A few years ago, I watched this video when a friend posted it on social media. This video from disability day at Fenway Park is moving in a lot of ways. However, the most powerful moment is not centered on the singer, it was when the entire crowd overpoweringly joins in the anthem. Everyone was in it together, as one. This is a moving illustration for the power of congregational singing.
I have the privilege of pastoring a singing church. Week after week, when we gather for worship the sounds of God’s precious saints wash over me as I stand on the front row and prepare to preach. There have been several occasions when I have stopped singing in order to listen. On almost all of those occasions, the sound of our church family singing brought me to tears. Not because they are great polished individual singers, but because we sing corporately to a great God.
As their shepherd, I know that the men and women around me are singing to God while they are struggling in their marriages, fighting cancer, and feeling the uncertainty of job loss. I have come to realize that worship isn’t just something we do; it does something to us. Our worship does not only have a vertical aspect as we lift our voices to God, it has a horizontal aspect as we sing for one another. I believe this is what Paul had in mind when he admonished the Ephesians;
“… be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:18-21).”
And again in Colossians 3:16;
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
When the church as a whole sings, there is “speaking one to another” that admonishes and encourages us corporately in the faith. In this sense, we might even say the loudest sound in a room should be the congregation. In Christ, we are one body. Demonstrating that reality in worship requires that we actually be able to hear ourselves, and hear one another singing alongside us. It is a corporate affirmation that says we are one, and we believe what we are singing regardless of where we are spiritually or emotionally as individuals!
This is why our church family leans heavily towards congregational singing. Americans and Westerners are accustomed to professional-quality and performance-oriented music. And so many worship services are dimly lit, with the band cranked up so loud that you cant even hear yourself sing, much less those around you.
In these atmospheres I have often heard the worship leader lament, “Why isn’t anyone singing?” Because the form of a congregations worship undoubtedly affects the congregation’s participation in worship. In performance oriented services the congregation becomes utterly passive. This leaves the church longing. Deep in our souls, we long to sing together. The church body is made for corporate worship. Let us not only allow, but lead the church to sing to God, but also to sing for one another.