Sunday, June 10, 2007

Five things to say about singing in church

I've taken on responsibility for leading the music team at church this year, so have been thinking a bit about music and church. Here's some thoughts, probably all overlapping somewhat.

1. God made us as emotional beings and gave us music as a way to express that emotion. We only need look at the place of music in every culture to see this, but more importantly the pages of scripture testify to the place of song in the life of God's people.

2. The primacy of the ministry of the word should not mean devaluing music. Indeed, a "word-centred" church should recognise that song is a powerful way to express the word of God, but also that music is one way we have of responding to the word of God. In singing, we express our joy and thankfulness to God in response to the saving word of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (See Colossians 3:16).

3. In saying that the ministry of song goes hand-in-hand with the ministry of the word, we need to be careful however to ensure our songs are not simply statements of doctrine set to music. A song should have music that lifts our hearts, and lyrics that are rich with poetry. Don't give me dry songs. If you want to just set a doctrine text book or statement of belief to uninspiring music, what's the point of having the music?

4. Much has been made in evangelical circles recently of the "horizontal" dimension to music i.e. singing to each other. This is all true. However, we need to avoid forgetting the "vertical" dimension of music. There is nothing wrong with singing to God and not just about God.

5. OK, the whole "worship" thing. Yes, some churches misemphasise the purpose of church as being to worship God, in a sense which might suggest we are not worshipping God the other 6 days a week, and some have confused what we do in church with Old Testament cultic worship, and that we somehow enter into God's presence when singing in church i.e. the "praise and worship" time. BUT, we evangelicals have way over-reacted against some of these errors by almost purging the word "worship" from our vocabulary all together, and removing any sense that when we gather together as God's people we are worshipping God, or that singing can involve worship. I think we can and should acknowledge that singing does involve worshipping God, while recognizing that worship is also much more than singing.

Stay tuned (excuse the pun) ... more posts to come on music and church ...


Dan said...

Good post Andy. I found it particularly helpful in thinking about lyrics. Doctrinal statements with a catchy tune behind them is not a good method for writing a song that captures peoples hearts with truth. The purpose of singing is to sing back to God and to each other the glorious things he has done in a way that stirs our affections to love God more.

David said...

hey andy are you writing anything at the moment? (songs)

David said...

doctrinal statements...

we believe in God the father maker of the universe...

what a bad song... great words... bad song!

Ben said...

G'day, Andy.
I agree with you that there was a swing away from associating 'worship' with singing in Sydney Evangelical churches (and their northern offspring), but I think that pendulum has pretty much swung back. I'm thinking particularly of Garage Hymnal, EMU Music putting out great stuff and the use of many more recently written songs at my church and at my Bible college.

I agree that doctrinal statements don't really hit the spot, songwise. But I wonder whether some of those 'doctrinal statements' are passages of Scripture that have been set to music. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't.

(Oh, and you know that song Give Thanks? The one that goes 'Give thanks, with a grateful heart // Give thanks to the holy one' etc. Sally and I cannot stop hearing the Pet Shop Boys Go West when we hear that song... and now you're all going to cack yourselves when you hear it just like we do).

David said...

and their northern offspring

who you thinking of there??

we have some rockin' sweet tunes at ccec. i love our nite church music... good job dan and team. you'll be hard pressed finding better music in like minded churches.

pet shop boys... hehehe... i know what you mean!!

Andy M said...

Hi Dan. Thanks, and yes I agree. Some would say it's the words alone, not the music, that should stir our affections, but I don't agree, otherwise why bother with setting the words to music?

I've been enjoying your thoughts on music over at your blog - left you a comment a couple of days ago.

Andy M said...

Hi Dave - no, not writing anything. I never really have. Wouldn't mind trying it some day, but at the moment I'm enjoying exploring the other good material that's already out there.

And yes, I agree about "We Believe" - not exactly the high point of Christian song writing!

Andy M said...

Hi Ben. Welcome.

Yeah, good point about the pendulum swing and I agree there is some really good stuff coming out lately.

However, I still think the primary position adopted by Sydney Evangelical churches is to avoid using the word "worship" at all costs and to be circumspect about singing to God, as opposed to singing about God. e.g. the Sovereign Grace (more about them in a later post) album "Worship God Live" which is distributed in Australia by EMU, has been repackaged and labelled by EMU as "Sovereign Grace Live", the word "worship" in the title possibly being a bit difficult to sell to their target audience.

And yes, our beach mission team over 10 years ago used to dance along to "Give Thanks", adding a Pet Shop Boys electronic drum beat to it.... Haven't heard that song for ages, and I don't think I'll be choosing it for our song list in a hurry.

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