As we begin to emerge from our past public health crisis, one of the things many of us look forward to doing again is singing together! A lot of what happens during a typical Sunday service happens individually but without too much interaction—listening to a sermon, reading Scripture (or hearing it read to us), giving, even taking communion. They’re done simultaneously, but not necessarily together.
There’s nothing wrong with “simultaneously but individually,” but the purposes aren’t significantly impacted if we do them in private. The same objectives can be easily accomplished via online calls or a livestream. In some ways, online church in small groups has brought a greater depth to my Sunday service experiences this past year because of some of the interactive elements that were incorporated; I hope churches can adapt some of these richer experiences for in-person services in the future.
But singing is different. Besides the new technical challenges of online audio from multiple sources, there is a different experience of God’s presence when we are physically gathered together. When we gather to sing, we worship both simultaneously and together. We need each other to experience God fully. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why God said in Genesis, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”
Singing can also be done individually, and singing privately should happen on a regular basis. Our voices are a musical instrument that is available to every person, free of charge! There is no special training required to use our voices for worship.
Singing for worship is not the result of musical excellence; it comes from an adoring heart. It is built not on skill or knowledge of music theory, but upon passion for and relational experience with God. Depth and enjoyment (both God’s pleasure and our own) in worship are based on intimacy, not ability.
Worshipping through singing is not meant to be an either/or decision: corporate or private. We need both to grow fully. The pandemic lockdown of 2020 revealed to many churches, including this one, that corporate worship (not just singing) has for too long been emphasized over the value of—and at the expense of—private worship.
One area of growth for our church during the safer-at-home orders is technology. While the learning curve has been steep, it’s been something we will continue to use and leverage as we transition back to in-person services. It has its challenges, but it also has its benefits.
One way we want to leverage technology is to help our church grow in worship through music. It’s tempting to want to come back together and focus on singing the songs we knew before the lockdown, but our unchanging God is doing a new thing. This includes releasing new songs to his children on earth. And the fact is, we should not be the same church we were in 2019. After a life-changing year, we hopefully have grown and changed for the better.
Each month, we will be focusing on learning a new song. Technology can aid us in this process. Before the pandemic, most people would hear and sing the song once a week for three Sundays in a row and assume they should be able to learn it and be comfortable with it, even without hearing it throughout the week. No self-respecting music teacher would ever teach like that and expect success, yet that was the norm for congregations around the country and world. Learning music takes frequent and repeated practice, and technology is a useful tool for congregations to accomplish that.
More than learning the melody and rhythm and lyrics of the song, we want to help followers of Jesus internalize the truths expressed and to worship more deeply because they are more comfortable with the music.
This. takes. time. We could easily settle for familiar songs and be content, but a heart that is growing in the Lord will not be satisfied. And every song we currently love and consider familiar was at one point a new song that—with repetition and time—became a favorite.
Not every song needs to be everyone’s favorite. As music students increase their repertoire, they don’t love every piece they learn. But every piece has elements within it that deepen their skill as a musician. The same is true for a church’s worship repertoire. We don’t have to love every song we learn, but we can grow in our relationship with God when we allow him to teach us through each piece and seek his heart in the truths that are expressed.
Each month, we will post the new song and some thoughts about how it fits into the current life and times of our church. We encourage you to break down the learning process instead of trying to learn the whole song with one hearing. (Again, no self-respecting music teacher would ever expect that! Why would a church?)
- Take your time to listen before you even try to sing along. Allow what God has to show you to come to the surface. We can only worship him because he empowers us to do so. Give him time and space to empower you.
- As you become more familiar with the song, let what he has planted in you come out as you begin to learn it.
- When you’re comfortable with the music, feel free to make it your own expression of worship!
- Sing just the parts that move your spirit.
- Add your own harmonies.
- Sing as Holy Spirit leads you to add your own words to the song! Unlike music students, you won’t be assessed for adhering to the demo.
This does not mean we are never going to sing familiar songs from our past! God is Lord over the past, present, and future, and he did something amazing when those old favorites were new. We want to remember and testify to his faithfulness over the years. However, we want to posture ourselves to receive all that God is continuing to do for, in, and through us. Hearts that are open to learning new songs are indicative of hearts that are open to following God into new seasons.