Tag Archives: music

Have church people stopped singing?

It seems to me that church people don’t sing like they used to.

First, a few caveats:

  1. I really don’t know about churches aside from the ones we visit and when we visit we generally visit Nazarenes and their kin.
  2. Of course, I don’t know about YOUR church – maybe people there sing to the top of their lungs.
  3. And, of course, I’m not talking about YOU.  You may be on the Praise Team with a microphone and singing loud and strong throughout the worship service.

Now, with all that out of the way, let me tell you what I’m seeing.  We are pretty much professional church visitors through most of the year.  The worship service in the vast majority of the churches we visit looks and sounds pretty much the same:

  1. There’s a Praise Band: guitar, keyboard, bass, drums – maybe other keyboard instruments (in interest of full disclosure, I play bass guitar whenever I am asked)
  2. There are singers with microphones who sing with energy
  3. The words are on the screen
  4. Everyone is standing anytime there is music being played

So far so good.  We have music being played – generally well played.  We have leaders who are singing out.  We have the words and, most often, a repeatable melody.

But very few people are singing.  Usually, the church leaders are really into it: hands and faces raised in worship.  Scattered around the congregation are others who are singing along.  However, they are the minority.  My most generous estimate is that 1 in 10 worshipers are singing.  Everyone else is just standing there.

Maybe that’s not all bad.  Maybe they are carefully listening to the words, reading them on the screen and being deeply moved by it all.  I don’t know their hearts and I understand that it’s really none of my business.  My business is to be in the moment, turning my thoughts and spirit away from the mundane things of life and focusing on the Lord.

However, my hip starts aching after a while and it starts feeling to me like we’re saying the same words over and over again.  I can’t help but wonder how much longer we’re going linger at this particular stage of worship.

So, I start looking around, being impressed by the sincerity of the folks who are, apparently, really into the worship service.  But I also note that a lot of folks are just standing there like me.

I know I’m one of the senior citizens now and the old people always complain that things used to be better – longing for the good old days.  I don’t want to be one of those people.   I think the point could be made that people just don’t sing any more.  Rather, they go to concerts, stand and listen while people on stage do the singing.  I’m convinced that the concert goers aren’t there for a show, and they really do worship.  Maybe when those concert goers go to church they treat the worship service as another Christian music concert.  They are there to worship but not to sing.

Still, I keep going back to a worship service we attended  in a large church a couple of years ago.  We were near the front, center and, yes, we were standing for the whole song service.  There was a Praise Band and singers with microphones and words on the screens.  There was also a pipe organ and grand piano.  And we were singing a 250 year old Wesley hymn.

The congregation was singing their hearts out.  At first I joined in, singing bass as best I could.  Then I became overwhelmed and had to stop singing.  I just stood there letting the sound of all the voices wash over me.

I miss being part of a congregation that sings like that.

And, by the way, my hip didn’t hurt at all that day.

Sing it right! “Christ Arose”

There are a lot of great Easter songs, both old and new.  However, I think my all time favorite is Robert Lowry’s “Christ Arose.”  “Up from the grave he arose” never fails to get my spiritual heart to pumping!  This old song, to me, captures the resurrection with powerful words and a simple melody that the congregation can sing with joyful abandon.

But many churches don’t know how to sing it!

The song is supposed to contrast between “low in the grave he lay” and “up from the grave he arose.”   The verse is “in the grave.”  It’s a funeral song.  The chorus is Easter resurrection: victory over the grave.  It’s exciting and joyful – maybe even a little giddy.

The verse and chorus aren’t supposed to be sung at the same speed.   Stated simply, sing the chorus at twice the speed of the verse.  Don’t over think it – sing the chorus like you are four years old at a birthday party and having the time of your life.

Then, Lowry ingeniously puts the brakes on with the final lines of the chorus, preparing the singers to slow down again for the next verse.

Please share this with every worship leader you know who, having never heard this song sung right before, are destroying (yes, it’s an over-statement) an awesome Easter hymn!

During Communion

Traveling as we do we see different approaches to the elements of worship. That’s especially true when we visit churches outside our own Zion, but often even different churches of our own denomination have approaches to things that are new to us.

We visited one church in which the bulletin directed us to receive the elements whenever we wanted upon receiving them. They passed the trays and most everyone received them immediately. Those in the front of the church got theirs first, received them, and then waited for the service to continue. I didn’t like that very much because it seemed to take the “union” out of comm-union for me.

Other churches may instruct people to wait for further instructions but they have a congregational song going throughout the distribution of elements. At one place the minister was almost shouting over the praise band, instructing us to “take and eat.” I found myself wanting to say “hush!” to the singers so I could not only contemplate what the Lord did and is doing for me but also hear what the minister was saying.

Since I believe this sacrament is, indeed, “a means of grace” I want to be given a bit of spiritual space when I receive it. Time spent holding the symbols of our Lord’s broken body and shed blood while others are being served is one way that can happen. Also, some quiet time, maybe with just some soft instrumental music, helps me listen to the “still, small voice” of God.

Contemporary Worship: things that bug me

No, I’m not going to complain about the style of music or being asked to stand through the song -er- worship service. Here are three contemporary worship services practices that I am seeing that bug me.

  1. Volume of instruments in the praise band. This may surprise you, but I’m not talking about the music being too loud. We seldom come away from a service in a church of our flavor (Church of the Nazarene) thinking the music is too loud. What I do hear fairly often, though, is unbalanced volume from the various instruments in the band. Often, even when the stage has several instruments, the only two I can hear clearly are the strumming of the worship leader on the guitar and the drummer. If you closed your eyes you would think that was all there was: no keyboard, no bass, no second guitar. Of course there are variations to that. Sometimes the music guy plays keyboard and it’s the keyboard you hear. Really, if you are going to recruit instrumentalists to your praise band and have them come to rehearsal it’s reasonable that your music and sound people work together to balance the sound. Obviously, there are exemptions – maybe you have a not-so-talented musician that you want to encourage by having them sit in. Aside from that, though, an effort needs to be made to equalize the sound.
  2. Self-serve communion. It is becoming more common to put the communion elements out and announce to the congregation that during the next song they can come and receive communion if they want. I can’t tell you what poor symbolism I think this is. Communion isn’t a self-serve event. It isn’t an “if you want it” kind of ordinance. Just continuing with the music portion of the service as though communion is just a side line misses the mark. I love communion and I think it has enough spiritual “weight” to hold it’s own in a service. I don’t mind the ritual being updated in some reasonable ways, but I want the pastor to lend his/her authority to the serving of the sacrament.  It bugs me to hear the pastor taking time to do announcements as though that is really important stuff but leaving the serving of the Lord’s Supper on automatic as though it’s just an optional part of that Sunday’s worship service.
  3. Preaching from floor level rather than the platform. I understand the desire of pastors to be informal and approachable during the sermon. I understand that in a contemporary worship service the speaker doesn’t want to appear preachy. Apparently, a lot of pastors have decided that, not only do they not want a pulpit, but they want to be down front rather than on the stage looking down on people. But let me tell you what happens out in the seats: some of us spend the whole sermon trying to look around the people in front of us. After awhile I gain a whole new appreciation for Zacchaeus of New Testament fame who climbed a tree so he could get a glimpse of Jesus. If the speaker would just stand on the platform we could all see him or her. Some pastors think they are enhancing their communication effort by staying off the platform, but I think they are shooting themselves in the foot by creating an absolutely unnecessary distraction.

Any time I see young adults in the church who are really into worship it blesses my heart and I’m happily convinced that a lot of contemporary churches are doing a lot of things right.  Still, I have to confess that these things bug me.

How about you?