The Gathering and Singing: The Focus (pt. 2)

choirPart 1 ended with a challenge for worship leaders in the black church to consider how their music set can bring the most glory to God by assessing solo singing, choir singing and congregational singing.   

Some of you may be wondering why I am taking the time to bring up this particular issue.  Others of you may be wondering if this issue is of any true significance.  Of course the music set of a corporate gathering has no effect on one’s salvation, but it does have an effect on our individual sanctification. I’d also argue that it affects the health and edification of the church.  I stated previously that the church gathers for three basic reasons – exaltation, exultation and edification.  For this to happen, every aspect of the service should seek to serve these three purposes, especially the music, not only lyrically, but also in delivery.  

As I’ve talked to many people who currently attend or who have had the opportunity to attend a black (or predominantly black) church, one aspect that always is commented on was how powerful the praise and worship set was. I usually chuckle because I know exactly what they’re talking about, having grown up in the black church.  I admit that hearing powerful singing and seeing the choir display particular rhythmic movements in unison is great to see, but that also is my biggest concern or critique of these types of music sets.   Due to the immense display of talent, the music set often becomes a performance (singing and the accompaniment) that often times rouses the emotions of the congregation apart from biblical truth. Emotions are often elicited usually through excessively repititious choruses, riffs and runs, physical gestures and extended instrumental showmanship. As this goes on, the congregation becomes passive spectators, rather than active participators. In these instances, the focus is on man and not God.  What was intended to be corporate praise (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16) has become a concert.

My estimation is that congregational singing is the healthiest form of music worship for a corporate gathering. If you’re unfamiliar with the term or the concept, congregational singing is the practice of the congregation joining in the music of a church, either in the form of hymns or in the form of the office of the liturgy.  Congregational singing normally doesn’t require many people on the platform or stage.  Also, the musical accompaniment is intentionally lowered so the collective human voice of the congregation can be heard singing.   In doing this, congregational singing does quite the opposite of performance oriented singing as the focus is rightly on Christ and the church is edified, hearing itself singing praises to Christ.  Now I am not saying there are no uses for solos or choirs. I think music sets can wisely employ them, but it must be done in such a way that doesn’t blur the focus of Christ, but rather sharpens it.  

Some might object to all that I’ve said under the guise that I am not respecting deeply appreciated black forms of musical expression or an individual’s talent.  My push-back would simply be to ask if the music set serves to bring glory to the music team or if it edifies the whole church and glorifies Christ.  Think about it.  Let us strive to build up one another for the glory of Christ in our singing.

Grace & Peace,

d.

The Gathering and Singing: The Focus (pt. 1)

choir“We had CHURCH today!” “The Spirit really showed up today!”  If you’ve been part of a black church or have visited one, chances are you’ve heard or have even have uttered these phrases.  If you’re unfamiliar with these phrases, let me help you understand. These are words of affirmation spoken by someone who really enjoyed the worship service.  If you were to ask someone what was so enjoyable about service, chances are they’ll say the preaching or the singing. These two components usually tend to be pretty dynamic in the black church. Sometimes they even rival each other and sometimes they’re blended. Here’s what I mean –  the preaching gets a little melodic and then before you know it, the preacher breaks out into song accompanied by the choir for a verse or two and then resumes the sermon.  Despite the many chief characteristics of the black church, music is almost “the” main component of the worship service.  

I’ve previously stated that the sermon, expositionally preached, is to be the central component of every worship service and its biblical text should shape the content of the songs being sung.  But in addition to the content of the music, we also must think critically about its delivery and who we are to be focused on.  Contextual and cultural differences surely will warrant a  modification of the tempo of the songs or their melodies. We will do well to pay attention to the composition lest we lose some of the gravity of the songs.  But also, great attention must also be paid to how the songs are sung and we must evaluate if Jesus is the focus or the singer(s).

The Purpose of the Gathering

Hebrews 10:25 exhorts us not to neglect meeting together, but why? Why do Christians gather? What is the point? I’d like to offer 3 main reasons why the church gathers – exaltation, exultation, edification.

Exalt means to elevate or to praise; extol.  When we gather, we are elevating and praising God for who He is, what He’s done and what He’s promised to do for the glory of His name.  We do that primarily because of the atoning work of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus Christ, believers are reconciled to God, called to live as lights in the world and look forward to an eternity of unhindered fellowship with God in the new heavens and new earth.  The preaching is meant to instruct our heads, encourage and convict our hearts, fill us with gratitude and move us to loving obedience for the praise of His glorious grace.

Exult means to show or feel a lively or triumphant joy; rejoice exceedingly.  If we truly understand the gospel and all of its implications (forgiveness, adoption, eternal life, etc.) we ought to be truly joyful about worshiping Christ in our gatherings.  If there is a lack of joy, it could be due to unrepentant sin in your life or possibly you have not yet mined the depth and the breadth of the provisions of the gospel. Preaching that is faithful to the text and the overall theme of the Bible should cause us to exult in Him (Psalm 32:11; 35:9).

