Worship Week: Opening Ceremony for Singing in Church

Worship Week: Opening Ceremony for Singing in Church July 29, 2012

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

Such is the cry of my heart as we launch this opening ceremony to what I am calling Worship Week here at Bill in the Blank at Patheos.

No, Mr. Bean will not be making a cameo — although I’ve been told I inadvertently resemble him at times by my loving sister-in-law.

One commentator called my recent post “Why I’ve Stopped Singing in Your Church” another battle in the Worship Wars of the Church. I certainly don’t see it that way. Nor do I want there to be wars in the Church. No one wins then, least of all our Savior whose Church it is. I prefer the unity mindset symbolized by the Olympic games rather than the destructive language of war.

The heart of worship

My prayer is that the guest posts to be featured each morning during this Worship Week series will offer a spectrum of opinions and responses to my post. Not all will agree. But I pray all will be helpful, challenging, and promote more discussion on this most important of topics — the worship of our awesome God.

I believe that in light of Jesus’ passionate prayer (“May they be One”)  that we must not settle for accepting friction in the Church by either starting yet another denomination or sitting it out altogether. We must strive first to understand and then to be understood. Unite more. Divide less.

But all true unity rests on truth. And all true worship MUST be done “in spirit and truth.” What that means will likely be the topic of much discussion this week.

If you think they have value, share the posts this week via Facebook and other social media. Weigh in with a comment. Perhaps God can use our feeble words to spark growth in His people. I know He has already done so in my own heart through your loving communication with me the last two weeks.

And don’t forget to subscribe to this blog in the upper right to follow along. At least you’ll have a chance at a free book with more helpful thoughts on worship.

As warm-up acts for the guest posts,  I’ll share a few links here to excellent reactions to my post and a couple worthy contributions sent via e-mail.

Valuable worship links

The Problem with People Talking Too Much about Church Music by Kurt Knecht (1 of 3 posts). Kurt is an accomplished organist as evidenced here.

Why I Stopped Smiling While Reading Your Blog Post by Susanna Hindman. Clever title and her daughter and my niece share the same name. How cool is that!

Worship Songwriting: What is the GQ (God Quotient) of Our Worship Songs?  by Mark Snyder at The Worship Community — terrific resource.

Valuable perspectives on worship

Here are few samples of submitted thoughts to light the torch of discussion:

Whether to sing hymns or contemporary songs with a worship team is, in my opinion, a sad debate that can be joined by ‘Why don’t people dress as formally as they used to for church?’ among others. Times change, as do styles, expectations, etc. Certain churches are very stoic, more so by the nature of the heritage of the people that attend than anything else. Other churches are very charismatic. To raise your hands, to not raise your hands. To clap, or dance, or sing, or WHATEVER the argument may be, what difference does it really make? That’s the beautiful thing about this country, as we are FREE to express & worship our GOD and our LORD in whatever way we are most comfortable. So if formal hymns are what you prefer, sing them! But if a rockier version of Amazing Grace speaks to others who perhaps were formerly unchurched, lost, from a different generation, or simply  made to feel more comfortable in that style and setting, aren’t the important aspects here, the FACT that they are attending, worshipping, believing, learning, and walking with God?  ~ Beth Freed

Another take from a musical expert:

Many congregations have forgotten, or haven’t been taught that they are supposed to sing, or how to sing.  I think they believe they are an “audience” rather than a congregation.

Because of this, our praise music writers are writing music for an audience rather congregations.

·         A congregation needs songs they can learn to sing.

·         They need songs that are group minded.

·         They need songs that are tuneful.

·         They need leaders that desire and know how to encourage everyone to participate.

·         They need authors who write compelling and truthful lyrics.

·         They need song writers who know what a compelling song sings like.

~ Gregory D. Zielke DMA, Director, Music Program at Grace University

A reflective offering:

When word came of the death of organist and composer Austin C. Lovelace (2010), it brought back for me a host of memories….

I remember one class in particular. Several of the hymns on which I had been nurtured fell under his analytical eye. I was being forced to reexamine the very roots of my faith. At one point, after his critique, I muttered under my breath: “Well, there goes another hymn!” The room grew quiet, and I realized that it wasn’t quite as “under my breath” as I had thought. I could have crawled under the desk. To my great relief, Dr. Lovelace chose to use the incident as a teaching moment, one that still shapes me.

He explained that there is a theology in every hymn text and that what we sing is more likely to be remembered. It was clear that he had little patience with shallow and one dimensional theology. He insisted that, especially in the choice of hymns, we were obligated to teach the whole gospel. In like manner, he believed that we were obligated to use excellent and shun trite music. He explained that some tunes are more singable than others. He pointed out that wide note ranges in a tune were hard, if not impossible, for some people to sing, and that wide jumps between notes in the tune were to be avoided. He explained that texts and tunes should correspond well – that the natural rhythms of the music should fit the structure of syllables in the text.

It was as if he were saying: “The tune and the text should not fight with each other.” His patient explanation of his criteria for good hymns has served me well in ministry, and has shaped and mentored me in ways I am still discovering.

