I’ve been slow to respond to this one because to be honest, I just wasn’t sure how. In a recent Evangelicals Now article, Lee Gattis asked “Have we been singing ourselves to death?” The reason I wasn’t sure how to respond was because, even allowing for the desire to catch attention and provoke a response, I was taken aback that such a question was getting serious attention.
In the article, Gattis expresses the concern that we might give so much time over in our services to singing, especially when it is of the entertainment kind that we squeeze out space for the reading and preaching of God’s Word. Now, first of all, I agree that this is a danger to be aware of, something to avoid. Secondly, I have attended churches where preaching is squeezed down to about ten minutes max (and even then only a minimal part of a message was given over to attending to the text). However, I would suggest that it was not necessarily at the expense of singing that the Word got squeezed. Rather, it was the need to condense things into a short time span. So, the opposition to the Word came not from singing but from notices, liturgy and the urgent business of getting home for Sunday lunch.
Rather, I have noticed that churches where there is a lot of singing and enjoyment of singing often are churches where there is great enjoyment of spending time hearing preaching. I have also noticed that in more conservative circles a wordiness has crept in. If anything it will be the notices, appeals and interviews that will be the death of us.
Gattis picks up on Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 but sadly quickly dumps them and minimalises them. That is a shame because those texts, combined with much of the rest of Scripture show that there is a huge Biblical emphasis on the importance and indeed natural enjoyment of singing that flows out of being filled with the Spirit. We sing looking back to past grace with thankfulness for what God has done. We sing through the Spirit in order to acknowledge present grace, God is with us. We sing because of future grace looking forward with eschatological hope when we’ll join heaven’s chorus for an eternity of joyful praise.
So, do pay attention to God’s Word but don’t give up singing. It won’t be the death of you. It is a sign of life.