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Gospel & Art Intersection - Corporate Singing: A Tool for Making Peace and Sharing the Gospel

October 9, 2013 by Robin Reichenberger 6 comments

Posted in: Gospel & Art

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but every Sunday you and I sing together. You might be the person who sings a little, but feels a little awkward about singing because you don’t have a great singing voice, or maybe you just don’t really like to sing. Or, you might be the person who really enjoys that portion of the service because you enjoy singing and using that time for worship.

But have you thought about the fact that when we sing together we are engaging in a sacred form of art that points people to the glory of Jesus?

When Jesus was born, there was a multitude of angels singing to announce his birth:

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Luke 2:13-24

And some day in the future we’ll all join with the angels and sing praises to Jesus in heaven:

And when [the Lamb] had taken [the seal], the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp… And they sang a new song, saying: “

You are worthy…because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”…

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” Revelation 5:8-14

This means that corporate singing is an art form that was created by God to announce his glory and the glory of his Son, and he invites us to be a part of that proclamation!

So, why should we sing together?

  1. We engage in a sacred and heavenly activity when we sing together. Some day when the sky is rolled back and the dead are raised and we see God’s glory with a naked eye, every one of us is going to sing, “Holy! Holy! Holy!” When we sing together, we get a small glimpse of heaven and what it is like to sing around the throne of God.
  2. Singing together unifies us. Science is even beginning to discover that there are physical unifying effects of singing together: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/07/09/200390454/when-choirs-sing-many-hearts-beat-as-one
  3. Corporate singing can be a way of revealing and magnifying the glory of God. Just as through body life we magnify the glory of God as a group far better than we can do on our own, we magnify the glory of God through our corporate singing as well. And, just as the angels sing as a way to announce God’s glory, we can announce the glory of God to the world by lifting our voices as one in praise to Him.
  4. Corporate singing can be a way to proclaim the gospel. Just as the angels sang to announce the glory of the Son of God, so we can proclaim the glory of Jesus through our unified voices. This means that we shouldn’t feel weird when non-believers join us for worship; instead, we should use it to proclaim to them the gospel.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, corporate singing can also have a peace-making effect on society, and as designated peacemakers on this conflict-ridden planet we need all the tools we can get.

  • Corporate singing builds cooperation and respect among peers. When you blend your voice with the voices of others in order to make one glorious sound, it doesn’t matter how you feel about the person sitting next to you. You learn to work together because you’re working toward something that you can’t accomplish alone.
  • Choral singing teaches proper respect for and submission to leadership. Singing as a group requires following a conductor. Through this art form, people discover that they must follow a leader in order to produce beautiful art.
  • Creating and experiencing art changes lives. Choral music can be one of the most powerful forms of art because it provokes a deeply beautiful and profound response in the heart.

We promote this peacemaking tool by engaging in it every Sunday.

People who engage with art do so with all their heart. They put forth effort and employ feeling to create something meaningful that prompts a response. My hope is that we will see our corporate worship as a form of art that proclaims the gospel and that we will engage in it with our hearts to the glory of God.

_________________

 

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,

earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;

snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,

in the bleak midwinter, long ago.

 

Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain;

heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign.

In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed

the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

 

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,

cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;

but only his mother in her maiden bliss,

worshiped the beloved with a kiss.

 

What can I give him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

yet what I can I give him: give my heart.

6 Comments

Robin,
Love your statement "we as a body have to be willing to put forth the effort to engage with congregational singing to the degree where we are bringing praise to God through our singing". I am extremely blessed by your thoughts on singing!

Mike Juday on Oct 22, 2013 at 3:37pm

Mike,

I think if I could amend my comment I would rephrase everything to ask this question: Is the music bringing praise to God? Ultimately, that's the most important thing.

In that same vein, then, if we ask ourselves that question, I agree with you that the music must be that which is capable of being sung by the congregation so that, as you said, the people are able to focus on the praise of God and not on trying to figure out a difficult melody.

I personally find it difficult to sing a song from the heart when I am not familiar with the song. Sheet music is a great idea (if people are able to read music), and posting the music to the blog beforehand is also great. Either way, though, this speaks to the point of my piece: we as a body have to be willing to put forth the effort to engage with congregational singing to the degree where we are bringing praise to God through our singing. It's up to us to go to the blog and learn the song, or read the sheet music to learn the song in order to know it well enough that our hearts are singing on Sunday morning.

