense of God’s presence as they do. I don’t mean to sound as if I mean just encouraging the people to “seek an experience;” merely that even though we have God’s omnipresence (and indwelling presence as believers) always, we do not always have the more manifest forms of his presence. And those often accompany deliberate, responding-to-truth worship through music.

    I know I’m opening another can of worms here beyond the scope of your intended post, but while we rightly discourage the notion of seeking after experiences for the sake of an experience, do you ever feel that perhaps we wrongly come across as if worship is not at all an experience in the sense that there is no spiritually-sensed, felt experience of God’s presence? I’d like to hear your thoughts as well as any clarifications I need to make.

    1. Oh, and I meant to add in the middle section that we need to remind the congregation of these things again, and again, and again, and again…perhaps almost every worship service.

    2. Zach,

      I must say “Amen!” to everything you have written. I believe that every believer is indwelt with the Holy Spirit, but there is something special about the gathered church to worship God. God is present in a special way when his people are gathered–this is why it is so important to be with your church on Sunday rather than at home watching a sermon on T.V. or online! Paul and Peter use the Temple as a metaphor for the church; the Temple was a place of God’s distinct presence. I do not think you are off track at all for us to expect a special manifestation of God’s presence when we are gathered. The elements of the service are meant to facilitate the communication between the people and their God. In prayer, singing, and confession we talk to God, and through the ordinances and his Word he speaks to us.

      I think you are right about being intentional in worship. I know I myself need to be reminded Sunday after Sunday that I am not here to perform a professional duty but to usher the people into the presence of their God. At the close of our service, people should be moved–not by the squeal of guitars, or the fascination of images, or the emotionalism of empty religion, but by their God.

      May God grant you faithfulness, brother! Thanks so much for your encouraging words!


  2. Chad, I totally agree that church members should be singing with all the soul, mind, and strength in worship. But, one thing I wonder about is how to get people to ‘connect’ with the songs. After college I returned to my home church and, disillusioned with the contemporary worship service, attended the traditional service that used hymns in worship. I love hymns, but I’ve found most people our age can’t/don’t connect with them. It’s not a music style that makes it easy to engage in. After a while I got tired of being the only person under 40 in that traditional service so I began attending the contemporary service. I still don’t like the leader (he’s tone deaf and plays his own songs and they have no rhyme scheme/aren’t actual worship songs, etc), but when we actually get to sing REAL worship music by contemporary artists, I personally am able to worship better than for some hymns. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m getting caught up in the experience or that the music itself is faking me into worship, just that it’s a style that we’re used to so we ‘get it’ a little better.

      1. I literally couldn’t stop my brain from singing the song the entire time I was reading the post!

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