If you’re reading this article then you probably have seen other articles (like this http://www.patheos.com/blogs/afewgrownmen/2013/05/why-men-have-stopped-singing-in-church/) recently floating around the internet centered on the topic of modern worship and specifically why it seems like congregations aren’t as involved in worship, mainly singing, like congregations were in the past. I have read the articles and the many comments, I’ve even commented on them myself, but wanted to take the opportunity to elaborate my thoughts on the topic.
Just so you know where I’m coming from, I have been serving in ministry for 12 years. I grew up in a Pentecostal (demonstrative) church style and have spent the last 10 years in what could be considered more of a “modern” church style. I’ve been a worship leader for 7 of the 10 years and have served in my current role as senior pastor for the last 6 years.
If you are unfamiliar with the argument being made against the current state of worship, the quick summary is that congregation participation has seemingly diminished as we have lowered the lights, sung newer songs, and introduced original music into the worship sets. While it has never been specifically said, the general tone of the conversation seems to infer that God is as displeased as the author that more people aren’t singing in church services, and the culprit must be the change in worship style and song choice. While attempts are made to offer an olive branch and say that people using their gifts to write original music, or excellence in worship performance should be used in appropriate ways, it’s much clearer the author and many of his readers blame a “performance” mindset for excluding so many in participation.
I have 2 problems with the whole argument:
First, the assumption is being made that there was a particular time in the past when worship was “better” because congregations were singing more. That is an incredibly relative assumption, especially when the time referenced is within the last 20-30 years. I grew up in a demonstrative worship church and we spent at least 70 of the 90 minutes sitting, either listening to the choir sing or listening to someone preach. While we did stand and sing songs, my experience (which is also relative) is the people who wanted to sing were involved in the worship program either in the choir or praise team using their gifts for the church. I sat in a congregation with men who were incredibly knowledgeable about the Bible and followed Jesus, but they weren’t singing. They were giving, teaching Sunday school, and bringing their families to church, but they weren’t singing. As I think back on all of my church experience over the last 30 years I can’t ever remember a church that had heavy male participation in singing except for the men who voluntarily joined the choir.
What also makes the assumption that worship isn’t happening because singing isn’t happening silly, is the connection that singing = worship. As someone who is musically inclined, I often participated in singing at church, but the vast majority of the first 20 years of my life I was singing in church with no heart for God. As a matter of fact, many Sundays and Wednesdays I would help lead the worship and then act inappropriately with my girlfriend somewhere on church property. As is often the case, our memories take us to a specific time we remember fondly, and then we apply that specific experience to a long time period that is inaccurate. I don’t mean to imply that people weren’t worshipping, I just mean to imply there is no way possible to figure out if men were singing more 20 years ago than they are today.
The second, and biggest problem with this theory is the inference that somehow one kind of worship is more “God approved” than any other kind of worship. It is presented in a way that God is in heaven on Sunday mornings approving and disapproving of certain churches because they have chosen a certain worship style instead of one that encourages more singing. All church services include man made aspects. They are not biblically mandated. The body of Christ assembling and everything that goes along with a group of people gathering is biblical, but we are not instructed on any particular way that a church service has to be done. Our personal preference often guides our views for how we believe God desires a church service to flow, but they are just personal preferences. If you meet on Sundays or Fridays, it doesn’t matter. If you sing an hour, just sing one song, or maybe don’t sing at all, it doesn’t’ matter to God. God has always only cared about our hearts. That’s why we’re told to offer our lives as a living sacrifice, as the best demonstration of worship we can give. Of course public worship is wonderful. It ministers to our souls and can encourage us when we need to be lifted up, but corporate worship is the least frequently used worship in a believer’s life.
The good news for all worship leaders is the Bible gives you the freedom to do whatever you want to do to glorify God. You can sing Amazing Grace for an hour or 10 originals if you want, just have a pure heart. Encourage the congregation to sing and some will, but some won’t, and honestly most men won’t. It doesn’t mean they’re not worshiping, and it doesn’t mean they don’t have a relationship with God, but be warned there are people who need a church service to remind them of their importance. They need things to be a certain way so they feel a connection to God. Once you begin to do something differently than they desire, they will assume God shares their opinion. Keep your head up and keep trying to make the best decisions you know to make to glorify God and bring more people to Jesus. In 15 years everything will be different anyway, and I’m glad it will be because if we were still singing “Trading My Sorrows.” I don’t think I would still be going to church, and if we don’t stop singing “Our God” soon my kids will probably hate church as much as I did.
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