Last year, Every Nation pastor Paul Barker taught a seminar for worship leaders, ”Crafting a Theology of Worship,” in Manila, Philippines. This article is the second in a series based on that seminar. You may belt out songs alone in the car or in an open field (who doesn’t, really?), but the effects of singing during corporate worship are quite different (and much more significant). Why? Because they make an impact on the gathered church and the watching world.
The broader meaning of worship encompasses all of life. William Temple, former Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote,
Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His Beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of will to His purpose and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable.
While worship really involves a lifestyle of devotion, in the context of church, we usually think of that part of the service when we sing. Whether you’re in South Africa, Germany, or Peru, you will spend a large portion of a church service singing. But why do we sing?
We sing for three reasons: theological, anthropological and missiological. If these long words muddle the mystery, then read on. When we gather to worship, whether formally or informally, we should consider three audiences:
The Triune God (theological)
We sing because God deserves our worship.
At times we may have a deep emotional response to God, but even when our emotions are less engaged, God is equally worthy of every word we sing. He is holy, sovereign, loving, and all-powerful. When we genuinely respond to God’s revelation of His ultimate value as seen in His person and works, it produces a transformation of the whole person — heart, mind, emotions, volition, and behavior.
God is both the initiator and focus of true worship. He not only created all that exists and sustains it, He is our King reigning over the earth. Since He calls us to worship, we should respond. By reading through the Psalms, we can find many reasons to worship God.
“I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.” Psalm 7:17
The Gathered Church (anthropological)
We worship God to remind us of who He is and what He has done.
1. Corporate worship is for edification.
There’s a powerful link between our memories and music. Many of us remember our ABCs because of a simple song we learned during childhood. Throughout the Bible, people sang songs to remember God’s salvation. We have a tendency to forget God’s goodness, and singing brings the reality of God back to our hearts and minds.
2. Worship not only unites us with God, but also with all His people.
We worship not merely as a congregation or a church, but as part of the Church — the people of God throughout all of history. This is one of the reasons we include historical elements in our corporate worship. We experience synergy — the power of “we” — during corporate worship.
“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16)
The Watching World (missiological)
We sing because of the Gospel.
When Paul and Silas were in jail, they were in a serious bind and needed God’s help. So, they started praising and singing to God as the other prisoners listened. The prisoners and guards must have been perplexed by such a response given the gravity of their situation.
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them . . . Then (the jailer) brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’” (Acts 5:25,30)
The jailer’s response shows that he witnessed God’s presence and power through them. Our singing empowers us to fulfill Jesus’ call to make disciples. Many churches, with both contemporary worship and historic tradition, assume that worship cannot be highly evangelistic. But is that true? Let’s look a little closer.
God commanded Israel to invite the nations to join in declaring His glory. Zion was to be the center of world-winning worship.
“In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.’ The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:2-3. See also Isaiah 56:6, 7)
In Psalm 105, the Psalmist challenges us to “make known among the nations what he has done.” How? “Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of his wonderful acts.” We are continually told to sing and praise God before the nations and as we praise, the nations are invited to join in song.
Paul directed a local congregation to adapt its worship because of the presence of unbelievers.
“Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad?” (1 Corinthians 14:23)
Paul assumed that unbelievers would be present. Since unbelievers should be able to comprehend our worship, we should care what they think and feel about our worship. We are not only to communicate the Gospel, but also to celebrate the Gospel before the watching world.
What distracts you from engaging in times of singing during church? What might you be missing?