A few years ago I wrote an article entitled, ‘The Slow Death of Congregational Singing’ (The Briefing, April 2nd, 2008). I now believe my title was too generous. In fact, what we are witnessing in our churches is ‘The Slow Killing of Congregational Singing’. I’ve just returned from another National Christian conference. Never have so many people complained to me about the singing. So, I am motivated to write again. Or, to use a more appropriate metaphor, to bang the same drum—but louder.
Here is a great historical irony. Fifty years ago choirs ruled the church. Usually, they were supported by a very loud organ. To be frank, many choir members were performers, and when the choir was large they drowned out the singing of the congregation. So, sadly, the very people appointed to help the congregation sing actually smothered congregational singing. Bit by bit, choirs disappeared. I think most churches didn’t mourn the loss.
Here’s the irony: we then replaced the choirs with song leaders (or, what we inaccurately call ‘worship leaders’). Over time the number of song leaders grew and grew until they became as big as a choir. Then we gave the song leaders full-volume microphones and electrical instruments, and many became performers. When the music team was large and the microphones were turned up they drowned out the congregation. So, sadly, the very people appointed to help the congregation sing actually smothered congregational singing.
I’ve just returned from another National Christian conference. Never have so many people complained to me about the singing. So, I am motivated to write again. Or, to use a more appropriate metaphor, to bang the same drum—but louder.
Paul tells us in Ephesians that we should be, “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs…” (5:19). Similarly, in Colossians we are exhorted to, “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (3:16). Singing is a corporate activity with a dual focus. We sing “to one another” and we sing “to God”. But now in many (most?) churches we are sung to by the musicians.
In the past I’ve been reluctant to accuse our worship teams of being primarily performers. I now believe I was wrong. Evidence suggests that most are performers, and the needs of the congregation they are meant to be ministering to are forgotten. Why do I say this?
Signs of Trouble
First, they don’t look at the congregation they’re meant to be leading. The musicians can, perhaps, be excused here but not the song leaders. I tell preachers I mentor there is nothing more important in delivery than eye contact. People must know that you are talking to them, and you must be able to see that they are attentive to your words. This is also true for the song leaders. Indeed, they need both eye and ear contact. Are people singing the songs they’re leading? In most cases I observe that it’s irrelevant to the song leaders whether the people are singing or not. Why? I conclude because the singing event is primarily about them.