Keith Getty is the coauthor of the song “In Christ Alone” along with dozens of other modern hymns. Currently, he and his wife Kristyn are out on their “Joy: An Irish Christmas” concert tour. I would urge you to read what Keith has to say and then immediately get tickets for a concert tour stop near you. I’ve seen a preview of the concert and it is amazing in so many ways. Check out the video at the bottom of this post about the tour.
Thanks to Keith Getty for these thoughts about how and why we worship.
5 Reasons We Should Sing Passionately and Loudly in Church by Keith Getty
Each week, upwards of 100 million people in America make it a point to attend church, listen responsively to the sermons, and pray sincerely. But when it comes time to sing the hymns, the level of engagement drops hugely and seems to be continuing in its decline, quite dramatically.
There are many proposed reasons for the fall off, all of which hold validity: the wider culture’s waning interest in community singing, to the diminishing levels of music education in the west and particularly the role of choirs in schools, to the unstable and increasingly narcissistic elements in church music, to the spiritual state of our nation itself.
Music, for millennia, has been an integral part of corporate worship. The first hymns are as old as the early books of the Bible. The disciples and early church planters sang those songs and added their own. Notable thinkers throughout history and to the current era – from Luther to Bach to John Newton – have all so-believed in the importance of corporate worship that they, too, have contributed to the grand canon of hymns we know today.
As I travel to cities in America and beyond, I love to meet pastors and worship leaders and encourage them to lead their congregations in deeper and more passionate singing. Here are just five of the many reasons we should all sing passionately in church this Sunday:
1) We are commanded to sing!
We are called to sing; indeed, the Scriptures command us – more than 250 times – that we are to sing. It’s hardly one of those “controversial” issues that is hard to ascertain precisely what scripture is saying.
It’s not a choice; it’s not dependent on “feeling like it;” it’s not our prerogative. Throughout Biblical history, in every place and circumstance; in victory, in defeat; in celebrations and festivals; in death and mourning; singing was second nature for people of faith. Indeed, the largest book of the Bible is itself a songbook, exploring the range of human experience and interaction with God through singing.
In the New Testament, Paul teaches the early churches that they are to get together and sing. In Ephesians 5, he reiterates the call of old to engage with each other in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, making music from the heart.
2) Singing together completes our joy
Celebrating with each other is as natural as breathing. At your kid’s soccer game or when we watch football or March Madness, it’s not enough for our team to win, we want to revel in the moment and share it with other people. Marking a birthday, winning a prize, getting a raise are incomplete until we get to share them with whom we love. For those where faith is central, the joy of living, of praying, of studying Scripture cannot be complete until shared. Singing together reminds us, not just intellectually but experientially, that we are not slaves to the rugged individualism often promoted by society but that we’re actually responsible to one another.
CS Lewis believed singing completes our faith, explaining in his book Reflections on the Psalms, “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is appointed consumption.”
3) Singing is an expression of brotherhood and unites generations
Singing together is a picture here on earth of the hope of heaven where every tribe, tongue and nation will sing to God. Throughout history, God’s people have both discovered and affirmed their solidarity in times of celebration and in times of tragedy through singing.
Consider again those first churches Paul was leading. They often had little in common; they were culturally different, citizens of national enemies, sometimes with different religious traditions or no tradition at all, and sometimes even lacking common language or dialect. His admonition in Ephesians is not a simplistic instruction; it was a hard thing. But, all the more is the importance of their (and our) singing together as it was an undeniable expression of their brotherhood and unity.
It is a curious thing that stats may show the subject of congregational singing (or sadly, perhaps, the larger topic of church music) may have caused more splits within Christian communities than any movement since the Reformation. The depth of brotherhood that could have been achieved by something as simple as singing together shines a harsh light on the insensitivity of church members and leadership who have broken congregations over so-called “worship wars.”
4) We are what we sing
Singing affects how we pray, think, feel; it influences our memory banks and even the deepest parts of our subconscious.
My wife, Kristyn, and I have noticed when we sing children’s hymns in the car with our girls they actually behave better than if, say, they were watching television.
At the other end of the scale, my grandfather arrived at church early on Sundays – very early. He sat in the pew, opened a hymnal, and rehearsed the songs to himself over and over. And though I was glad when we visited him, quiet reflection early on a Sunday morning was not my forte. But, many years later, when he was in his nineties and unable to remember my name or how to accomplish even the most basic tasks of daily life, he still could recite or respond to the words of those hymns. They were songs he carried for life, and they brought him considerable peace, even at one of the most difficult stages of life, because they were so deeply engrained to his being.
In Deuteronomy 31, we read the instruction of the Lord to Moses to write down the words of the song he was given and to teach it to his children so that when many evils and trouble befell them, the song would be a reminder to them lest they turn away. If the songs we sing to ourselves and to each other are just of the moment, detached from Scripture and lacking in history or perspective, we’ve little to keep us moored to Truth. But, when we are intentional about singing and about the songs we sing, we build up a testimony that will travel with us through life.
5) Singing bears testimony to our faith
How we sing, if we sing, how passionately we sing – our singing is itself a witness to those looking on; there is no choice in the matter. In the level of our engagement with the songs and participation in the singing, we testify to the joy of an excited believer or betray the chill of a disinterested spectator.
In the New Testament, we read of Christians gathered together and so passionately expressing their faith together in song, the people looking on thought them to be drunk because that’s the only explanation their uniformed experience could provide. Ultimately, those who may feel they are on the outside looking in will, from the deepest part of themselves, respond to authentic and passionate singing to discover the truth held in the God songs we sing.
So as you head to church on Sunday – as overworked dads, stressed out mums, grandparents struggling with health and young people looking for wealth – each of us can, with integrity and with relief, go with repentance and thanksgiving to the One who has created us, forgiven us and lives within us. How can we not sing?
It was King David who, in the aftermath of the debacle of his adultery with Bathsheba, turned to God and said, “…my tongue will sing of your righteousness. Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.” (Psalm 51).