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.

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The History of the African-American Church

Matthew 28:19 records Jesus’ command to His disciples to take the gospel to all nations. This is known as the Great Commission. Obedience to this command is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant which God promised in Genesis 12, “3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” This is a pretty significant promise!

The significance of this promiblack churchse and Jesus’ command is that it shows that there is one God of all peoples. From one man (Acts 17:26), Adam, God created every ethnic people group in human history. Through the promise made to Abraham, God promises to bless all the families (think clans within nations) of the earth. That promise to Abraham was fulfilled in Christ. Christ is the promised seed (Galatians 3:15-29) and the source of God’s blessing. Therefore, God’s blesses all nations and families in Christ. This is why Jesus commanded His disciples to take the gospel to all nations. Through the gospel God is re-gathering His people unto Himself!

So what does this have to do with the African-American slice of God’s church? Well, if you know the hardships of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement one might be led to think that God was somehow not for “us”. That is wrong thinking. We must understand that despite the cruel acts of men due to sin, God has a promise that will be fulfilled for all peoples – including marginalized and inhumanely treated people created in God’s image.

While “we” were treated horribly, God has entrusted the gospel to “us” and we have a responsibility to protect and proclaim the gospel. But in order to avoid error, be vigilant in faithfulness, and praise God as our Sustainer, knowing our church history is very important.

Via lecture, Ken Jones offers a concise history of the African-American church.

Click here >> The Development of the Black Church in America

Grace & Peace,

d.