When Our Congregational Singing Becomes Wrong

Wes  —  October 28, 2015
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If you’ve been a reader of this blog for any time at all, you know I am a firm believer in congregational singing in the worship assembly. I believe it is biblical and I believe it is beneficial. But I also believe our congregational singing can become wrong if we are not careful. If we think we are right, simply because we are singing each Sunday, then we better re-examine what the New Testament actually says. Here are some times when our congregational singing becomes wrong.

congregational singing

1. Our singing becomes wrong when our hearts are not engaged.

The idea we find in the New Testament is that Christian music should come from the heart. In fact, it seems very clear from Ephesians 5:19 that the heart is the “instrument” with which Christians are to make music to the Lord. But when our lips are engaged and our hearts are NOT, our worship is “in vain.” In other words, our worship is meaningless.

I know I have been guilty, far too often, of singing a song from memory and realizing halfway through that I’m not even really paying attention to what we’re singing. My mind – and my heart – are focused on other things. How dare I come before the throne of God singing, “Holy, holy, holy,” while I think about something else!

We must be so very diligent and intentional to engage our hearts when we sing praises to God. Otherwise, it is meaningless.

2. Our singing becomes wrong when it’s just checking something off a to-do list.

Unfortunately, some have developed the mentality that worship is about checking items off a to-do list. “I showed up this week,” we seem to say, “I gave some money, I listened to a sermon, I took the Lord’s Supper, I bowed my head in prayer, and I sang the songs. I fulfilled my obligation.” How sad when we approach worship in this way.

Certainly, these are things we ought to do, but it is extremely inappropriate to view worship as a dutiful obligation, rather than a joy and a blessing. After all, it would be like me eating dinner in my own home, and afterward saying, “Ok, I did what I was supposed to do. I showed up for dinner. I ate with my family. I fulfilled my obligation.” I don’t think my kids or my wife would appreciate that very much, do you?

Our time of singing together should be a highlight of our week. It’s our time to come together as a family and declare to our Heavenly Father how very much we love Him and how overwhelmed we are by His love for us. The statement, “God loves a cheerful giver” is true in more areas than just putting money in the collection plate. God is not pleased when we give to Him “reluctantly or under compulsion” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

3. Our singing becomes wrong when it becomes all about the music.

This may sound strange, but I honestly don’t think congregational singing is about the musical notes. In fact, I think if we get caught up in the harmonies and the melodies, we’ve missed the entire point of our singing together. I like what a good friend of mine recently said, “The tone of the music should simply inform our hearts about the meaning of the words.”

In other words, we sing slowly when we are singing contemplative and heavy-hearted lyrics. We sing upbeat and quickly when we are singing more joyful lyrics. But when I hear someone say, “I’m tired of all these slow songs,” or, “I like these upbeat songs,” I can’t help but wonder if they might be missing the point of the songs.

The New Testament teaching on singing is ALWAYS about the words, not the notes or the tempo. Singing – in and of itself – can make us experience emotion, but that’s NOT the purpose of Christian singing. One of the purposes of Christian singing is to express emotion (James 5:13), but not to create it. It’s other purposes are to express gratitude and to teach each other (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). The emotion we feel while we sing is certainly a rewarding by-product, but it should never become the purpose.

The Bottom Line

Congregational singing can be such a wonderful time of building one another up and praising and glorifying God. But if we are not intentional about it, we can allow our singing to become a meaningless ritual or a shallow exercise in admiring the sound of our own voices.

Let’s be careful to keep the focus where the focus belongs and “offer up a sacrifice of praise to God” (Hebrews 13:15).

I love you and God loves you,

Wes McAdams