~ F. Richard Garland, songwriter, retired pastor

And finally, from a teen-age reader:

 I am a fifteen-year-old girl from a large, liberal university town. I’ve been involved with a fairly traditional Presbyterian church for my entire life. Many of my acquaintances (largely of the budding-hippie variety) have invited me to worship at their own houses of worship, concerned that I could be growing up to be a cold-in-the-mold conservative. (I’m not, for the record; I just don’t smoke weed.) I’ve accompanied them to Buddhist temple, synagogue, mosque, and Unitarian Universalist congregation. Each of these experiences were enriching to my faith in one way or another.

However, when I followed a friend into worship at one of the “New” mega-churches, I actually was moved to tears by the worship service. Not because of feelings of heavenly grace washing over me, or because of some deep, fundamental connection with the words of the sermon. Nothing like that. No; the excessive simplicity of the music being played (which, as a classical musician, was offensive in itself) was glamorized to the point where I forgot I was in a house of worship and began to believe that I was at a rock concert. The text of the music was condescended to the intellectual and theological comprehension level of a sack of potatoes. The focus was shifted from God (for whom I was there in the first place) to the musicians’ limited musical ability and overflowing showmanship.

As I mentioned, I cried.

Worship music should not be transparent. It must have theological meaning, depth; something to chew on. A musician of any kind is a vessel for the music. He is entitled to embellish that music and show his emotional connection to it, but if it is not music he himself has written, he is not entitled to take away from the music or distract from it, especially if the intention is to praise or glorify our Father with that music.

I may be young, but I think I understand what praise is supposed to be. In some places, we’ve lost that.

What do you think? Is there hope for the body of Christ to find unity on key worship principles? Let the comments begin with a click here.

Worship Week: Post 1  ~ Completely Missing the Point of Worship

Worship Week: Post 2 ~ How Worship Music Destroyed Me: From Bitterness to Blessing

Worship Week: Post 3 ~ Why Good Church Music Is So Hard to Find

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  • Kara

    A few thoughts….
    (1) If you are going to sing traditional hymns, please use all the verses. Limiting to #1&4 leaves our so much of the theological depth. Who watches only the first and last 15 min of a movie.
    (2) If you are going to focus on praise worship, please keep repeats to a reasonable level. At some point I am reminded of a scratched record & the “meaningless repitition” warning.

    • Well said! Do you mean you don’t just watch the begining and ends of movies? Here I thought I was saving so much time…

  • I am seriously humbled and blessed by your reaction to my response. Slightly freaked out about being linked because of the whole shy thing, but definitely humbled and blessed 🙂 I’m praying that what I’ve written, what you’ve written, and the week of focused thought on this topic will bring unity to the body, glory to God, and will root our hearts in truth. Thanks Bill.

    • Thank you! Spread the word about the posts this week if you don’t mind. Quite a good mix of thoughtful perspectives.

  • Having just come from helping at our diocesan teen camp, I experienced camp music which the kids seemed to enjoy. I think the music connected to them not because of the style, it was the substance. At one of the services we had an offering by two counselors, a violin and flute offering without words and the kids loved it.

    I think the music needs to connect with the congregation and it can be traditional or contemporary or both, but it needs to be thought through and done well.

  • DEE


    • Dee,

      I’m with you on women dressing appropriately. I hate attending churches where my 8-year-old sons have to shield their eyes to get in and out of the building.

      Thanks for the comment.

    • nicole

      I assure you that god doesn not care who is wearing what. Rediculous.

  • Andy Vandervliet

    I also have a problem with the songs we sing. The problems are a little different than yours. We have a fairly good mixture of old and new songs, but my problem is speed. I seem to be the only one who is sensative about the speed at which we sing a song. I’ve sung quite a few solo’s and it seems it’s the only time I can really enjoy singing because I can sing at my speed. My question for you would be, is there any rules set in stone that a certain song has to be sung at a certain speed?
    Thanks Andy,

    • Afraid I don’t know of any such rules although I have noticed the same thing. I suggest lovingly talking to the worship leaders in your church to make your concerns known.

  • crystalgarrison

    I too love music and when I being part of the universal, invisible church attend a building called
    ‘Church’ I hope to find music. We all know what to expect at Christmas for music either in or outside
    of the building called church. Likewise, we all know what to expect for worship music. The criteria to be held for worship music is this: Scripture set to music or is a hymn our ancestors sung and familiar to many. I am so saddened to
    attend large and amazing churches only to have my ears and Spirit assaulted by harsh tones and chaos. I also do
    cringe to see among the worship performers ‘leaders’ a token female swooning and loving on the microphone. How is God getting the glory in this? How many famous worldly singers have attained fame, starting on church stage only to go on and live like the world? We can make a change by creating in each city and town a house of goodworshipful music with souls who have a heart to worship. This can be done without a fight when we pray and those on the narrow path agree and lead out. Since the change in music, promoted by seminaries, churches have been closing their doors. Merely cause and affect which is not rocket science.