This week, Steve Kneale answered the question “If I don’t enjoy the songs at church, is it okay not to sing?” I broadly agree with much of what he has to say in his article. We live in an individualistic age where we believe that our desires and preferences come first. If we see church as an extension of that, a place where we go primarily for our own entertainment then we’ll begin to opt in and out. Why should it stop at singing? What if I don’t particularly enjoy reading or listening to reading? What if I don’t get on with the preacher’s voice? What if I’m not a big fan of the particular themes we’re focusing on at the moment? Can I just opt in and out of church as it suits me. Stephen’s answer on singing can be extended wider to give a resounding “No!”
However, I want to push a little at one thing Steve says. He writes:
“If our position is that we won’t sing in church because we don’t really enjoy it, or we can’t get behind the music, but we will sing/shout at the football or a secular gig because we do enjoy it, we have somewhat missed the point of why we are singing at all. This makes me the centre of my worship rather than Christ, who demands it, and the service of our fellow believers who benefit from it.”
I think that Steve here is at risk of understating a little the value of enjoyment. By this stage we should be well versed in John Piper’s restatement of the Puritan insistence that our “chief end is to enjoy God and glorify him forever.” Piper has long argued that we glorify God by enjoying him. I would add that we enjoy God by glorifying him. The two go together so that we don’t need to set worship/glorification in competition with enjoyment.
At this point, it’s worth touching on two other things here which I’ve debate before. The first is that there has at times been an over emphasis in evangelical circles on the gathering as being primarily about education and information. So, we sing songs because they help us to learn and memorise. However, worship is about much more than education and information. I think Steve is right to talk in terms of singing helping the truth of God’s Word “sink into our hearts.” I think that locates us in the right place, it’s about a transformed will. However, I wish he’d pursued that thought a bit more instead of switching to the example of children learning their ABC.
Indeed, what I want to say is that there seems to be a “heart to heart” dimension to singing. My heart responds to God’s heart if you like. His word cuts to the heart and causes me to praise him from my heart.
The second thing is this. Steve talks about singing as a command from the Lord. I’m not sure where he’s drawing the specific command from but he may possibly be referring to Ephesians 5:19. I’ve written about that previously in the context of Psalm singing. I’m not sure that we have a direct command saying “you must sing.” Rather, we are commanded to be filled with the Holy Spirit and as a result we have a melody in our hearts which should naturally lead to song.
Now, Steve and I still end up at the same point. Like him I believe you should be singing in church. It’s not just about obeying a command because I have to but rather that God works on our hearts. The Lord invites us and draws us into song.
However, my take leaves me with two additional comments to make. The first is this. If there is meant to be joy, then there is a responsibility on those writing and choosing songs. We cannot simply say “You’ve got to sing this song, it’s a command, look at the words.” We have a responsibility to think about the choice of songs and music. We do have a responsibility to think about what people will connect with, what they will enjoy singing.
Secondly, I don’t think that this emphasis on joy and invitation lets us off the hook and prevents us from singing. We are still corporately responsible for one another. We cannot separate ourselves off from the church and forget we are connected to the other members. So, this means that we will want to join in with the joyful singing of the congregation. This may even include training our tastes to enjoy music that wouldn’t be our natural preference. It means that we should not be obviously reluctantly mouthing the words but fully joining in. It certainly means that we shouldn’t be looking glum or worse still, sniggering behind our hymnbooks. Why? Well because we want to encourage our brothers and sisters and to share in their joy.
So prayerfully prepare for church this Sunday. There may well be a few hymns or songs not to your taste but ask God to help you to join in and enjoy singing worship together.
 Incidentally, when I talk about joy and enjoyment here, I don’t think that means we are meant to be always singing bouncy happy songs. Rather, I would suggest that joy, properly speaking means that our emotions are fully satiated and given voice to. That is perhaps an article for another day.
 Yes I know, these are usually metaphorical these days due to the use of projectors and screens.