WHY DO WE SING AT CHURCH?
JASON MIN | APR 24, 2018 | 10 MIN READ
Given the rapidly increasing popularity of worship movements like Hillsong, Bethel, and Jesus Culture, many wonder whether the church today has placed too much weight on the role of music in corporate worship.
But I would argue that our view of music in the church - specifically congregational singing - is not weighty enough.
What’s the Point?
A Sunday service without singing would feel empty or, at the very least, extremely awkward. But why?
Is singing just an appetizer for the sermon? Is it only for those who are more emotionally-driven? To spice up a church service to attract non-believers?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you probably 1) don’t mind being late to service as long as you make it in time for the sermon, 2) don’t pay much attention to the words you’re singing, or 3) don’t sing at all if the songs being played don’t pull at your heartstrings.
And if the answers to the above questions are indeed “yes,” then perhaps singing isn’t all that important in the life of a believer.
But we see throughout Scripture that we are commanded not just to worship, but specifically to sing. There are more than 400 verses in the Bible that reference singing, nearly 50 of them being direct commands.
Psalm 96 opens with these words, “Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!” We’re commanded in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 to sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” to one another whenever we gather. While worship is undoubtedly much more than just singing, we would be remiss not to see the inextricable connection between the two.
So why then do we sing at church? In addition to the fact that the Bible commands it, what is it about singing that is unique and absolutely integral to our spiritual growth as followers of Christ?
Singing Helps Us Remember and Reflect
Ever wonder how the same high school students who have trouble memorizing a few SAT words can recite every word off the latest Chance the Rapper album? I have a two-year-old daughter, and I can tell you that she knew all the words of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” before she spoke her first sentence.
Studies have shown that music is one of the most powerful memorization tools because of its use of mnemonic devices and patterns. If we truly believe the words of God are life, then what better way than to rehearse these words through song and store them in our hearts and minds as we face the harsh realities of a broken world? When I find myself in seasons of doubt, uncertainty, and anxiety, often the first words that come to mind are those that I’ve sung in church.
Furthermore, we live in a digital age in which we are bombarded with information and images that make it extremely difficult for us to spend meaningful time in meditation and reflection. If you’re anything like me, maintaining a singular thought without distraction, let alone praying or reading the Word, often feels next to impossible.
But singing has a way of focusing our attention on the words and phrases being sung, allowing them to resonate more deeply within our souls.
Singing Unites the Gathered Church
The singing of a song in a group may be one of the most unifying events in our lives. Every sporting event in America opens with the Star-Spangled Banner. And for those brief few minutes, it doesn’t matter which team you’re rooting for. You stand and sing in solidarity with every person in that arena or stadium.
This is precisely what happens when the church sings together: We are united.
And it’s okay that not everyone has a voice like Bruno Mars. In fact, this is the very thing that makes congregational singing so beautiful. You have male and female, old and young, baritones and sopranos, soft and loud - all singing together in harmony about God.
Because when we sing together, we paint the fullest picture of the church — a body that consists of people from all walks of life who lend their unique gifts and experiences, cover weaknesses, and celebrate our strengths.
In that way, we’re not simply singing to God. We’re singing to one another. The next time you sing words like, “Through the calm and the storm in the chaos, though the mountains will crumble You will not, never failing Your promise eternal,” know that you could be singing these words to the person sitting next to you whose mother or father has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness or the person in front of you who is struggling with self-doubt and insecurity.
The truths that we sing each week aren’t just reminders for us. They are opportunities to preach the gospel to those around us, to be the bride of Christ we are called to be.
Singing Engages Our Entire Being
In Mark 12:30, Jesus reminds us of the greatest commandment to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Singing helps us to do just that, engaging every part of our being - head, heart, and hands - in worship to God.
Most of us would agree that music kindles our innermost affections, and that singing the words “It is well with my soul” somehow feels more powerful than simply saying them. But what many of us don’t realize is that singing is also an exercise of the mind and strength. We not only learn and meditate on the truths of Scripture while we sing, but we also literally use our lungs and diaphragms to push the notes out of our mouths.
What if I Don’t Feel Like Singing?
I know I’m not alone when I say that there are so many Sunday mornings when I have absolutely no desire to sing (and this is coming from someone who leads worship for a living). Maybe you just fought with a loved one. Maybe you’re dealing with intense pain or stress. Maybe you feel like a complete fraud.
For those of us who find ourselves unmotivated or unworthy to sing, remember this.
Singing is not just our response to the gospel. It is the very means by which we receive the gospel. In Psalm 103, David cries out,
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
Notice that David is speaking to none other than himself. He is speaking words of renewal to a heart that is prone to wander and forget the promises of God secured for us on the cross of Jesus Christ.
We sing not because we feel like it, but because singing itself is an act of faith, trusting that the One who redeemed us can now help us do that which is pleasing to Him.
This Sunday, as we gather together with the people of God, let us be reminded of the gift that is congregational singing. May we sing with hearts of gladness, joy, and thanksgiving for who God is and what He’s done.
Jason Min is the Worship Director at Sovereign Grace Church in Los Angeles, where he has been serving since 2013. A native of Cerritos, CA, Jason earned his B.A. in Communications and History at the University of Pennsylvania, his Masters of Education at Harvard University, and is currently working towards an M.A. in Biblical Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary. Jason is happily married to Carol and has two children, Avery and Jack.
Listen to SGLA’s first worship album here.