And agreed on the Drake or Katy Perry idea...

Robin R. on Oct 21, 2013 at 11:49pm

Robin,

Loved reading your thoughts about contemporary VS hymns. I agree with the majority of what you said. I find that hymns have more words and, more often than not, are written more in story form (many hymns' last stanza is about the coming glory when Christ returns). Of course, not every hymn and contemporary song fit into the extreme categories (i.e. there are hymns that are repetitive and there are contemporary songs that point to truth). I've felt a ton of freedom in the way that SCC does liturgy in that I can teach what a song is about. The song "How He Loves" is a great song that has deep theological truths but it's hard for me to lead a congregation in it until we understand "Why is His love so good?!". In the same way, the hymn "Come Thou Fount" is a great song but I wonder how many people sing "here I raise my Ebenezer" but have no idea what that means. We're able to set up the songs specifically, if they're written in old english or they're super repetitive, with the way SCC does liturgy. I'm also extremely blessed with good music/musicians who value current art with proper doxological lyrics.

In terms of congregational singing, I often think "can the common man & woman sing this song?". The key is very important and especially the range is important. Familiarity is also important but that can be learned. We've, at SCC, considered having sheet music for new songs so that the congregation can read the music. As for now, we post the some of the Sunday songs on our website the Thursday before the worship gathering as to encourage familiarity. I believe that if the congregation is not able to become familiar with a melody after 2 times hearing the song, we're missing the mark. Songs should be simple enough that our minds are focused on the words (as opposed to trying to keep up with the melody) and catchy/creative enough that these words and truths will be stuck in our heads. When hymns started to become more popular, it was because the words were written to common songs (many even bar/drinking songs). I cannot imagine songs today written to the melody of Katy Perry or Drake... no one wants to imagine that.

Mike Juday on Oct 21, 2013 at 2:10pm

Great thoughts, Robin! I always think about singing on Sunday morning as worshiping God, but it is an amazing thought that God uses this to unify us as one body as well.

mandy nagyhetenyi on Oct 10, 2013 at 10:20pm

Mike,

I think there should be a balance between hymns and contemporary music because both have benefits. What I like about hymns and what I think is valuable about hymns is that they present a lot of truth, encouraging a congregation to worship in spirit and in truth (which ultimately is a much more rich form of worship than, say, "emotional" worship). There are many contemporary songs which present truth, but I think some contemporary music tends to focus more on what God does for us rather than pointing us to God himself or to truths about God. This is not always a draw back; it can be beneficial to reflect on what God does in our lives. But if we are not also pointed to truths, which create a foundation on which we can stand through thick and thin, then our worship music can be inadvertently causing us to become wrapped up in our own perceptions of our relationship with the Lord and in our own emotions about that relationship. Again, there is nothing wrong with feeling overcome with how much God loves me, but if I am not also thinking on and meditating on the many other facets of his character, and the constant-ness of who he is beyond my own experiences, then when the next day rolls around and I don't necessarily feel like God loves me, I'm going tempted to be swayed by my emotions and become despondent or self-pitying.

Contemporary music also tends to employ repetitive choruses of simple phrases that may or may not have much content. There is nothing inherently wrong with repetition, and in some contexts our hearts may feel led to repeat the same praise over and over. But again, I think that should be balanced with music which teaches us and refreshes our memory with each new verse; music which engages our minds as well as our hearts.

What I really like about contemporary music (especially the music that has been written the last few years by some of the lesser known artists), and why I listen to it on my own time, is the incorporation of rich and creative music. In some cases of contemporary music, the music and lyrics blend so well that not only am I being enriched by the words because they are full of truth, but the musical element is also enriching me through its creativity, artistry, and beauty.

As to the second question, I have some thoughts, but they're not fully developed. In what way do you think a song is more or less easy to be sung by a congregation? Key (too high or too low)? Tempo? Range of the music (i.e. large jumps between notes; verses that are lower in range and choruses that are higher in range)?

Robin R. on Oct 10, 2013 at 8:34pm

Robin,
Thanks so much for sharing this. I think that you really hit the nail on the head.
What are your thoughts on what hymns VS. more contemporary music? Or if songs are easy to sing with for the congregation?

Mike Juday on Oct 9, 2013 at 2:46pm

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