on worship, singing, and the gathered church

It’s not a particularly new concern, but I think the current state of singing in churches is something that needs attention. My own context is a relatively independent evangelical Protestant church with little history or tradition beyond the past 10-15 years, so that affects my perception of the situation. I hope it’s different in other places, but from all accounts I’m hoping against hope.

There’s a substantial conflation of “worship” with “singing” which causes a lot of issues. Typically the reasonably aware church leader will eschew it, noting that the preaching of the word, communion, and serving in different roles are ways to worship, but the way each aspect of a weekly gathering are denoted would show, I suspect, that invitations to worship are almost exclusively given in reference to singing along when songs are performed.

Another frequently observed concern is the performance mentality of much that passes for congregational music. A friend who teaches music has noted the tendency of bands in church settings to almost completely fill up the space available for sound, so that the voices of the people singing are crowded out and pointless. That doesn’t promote participation.

Thin songs, in terms of both content and music, are another barrier to singing. There are exceptions, but too much of what gets put forward for singing lacks much to recommend it either from what’s being communicated by the words or how it can be sung by the typical person in attendance. Modern music written and played on radio stations is often not that appropriate for group singing. It’s interesting to note the number of traditional hymns being reworked by current composers. Perhaps there’s a nod to what’s being missed.

Could the culture shift again? I hope so. My memories of congregational singing when I was growing up are mixed. Overall, though, the effect of the time spent singing then was rather different that the effect now, and something important is missing and needs to be refreshed.

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