Congregational Singing

We consider The Congregation the most important ensemble in our Music Ministry.  All of God’s creation should cry out in worship to the Creator.  We believe that singing is a non-negotiable act of worship.  Scripture tells us (more than 240 times!) to sing to our Lord and because we are created in God’s image, we trust that the voice God has given each individual worshipper is intended to be used in corporate praise.

Why We Sing During Worship
(article from The Chimes printed newsletter by Michael Rintamaa)

Kierkegaard had a wonderful criticism about the drama of worship.  Kierkegaard observed a model in which the Prompter was God, the Actors were the preachers and worship leaders, and the Audience was the congregation.  Now whereas I don’t think that having God as our Prompter is all that bad, I agree with Kierkegaard that putting a congregation in the position of being passive receivers is no way to hold worship.  Kierkegaard advocated a model in which the Prompters were the preacher and worship leaders, the congregation were the Actors, and God was the Audience.  After all, it is God whom we worship, not ourselves.

That model leads me to also point out two kinds of music which happen during worship – music of inspiration and music of participation.  The music of inspiration that happens during our worship would be perhaps the anthem, solos, or organ music that is presented.  They are meant to inspire, either through deep contemplative meaning or energetic toe-tapping feeling.  But you may be surprised to learn, that though I am usually directing or playing this music of inspiration, that is not what I consider the most important music that happens during worship.  To me, the most important music is the music of participation.  To me, the ideal service of worship is a service which is highly participatory, in which the entire congregation is actively involved – speaking prayers, singing songs, bodily moving by standing instead of sitting, etc.  This is why we don’t have our choir do as much choral service music as you will experience in other places of worship – we want YOU to be INVOLVED!

So why is your singing of the hymns so important to me (and should be to you, too!)?  For me, it goes back to the earliest days of the organized church.  For centuries, the monks would SING (chant) nearly the entire liturgy.  Why?  At base level, I believe it is because music helps those words get to a deeper level of the brain and consciousness.  Think of the stories of the Alzheimer patients who don’t know their own name, yet can sing the entirety of a song.  As scientists and writers have been describing, we have two hemispheres in our brain – the left is our logical hemisphere (where language resides) and the right is our creative hemisphere (where music resides).  The music of the worship service is one of the most important ways that we tap into the power of the right hemisphere of our brains.  And it feels good!

Why is it important for every single person to sing as loud as they can?  Yes, everyone (good singer and not, male and female, young and old, rich and poor, highly educated and not, etc…everyone) should sing the hymns with gusto!  Why?  Because it is a witness.  It is hospitality and evangelism.  Imagine with me, that you are worshipping with us for the very first time, and you notice that the people around you are not participating in the hymns; they are not singing with much enthusiasm.  The impression you may get is that, well, those people don’t really mean it.  They don’t really mean what’s being communicated in those words.  They are not into it.  They are not ACTING!  Now imagine with me, that you are worshipping with us for the very first time, and you notice that the people around you are singing with gusto!  They may not be the best singers in the world, but they are singing with all their heart, giving it all they’ve got.  The impression you get is that these people believe it.  They are into it!  To put it into a sports (football) analogy: you are the twelfth man!  Imagine a crowd of spectators at a ball game that are quiet and still, mumbling their cheers.  That’s probably not an event you want to attend.

Now, worship should hold a vast range of feelings and dynamics.  Worship is not all just one cheerleading session for God.  There are important times for quiet and still contemplation.  But singing the hymns is not that time.

I am very proud to believe that this congregation actually does this pretty well!  My favorite part of the worship service is accompanying you as you sing the hymns.  I feed off of your energy.  I try to choose hymns that relate and enhance the message of the sermon and scriptures of the day.  As I play, I try to bring out meaning from the words you are singing (…”mystic harmony”…, “…sustaining…”, “…one voice…”, etc – a fun game to play as you sing: try to detect more!), and yes, a lot of the time I probably play the organ pretty loud.  I am not accompanying your singing in the sense of being your background music, but trying to inspire your singing by your feeling the power and majesty of our magnificent pipe organ.  To surround you and penetrate you with sound waves!  Can you actually feel it?!

Why do we sing during worship?  Because it gets us involved.  Because it gets us to a deeper level of consciousness.  Because we deeply feel and we believe what we sing.  Because the words we sing are true, deeply meaningful, and valuable our whole life long.  Because

My life flows on in endless song, above earth’s lamentation.
I hear the clear, though far off hymn that hails a new creation.
No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since love is Lord of heav’n and earth, how can I keep from singing?
(Chalice Hymnal no. 619)

Thank you to Bob Kintner, Bob Bradley, and my colleagues on staff, who have taught and encouraged these thoughts which I echo in the words above.  May we all be one great chorus of praise singing glory to God alone!  Soli Deo Gloria!