Today I want share again an ongoing discussion about corporate worship at our house and church. (Here is part 1 if you missed it.) Today we’re talking about music.
Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Ephesians 5:19
Worshiping with Congregational Music
I’ve long known that my children sing better in church when they actually know the songs ahead of time. I’ve not been as diligent as I could be, but the last few months I’ve been taking one or two mornings each week and singing with my children. Along the way, we’ve had a few very short conversations about corporate worship in music.
When we sing together out loud, everyone is (ideally) thinking about the words. You can’t sing what you don’t understand, and you can’t sing what you don’t agree with. (Not sure at what point I want to tell my children that if they’re not saved, it doesn’t make sense to sing “Redeemed How I Love to Proclaim It.”) Mostly my conversations with my children have been helping them think about what they sing when they are singing. I explained that we’ve been taking time at home to learn how to sing specifically to help them sing in church. They, like I, can think better about the words when the song is somewhat familiar. (If you’re not particularly musical, you can still help children learn the hymns you sing in church through recordings. You might have to work a bit to find them, but it’s worth the effort.)
King David wrote Psalms that were designed for this kind of corporate worship. Many of the Psalms are written in first person plural (we and us, not I and me). There is something that is encouraging about Christians singing together. When a group of teenagers amplify their testimony by singing about God and what he has done in their lives, I am blessed. A large group of men singing together is thrilling, not just because it sounds good, but because we are encouraged to see men singing God’s praises.
Worshiping with Instrumental Music
Helping my children understand congregational singing has challenged me to think and talk about what corporate worship looks like during instrumental music, or when someone is leading in prayer (like what we talked about earlier).
During instrumental music, we also can worship together. Together, as a body, we’re thinking about the words, making the same connections between the text and our lives that we should be making when we’re singing out loud. At the very least, I am blessed when I think that an instrumentalist has chosen a song on purpose to communicate what is on his or her heart. If I am choosing an appropriate song to play, I should plan to play hymns that are somewhat familiar (or make the words available in some way). Otherwise, the instrumental time is simply background music– spiritual muzak. In that case, we could just as productively play a good classical number. As an accompanist, I should be aware of the style of music I have chosen and what it is communicating.
Can we worship corporately during an instrumental prelude? I believe so, but it takes more work. I’ve found that simply getting out a hymnal and turning to the hymn being played helps my children to be aware of the song. Even if the hymn is familiar to me, they benefit from seeing the words in front of them (and so do I).
Our pastor says before the prelude, “Quiet your hearts as you prepare to worship.” That’s good. The idea is that we get ready to worship so that when church starts, we are not distracted by “getting ready.” But I want to teach my children that instrumental music in church isn’t simply background music so that I can get out my Bible and whisper a few last words to my husband without being too obvious. If I am truly quieting my heart during the prelude (or offertory, etc.), I may in fact be worshiping already, not just preparing to worship.
There’s nothing sinful about taking my Bible out and looking for a pen during the instrumental music, nor walking up to the piano while someone is praying. Praying silently during a prelude is a good practice, even if I’m not aware of the prayer that’s coming from an instrument. Nevertheless, when I can pray corporately, when I can listen to instrumental music corporately, it is a good thing.
I’ve been talking about these things with my children as we practice singing. I don’t know if they are understanding what I’m wrestling with, but I have been thinking out loud with them. All this talk about about corporate worship is a challenge to me. Too often, I miss opportunities to worship in this way. I’m praying that God will help ME to honor him by how I think in church, and at home. Once again, God is using my children to challenge me to grow.