Reasons people sing in church


Recently, our lead vocalist opened a conversation with our women’s group on the question of “Why do we sing in church?” This is a topic well worth reflecting on. We want to share some thoughts with you.

We start with a real experience. Some years ago, I (Bob) and my spouse found out that parents of one of my students from mainland China were here in Columbus for their daughter’s Ph.D. graduation and that they were Christians. We invited them to worship with us. Their daughter did all the translations for them since they spoke no English. We could tell they were uncomfortable until the first hymn. They immediately recognized and turned to their Chinese Bible/hymnal and joyfully sang along in Chinese. The language and cultural barriers were melted away by singing. Removing barriers is just one reason we sing in church.

Our use of music in the church starts young. This time of year, many of us can recall learning songs in Vacation Bible School. Some of which I am sure have stuck with you over time. And who cannot enjoy singing along with the kids when they do “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know.”

Music has been an integral part of worship since the beginning of the Christian church. Building upon the rich tradition of the Psalms, the congregational “hymnal” of the Old Testament. The Psalms themselves urge us to worship both corporately and individually through song. (e.g. Psalm 149:1, “Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful.”)

So what do you do when you sing? Building on the work of Tom Olson we can summarize.

• When you sing, you obey. The Bible has over 400 indirect references to singing and at least 50 direct commands to sing. According to the Bible, singing is not really an option, it is commanded. God’s people are commanded to sing. When we sing, we are doing what God asks us to do. Singing can be a way to honor God with our whole being, including our voices.

• When you sing, you dig deep roots into the word. The Apostle Paul admonishes us to “sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God” (Col. 3:16). Singing does not just warm us up for the sermon or just fill some time, singing takes us deeply into scripture. Songs can help people remember God’s word.

• When you sing, you build up others. In community, know that your own singing and that of others, be it choirs, solos or congregation, builds up all. Because it is another way of prayer and study of scripture it builds us up. Singing hymns and songs can help us examine lives against the words we sing and make corrections.

• When you sing, you are spiritually strengthened for trial. A singing heart is a heart that is actively resisting and being built up for the trials of life. We can use as a model, Paul and Silas, when unjustly imprisoned for the sake of the Gospel, sang songs of praise.

• When you sing, you walk a God-designed pathway to joy. Sometimes spontaneously, singing is a path that can release tremendous joy. The deep breath, the release, is a pathway to overcome the obstacles that keep us from joy.

• When you sing, you express unity in glorifying God. As demonstrated by our opening example, singing can help us use words to demonstrate and express unity. Clearly there is great disunity in our world, our nation and even in our churches. Disunity among Christians breaks the heart of God. Singing allows believers to join together as one body to praise God with one voice. Through singing together unity of mind and heart can be achieved.

Many Christians believe singing allows them to express their love, devotion, and gratitude to God that is both communal and personal. Therefore, sing, “make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises” (Psalm 98:4).

Robert J. Gustafson, Ph.D., P.E, is pastor of West Berlin Presbyterian Church, 2911 Berlin Station Road. Amy Martindale is principal vocalist at the church.

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