One offshoot of the conversation about how long should a sermon be has been some conversation about how much time we should give to singing. In jest, intended as a bit of a light hearted poke at the way people were getting dogmatic about the 20 minute or the 40 minute sermon, I ran a poll on twitter about how long a song should be. However, it seemed to get more traction than most of my polls so that here are the results.
How long should a worship song/hymn last?
Well done to whoever you are that are holding out for the full Hillsong extended 7 plus minutes with instrumental break and wailing experience! And at the other end of the spectrum are those who think that the original author of “Here is Love vast as the ocean” got things about right.
More seriously, I wanted to pick up on a couple of things from the ensuing discussion. First, the question provoked a return to the perennial debate about type of song. Should we sing hymns which step through doctrinal truth in systematic order or should we sing contemporary(ish) songs that rely on the repetition of a few lines or themes? Note that this is about style not age with many modern songs following the style and form of traditional hymns. This reminded me of the apocryphal tale of the reformed Baptist talking to the Pentecostal.
RB: Why are your songs so shallow. You repeat a few lines again and again. We honour God and so glorify him with our hymns that convey deep doctrinal truths.
P: Why are your hymns so shallow. You are so quick to rush on from thought to thought with no time to pause and meditate deeply. We prefer to honour God and glorify him by taking time to dwell on one thought which causes great joy and praise to well up inside us and overflow in song.
Or to give another angle. Here’s an exchange on the subject of bridges between me and my friend Jim Sayers.
Perhaps there might be something healthy about saying “we don’t want to leave this moment just yet.” The point is that we can misunderstand and judge others leading to presumptions about their depth. Further, we see that there is room for a range of styles and approaches to worship. We need those hymns that mine deep into the riches of Biblical truth but we also need space to meditate on the delights of knowing God.
The other question that came up is whether we give too much attention to singing and music, not just time wise but in terms of discussion. The argument made was that the New Testament has very little to say about singing. Should we give more attention to those bits of our meetings that the NT focuses on.
I’ve argued before that there are no prescriptive commands on what we should sing in church and I’d agree that this also means that there is no prescription on how much time we should spend singing. However, I would argue that the New Testament, indeed the whole Bible gives verey little detail on what we should do in our meetings (a problem with the so called Regulative Principle).
Yet, when I read Ephesians 5 and see that being filled with the Spirit leads to a welling up of thanksgiving, praise and song then I would suggest that although we don’t have those detailed commands about what to sing, there is a sense in which Scripture expects that our gatherings will naturally be full of music and song.