Over the years, I have encountered the phrase, “I love God, but church is just not my thing,” more times than I can count. You’ve probably heard some variation of that as well.
A few years back, a prominent Christian author made headlines for speaking up that he struggled with similar thoughts, particularly in the area of gathering with the church to sing praises to God. This is a struggle that many face - this author just had the courage and transparency to write about it, likely with good intentions to free people whose primary means of connecting with God is not singing. While I disagree with his conclusion, I am thankful for the opportunity to point people to what God’s perfect word has to say about worship through singing.
In Ephesians 5:18-19, Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, tells us: “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms, 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.” He makes a similar comment 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.
This singing thing must be pretty important.
Indeed, we can connect with God in a variety of ways. So why have we been commanded over and over in both the Old and New Testaments to sing the praises of God with the people of God? God doesn’t need our songs. If we weren’t to sing to him, he would be no less glorious than he is now. We can neither add to, nor detract from, his magnificent worth with our rhythm and rhyme. So to think that corporate worship in song is simply for the benefit of a God who needs our songs reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of singing within the corporate gathering of church.
Our God is a wise Father who knows what is best for his children. He has commanded us in his perfect word to gather as the church to sing praises to him not because He needs it, but because we need it.
More Than an Audience of One?
Contrary to popular sentimentalism, we are not singing for “an audience of one.” While we do sing to worship our Savior, we also sing to rehearse the truth of the Gospel together and be sanctified by it. We sing to remind ourselves of the great and glorious prize at the end of this race and encourage each another to keep running.
To say that I will not gather to sing with the local church because I don’t connect with God that way is, at best, a sort of immature consumerism. We need each other. I need you. You need me. We are "living stones" who gather to build one another up in love. If I choose not to engage in worship in this way because it’s not how I connect best with God, not only do I miss out, but the people I have been called to build up in love miss out. A significant piece of the equation is missing. Furthermore, when I come to church and refuse to sing, not only do I miss out on personally rehearsing the truth, but the people around me miss out on my voice encouraging them to keep their eyes on what is excellent, true, right, honorable, and good.
When we gather to sing as the church, we are washing ourselves and one another in the water of the word. It honors God and edifies the church in a way that working at your job, going to the beach or the mountains, or staying home drinking coffee and listening to a podcast never could. Not to say that we don’t need to do those things, too. The beauty of our God is that he has graciously given us a huge field to run in, full of ways to honor and connect with him. But part of growing in spiritual maturity is recognizing when I don’t connect with God in the ways he tells me are good for both me and those around me, I ask him to help me love his ways and find joy in his truth instead of selfishly bailing out for something I perceive as better.
Our preferences cannot trump what God has told us in his word. If my feelings fail to line up with what God says, one of us is wrong, and here’s a hint – it’s not God. So to the people struggling to connect with God through singing with the gathered church, I urge you to keep going. Believe the Bible. Trust God. Don’t give in to the temptation to throw in the towel. But because God is more glorious than you could ever dream, humbly view others as more important than yourself (Philippians 2:3) and "consider how to stir (them) up in love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging them, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Worship is not about me. It’s about “we” - we need to see your face, we need to hear your voice. Don’t give up.