People sing. Everywhere.
In their cars. In the shower. In choirs. At football games. At birthdays. At weddings and funerals. At rock concerts. In musicals and operas. When there’s sunshine. When it rains. When it’s stormy. In the morning, afternoon and night.
But when the church gathers on Sunday morning (or Saturday night, etc.), our earthly voices join the choirs of heaven and the singing is like no other. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been moved as I added my voice to the beautiful, engaging, powerful, awe-inspiring, robust singing of a congregation.
But sometimes our sound is halting and weak. Out of tune and out of time. And not so beautiful. What should we do then?
One common response has been to improve the excellence of our music, art and technology. But that doesn’t automatically solve our problems. Our music might sound better, but our worship might be worse. Consider these recent posts on the downsides of contemporary worship, megachurch worship and celebrity culture worship.
My aim in this post isn’t to critique styles of music or liturgical forms. Rather, I want to highlight some of the differences between people gathering to sing and the church singing. I want to remind us of who it is that’s singing, how we came to sing and Who we’re singing to. In other words, I want to talk about singing as the church.
One of the primary reasons our singing goes awry is because our doctrine of the church, or our ecclesiology, is messed up. Minimal, distorted or non-existent. We forget the church belongs to Jesus, not us. In 1 Corinthians, Paul says God will destroy those who destroy his church (1 Cor. 3:17). That’s a sobering word. It seems some churches today are being destroyed, bit by bit, through musical leadership that confuses what happens on Sunday mornings with something else.
What the Church Isn’t and Is
Recently, I started making a list of the distinctions between singing, say, at a concert, and singing as the church. This isn’t exhaustive, but I’ve tried to include some of the more common areas of potential confusion. Each point contrasts what the Sunday gathering isn’t with what God intends the church to be.
1. First, the Sunday gathering is not a group of Gnostics who are unaffected by their physical, material surroundings. Good aesthetics, skillful communication, undistracting creativity, reliable sound systems, musical gifting and other practical areas can make our meetings more impacting and edifying. God uses physical means expressed through spiritual gifts to accomplish his purposes for the church (Acts 6:1-6; 1 Cor. 12:28; Rom. 12:6-8). Though he doesn’t need them, he chooses to use them.
2. The Sunday gathering is not a random group of individuals who meet once a week but whose lives rarely intersect any other time. The church is the body of Christ and a temple being built together in which God dwells (Eph. 1:22-23; Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:4-5).