Three Reasons Why Singing is Essential in the Life of the Disciple

There are certain habits that are synonymous with spiritual growth. We call these things spiritual disciplines, and they’re things like reading the Bible, praying, fasting, and others. But one habit that doesn’t make the list very often is singing. That’s a bit surprising given how many times in Scripture we aren’t just asked to sing, but commanded to do so. Indeed, it seems that in the Bible, singing is not an option; it’s a command. And maybe even more than being commanded, singing is essential for the life of the disciple. Let me give you a few brief reasons why I believe this to be true:

1. Because we are forgetful.

I’m not talking about forgetting where I parked my car (which incidentally do all the time). I’m talking about being spiritually forgetful; I’m talking about being forgetful at the soul-level. We hear about the promises of God, over and over again. We read them, meditate on them, study them, sometimes even memorize them, but then at the first sign of trouble in our lives, the questions start. We begin to doubt. We wonder if God is who we thought He was, or if there is even a God at all. That’s why we sing.

God has designed us this way. Singing, and music in general, connects with us at a level nothing else does. It lifts the eyes to heaven and the soul follows with it. Perhaps that’s why, throughout the history of Christianity, one of the greatest tools for teaching theology has been music. After all, one of the earliest Christian hymns is the great Christological passage of Philippians 2.

2. Because we are emotional.

Emotions are a gift; they’re part, I believe, of what it means to be created in God’s image. Music and singing helps connect what our minds might know but our hearts do not feel. While we can’t be ruled by our emotions, if we never engage emotionally with God, then our faith is stale. Jesus Himself told the woman at the well that a day was coming when the true worshippers would worship in spirit and in truth; that is, they would worship with the heart and the head. They would worship through their knowledge of God and their love of God.

Surely this is at least one of the reasons why we are commanded to sing; God wants a song in our hearts and our lips because of those times when our mind might remember but our hearts are forgetful.

3. Because we are prideful.

Ever get caught singing in the car? Someone looking at you from another traffic lane? Me too. It’s embarrassing. And for those of us who don’t have great voices, it can even be a little embarrassing to sing loudly and proudly with the fellowship of God’s people. And maybe that’s part of the point.

Singing, for most of us, is undignified. We don’t have trained voices; you’ll never catch us on stage with a microphone. Singing is for children; not for mature adults. If that’s true, then the choice to sing where others can hear you, is the choice to forego your pride. Singing is a choice of humility.

Let’s do it. Let’s do it loudly. Let’s do it for the sake of our souls and the glory of God. See you on Sunday.

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  • Nanette R says:

    Some of my favorite corporate worship experiences have been when I have heard my niece singing loudly along with the congregation, especially after she had learned to read the words on her own. Another time, I was compelled to turn around after church and let the man behind me know (without embarrassing him) that I so appreciated him being willing to sing out and not hide his voice. Our souls really do need all of the voices singing together in corporate worship!

  • Larry Golden says:

    I lead TGP large group for younger children. I love to hear the children sing. After they have learned the unit scripture song, I will turn down the volume so I care hear their voices.

  • sara Taylor says:

    thanks so much singing and music has often lifted my spirit toward when I was feeling sad

  • I was involved in music ministry in four churches for more than two decades. All four churches emphasized congregational singing. One does not have to be a trained vocalist to sing. There are a lot of mistaken beliefs floating around about singing and that is one of them.

    We also do more in today’s church to hinder people from singing than help them. We pick songs that are difficult to sing. We use instruments that make it difficult for the congregation to follow the melody of the song. We turn up the volume so loud so they cannot hear themselves or each other singing.

    What we see and hear in many of today’s churches is not corporate worship–Christians worshiping together, uniting their voices in the praise of God–but parallel worship, which is akin to parallel play observed in small children. They play by themselves in close proximity to each other but they are not playing with each other. The band plays and the vocalists sing. The congregation listens. A few may sing along. This I must point out is not New Testament worship.

    Almost a century ago Percy Dearmer who had a tremendous influence upon church music in his lifetime pointed out that there are two kinds of church music. “In one the congregation is the artist; in the other the congregation is the audience.” He also pointed out that the art of congregational singing–yes, it is an art–while it has its limitations, it also has “certain excellent and peculiar virtues, chief of which is a congregation cannot sing out of tune, since the minorities above and below the tome correct one another.” He further pointed out that “when the congregation sing, it is their business to sing for all they are worth”–to knock the doors off the church. The business of what we now call the worship leader is to teach the congregation to sing. The business of the worship leadership team is to support the congregation.

  • MK says:

    What a great series of quotes, Robin. Thanks for the comment.

  • I missed a spelling error. It should have been “tone,” not “tome,” in the phrase, “since the minorities above and below the tome correct one another.” Spell check cannot read our minds. If we inadvertently hit the wrong key and end up with the wrong word but correctly spelled, it will not draw the mistake to our attention.

  • John W Carlton says:

    I love congregational singing! I love to sing in the congregation. I love to sing in a choir or ensemble. I love singing solos. In other words I love to sing. One day this past week I woke up with the words to “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” running through my mind. Think of the depth of the thought that Elizabeth Clephane penned in the second verse:
    Upon the cross of Jesus my eyes at times can see
    The very dying form of one who suffered there for me.
    And from my smitten heart with tears two wonders I confess;
    The wonder of His matchless love and my unworthiness.

  • Dennis R. says:

    My singing is so bad that when I was in school, I was told to mouth the words. I play the accordion, and I was always told “Play don’t sing.”

    My singing is best done in the prayer closet.

  • Zach says:

    Great points! And while we’re at it, learning to do it well can also make it more enjoyable. I just helped a friend create an app that helps you learn to sing hymns in harmony parts. It’s easy to use and lets you follow along with the song and listen to any parts you’d like. Would love it if you try it out!

  • Excellent words! I am thrilled to see content such as yours as we are finally beginning to talk about this growing decline in worship participation. I have been observing and researching the trend toward non-singing in our churches for over twenty years. All of your points are critically important for the church. We must spend time thinking and talking about each of them.

    As a music development specialist and worship pastor with a Masters in theology, I believe that God desires everyone to sing to him. We need to learn to allow ourselves to let go of the fear of imperfection, of what others think, and lift our whole bodies to God in song. We must also learn not to hold up a standard of anything near perfection for those singing around us. May we rejoice when we hear those with every vocal impediment or disability sing/shout for joy in song with us! It’s not about pleasing others, or others being offended with an imperfect sound. Instead, it’s about worshiping together with joy as Christ’s body. He is our worship leader.

    I am presently preparing to write my action-thesis to equip church leaders to nurture participatory singing in worship (in completing my DWS degree at Robert Webber Institute of Worship Studies). I am working hard to find a church context or a small group of worship leaders to do the thesis teaching component. I’m willing to go anywhere in North America to help churches learn to nurture fearless worship singing. Any ideas of churches or worship leaders who might be interested – I’d be grateful to hear ([email protected]). Thank you again for your essential words!

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