Edify means to instruct or benefit, especially morally or spiritually; uplift.  The primary way that the New Testament speaks of believer being benefited or built up is by the instruction of the Word (Eph. 4:12, Col. 1:28) and also by the exercise of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 14:4, 12, 26) so that the church would be mature growing up in Christ (Eph. 4:15).

When we consider these three basic reasons, it should be plain to see that man is not the focus of a worship gathering, Christ is.

The Purpose of  the Worship (Music) Team

If the main component, biblical preaching, is focused on God, specifically Christ, then every other aspect of the service should do likewise, especially the singing.  As I’ve stated previously, song lyrics ought to be biblical and should complement the sermon.  The music should serve as another teaching moment in the gathering.  It is no secret that the black church is replete with musical talent. History repeatedly proves this. From musicians to singers, the black church is rich with musical talent and that’s a good thing!  In fact, we ought to thank God for the way He dispenses His gifts and talents to people. But as with all of God’s gifts, they must be stewarded well for His glory. In matters of worship by song, we must be careful that our singing doesn’t betray the focus that is to be given to Christ in our gatherings. It might be wise for worship leaders or choir directors to ask themselves what will bring the most glory to God during the music set.

How should the black church think about solo performances, choirs, and congregational singing?

We’ll examine these in the next article.

Grace & Peace,

d.

The Gathering and Singing: Take Care How You Sing

AAWOrship2

In another entry, I wrote about the importance music plays in the life of corporate worship. The importance it plays can be for good or for bad depending on your understanding of the primary or central component of a corporate gathering. One of the recoveries of the Protestant Reformation, argued by Martin Luther and John Calvin, was the preaching of the word. But not only that, but its primacy over all other aspects of a corporate gathering. Since the word is God breathed, sufficient for godliness (2 Tim. 3:16-17) and living, active and able to discern the intentions and thoughts of the heart (Heb. 4:12), the preaching must be the central event of every corporate gathering. Not only must it be central, but the Word must also govern and shape the other events of the gathering, especially the music.

My purpose here is not to argue appropriate styles of music for a corporate gathering, though I think that is a worthy conversation, but to stimulate thought about the lyrical content of the songs we sing in our corporate gatherings. I think the most helpful songs sung in corporate gatherings are those that are shaped by biblical truth and complement the theme and tone of the biblical passage that is preached. For example, can the things that are sung be found anywhere in the Bible? And concerning appropriate themes for example, overly triumphant songs seem a bit out of place if the text preached was a stern calling for the believer to take serious heed of the warnings of God’s word lest he suffer discipline. Simply put, the songs we sing ought to be rooted in Scripture complementing the sermon preached.

Recently during a time of corporate worship I was more cognizant of this and I was greatly edified again by Ada Haberson (1861-1918) and Matt Merker’s song, He Will Hold Me Fast.

When I fear my faith will fail,
Christ will hold me fast (John 6:37);
When the tempter would prevail,
He will hold me fast (Lk 22:31-32).
I could never keep my hold
Through life’s fearful path (Matt. 26:30-35; 69-75);
For my love is often cold (Eze. 16);
He must hold me fast.

He will hold me fast,
He will hold me fast;
For my Savior loves me so,
He will hold me fast.

Those He saves are His delight (Isa. 62:5; Zeph. 3:17),
Christ will hold me fast;
Precious in his holy sight (Ps. 72:14; 1 Pet. 2:4),
He will hold me fast.
He’ll not let my soul be lost (Ps. 16; Matt. 1:21; John 6:39-40; Eph 1:3-14; 1 Pet 1:3-5; Jude 24-25)
His promises shall last (Nu. 23:19; Isa. 46:10, 55:11);
Bought by Him at such a cost (1 Pet. 1:18-19),
He will hold me fast.

For my life He bled and died (Isa. 53; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:24, 3:18),
Christ will hold me fast;
Justice has been satisfied (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2, 4:10);
He will hold me fast.
Raised with Him to endless life (John 11:25-27; 1 Cor. 15),
He will hold me fast
‘Till our faith is turned to sight,
When He comes at last (1 John 3:2)!

Being replete with biblical doctrine was the reason why I was so edified by the song. I was singing the Bible! As I was singing, I was being instructed and reminded of the biblical truth of the assurance we have in Christ for our salvation. That is the main point of the song and it is encouraging!!! This is a song I can “Amen!!” simply because of the truth it contains, not primarily because of its melody. A song with great melody, but devoid of biblical truth is ultimately not God glorifying, soul satisfying, faith fortifying or joy intensifying. However, a song with biblical truth, though it may not be your melody of preference, is better for your soul simply because of its content. Consider the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to the Colossian church:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

(Colossians 3:16, ESV)

Next time you gather for corporate worship, take note of the lyrics and examine the degree of biblical fidelity. May we take care how we sing!

Grace & Peace,

d.