Looking around the church last Sunday I noticed that the majority weren’t singing. And most of those who were singing barely moved their lips. The only voices I actually heard were those on stage with microphones.
That’s been the case for years now–in churches large and small. What used to be congregational singing has become congregational staring.
Even when the chipper “worship leader” in contemporary churches bounds on stage and predictably beckons everyone to “stand and worship,” the people compliantly obey the stand command, but then they turn into mute mannequins.
What’s behind this phenomenon? What happened to the bygone sounds of sanctuaries overflowing with fervent, harmonizing voices from the pews, singing out with a passion that could be heard down the street? I suspect it’s a number of unfortunate factors.
Spectator set-up. Increasingly, the church has constructed the worship service as a spectator event. Everyone expects the people on stage to perform while the pew-sitters fulfill the expectation of any good audience–file in, be still, be quiet, don’t question, don’t contribute (except to the offering plate), and watch the spotlighted musicians deliver their well-rehearsed concerts.
Professionalism. It seems it’s paramount for church music to be more professional than participatory. The people in the pews know they pale in comparison to the loud voices at the microphones. Quality is worshipped. So the worshippers balk at defiling the quality with their crude crooning. It’s better to just fake it with a little lip syncing.
Blare. The musicians’ volume is cranked up so high that congregants can’t hear their own voices, or the voices of those around them, even if they would sing. So they don’t sing. What would it add? The overwhelming, amplified sound blares from big speakers, obliterating any chance for the sound of robust congregational singing.
Music choice. Sometimes people refrain from singing because the songs are unfamiliar, hard to sing, or just cheesy. Sometimes worship leaders choose a song that may thematically tie into the day’s sermon topic, but it’s unsingable. Sometimes worship leaders choose lame songs written by their favorite songwriters–themselves.
I admit. I’ve joined the majority. I’ve stopped singing. I’m not happy about it. I know I should overcome these barriers and just praise the Lord with my very unprofessional vocalizations. But I long for an environment that evokes my real heartfelt vocal participation.
(See Thom’s follow-up post here: Confessions of a Worship Wars Mercenary.)
(Thom Schultz is the co-author of Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore, and the director of the film When God Left the Building.)
Blessings to you.
I feel a welling up inside my body. It’s like a balloon being filled with air (no, it isn’t gas) kind of feeling, if I can even begin to relate to what a balloon must be feeling while being filled with air. My chest feels full, my heart beats a little faster and seems to expand just a little. Sounds kind of weird, doesn’t it? It isn’t weird at all. The Holy Spirit is upon me but how do I know that? Because I’ve experience it before and through obedience learned it is the Lord wanting to speak.
Some people might say, “I think God is speaking to me,” but how do they get that word from the Lord? Is it just a feeling? Is it a voice that speaks within the compounds of their head? Did they pick up the Bible and a verse seemed to jump up off the page?
We hear from God in a variety of ways. When I use the word “hear” I’m not talking about just hearing with our ears. It’s a term I use for covering a variety of ways that God speaks to us. One way He speaks to me is through sensing. What does that word mean, sensing? It’s that same thing I described at first. There’s a sensing within our spirit that takes the form of words. It’s God speaking to our spirit that is within us. It’s similar to what we describe as a “gut feeling” but it goes much deeper. It’s much like when we walk along and suddenly feel like someone is following us, for example. That’s a sensing within us that makes us stop and look around.
Another way the Lord speaks to me is with verbal auditory words. Sometimes they are whispered, sometimes stern, but usually He’s speaking to me just as though He’s standing in the room next to me like you and I might carry on a conversation. I literally hear Him speaking. Don’t ask me what His voice sounds like, I can’t describe it.
Another way He speaks is by guiding me to scripture in the Bible. He may say, “I want you to read….” and when I begin reading there will be a particular sentence or paragraph that He will stop me at or lead me back to over and over again. He’s telling me something in that sentence or paragraph and it’s up to me to ask what it is or discuss whatever it is with Him. In my case if I ignore it He’ll bug me (keep placing that scripture in my head over and over) until I face up to what it is He’s wanting me to know. God won’t be ignored for long. We can slam hands over our ears and shout la-la-la-la-la until we’re hoarse but eventually He will get our attention. One way or another!
He will also speak through other people to us and they don’t always have to be another Christian. If He can speak through a donkey (Num. 22:28) I think He’s quite capable of speaking through even non-believers. It sometimes amuses me because when that happens the non-believer looks as shocked as I do. But I recognize immediately that it was not the words of the non-believer so I listen. Be warned though, Satan definitely has a voice! We all must weigh what is being said with what God’s Word says and I suggest that everyone ask the Lord to give them His gift of discernment of good and evil. Just because someone opens their mouth and words come flowing out doesn’t mean they are from God. That includes preachers.
We all play a part in communicating with the Lord. I hear so many people say, “I don’t hear from God” or “God doesn’t speak to me.” My suggestion is, “Then you need to start listening.” God speaks to His children. He isn’t a mute God and He isn’t deaf either.
I think most of us feel deeply the words within songs. For me, an inspirational song can touch me more deeply than some sermons I’ve heard. Why? Because the words and music is resonating with His Spirit within me. If we have confessed Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior His Spirit dwells within us. Personally I think His Spirit really likes music. Especially the kind that brings glory to the Lord and magnifies Him. The Lord can also use music to speak to us.
There are so many ways Christ, through His Holy Spirit, speaks to us and I encourage all to open their spiritual ears and listen with your spirit what God is saying. He accepts us where we are, He will guide us in the direction He wants us to go, He will encourage us when we feel down or lost. He is the God of love and compassion, guidance, and yes discipline, but how do we truly know that if we have never experienced His love for us through Him speaking to us in whatever way He chooses to do so? We have to be open to Him in order for His words to penetrate the deepest part of us. A closed heart is incapable of receiving. And maybe that’s the problem why people say, “God doesn’t speak to me.”
Blessings to you and Happy New Year.