A Purpose Statement for Corporate Singing

Credit to musiccamp.info.

Credit to musiccamp.info.

Here’s our purpose statement for corporate singing at Central Church in Royal Oak:

To glorify God by equipping the congregation to encourage and teach one another through rich, Christ-centered songs.

There are few things we mean when we say that. Here are some of them.

“. . . equipping the congregation to . . .”

This influences what we sing. If the congregation is not skilled enough to sing the song, then we don’t sing it no matter how rich or Christ-centered it is. Some songs are great songs, but they are not congregational songs. I’ve heard someone make the argument, “Well, have you ever been to a U2 concert? Those melodies are not easy, and everyone sings them.” Yes, I’m sure that’s true. But how many 80-year-olds do you know that could sing them? The last time I looked at my congregation, I saw young and older people.

It influences how we sing. A few weeks ago I was playing drums and noticed that when we did a key change on a particular song that we lost about half the congregation. We won’t do that keychange again. Why? Because it wasn’t clear enough for the congregation to follow. Another example is how loud I play the drums. I sometimes get too excited and play too loud. It can be distracting from people singing. That’s a no-no, and yours truly needs to tone it down to encourage people to sing.

“. . . encourage and teach one another . . .”

“I love worship services because I know it’s just me and God alone in such an intimate environment.” It’s certainly good to glorify God in singing. In addition to that, we see one of the main purposes in singing according to Colossians 3 to emphasize the corporacy of the moment. That means if what we’re doing encourages people to “zone out” everything around them, then we’re not leading well. Why? Because we want to help foster an environment where the congregation worships God by encouraging and teaching one another in singing.

When the congregation gathers, it’s a corporate event. The most spiritual thing to do during singing in a church service isn’t necessarily closing your eyes and raising your hands (I have nothing against that, however!). It could be opening your eyes, singing loudly, and looking around while you do so to listen to others sing with you.

I don’t mean to minimize acknowledging the Spirit’s presence in us and with us as a congregation. It is wonderful to glorify the Lord with our voices and hearts in singing, and Lord willing we do that. We shouldn’t worship the congregation. But we should worship as a congregation, not just as individuals.

“. . . through rich, Christ-centered songs.”

We want to sing songs that are going to last long enough so our grandchildren could sing them. We want them to have depth and meaning so that they don’t leave you wondering what they’re really saying. A good worship song is more like a quality steak than cotton candy. Each bite leaves you appreciating a different nuance in the taste, and when you’re done, you’re satisfied.

If Scripture is about Christ, then our singing should be about Christ. If a Mormon could sing our songs without any problem, then we should be second guessing what we’re singing. I don’t mean to say there isn’t truth in songs that don’t mention Christ. Instead, I say this because of a continued nominalistic “Christianity” in our culture that embraces many spiritual things but never really spells out who Christ is and what His followers are called to. We don’t have time for nominalism. As the Sovereign Grace Music line goes, “Show us Christ.”

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3 thoughts on “A Purpose Statement for Corporate Singing

  1. Jacob, this purpose statement for corporate singing at Central is confusing because the congregation isn’t doing the “equipping,” its primarily you as the leader who decides what songs will be sung, the style in which they are to be played and the order of service. The statement doesn’t differentiate between the responsibility of church leadership, the responsibility of the worship team, and the responsibility of the congregation, who all are ostensibly working toward accomplishing your vision of what glorifies God in corporate, congregational worship in singing.

    I suggest the purpose statement should first clearly state what Central’s philosophy of corporate worship is, then state how the worship team will implement that, and finally, the role of the congregation in all of this.

    Here are some of my thoughts and feedback on your comments:

    “equipping the congregation”

    Its a good distinction you raise about the difference between congregational songs and songs that are more suited to soloists or trained ensembles. If the average congregant can’t sing the words to the melody, then its not corporate worship.

    However, exactly what is congregational and what is not is to some degree subjective and that doesn’t mean its a bad thing, it just means one should recognize that there should be room for flexibility and a willingness to try what you may not think is congregational, but others do.

    That being said, I’m not sure I agree with you completely in that if a congregation can’t easily sing something, then we shouldn’t make an attempt to teach that song and sing it corporately. I don’t necessarily think one should always sink to the lowest musical common denominator of a congregation and then cater solely to that group.

    For example, you mentioned the time you were playing the drums during the service and you noticed you had lost half the congregation at the key change in a song and that because of the confusion, you promised never do that key change again.

    I think that’s premature, especially in this example, because the congregation does know the melody and can sing it, they weren’t used to singing it with a key change. As they can sing the song, its a simple matter next time the worship team does the song, that the worship leader make some explanatory comments before the song about the key change in order to prepare the congregation for what is coming. Another suggestion would instead of having an abrupt key change, add in some extra transitional music measures to give the brains of the slower functioning members of the congregation time to process what is happening— people can sing a tune in different keys, they just need to get a few bars in the new key to adjust.

    Also, I am convinced that what is considered congregational singing is largely cultural. Though the 80 year olds may not be able to follow U2 style complex melodies, they also may not be able to follow some of the complex Stamps Baxter style lyrics and melodies that many of their generation could weave their way through without missing a beat. Then there is contemporary black gospel congregational singing which is certainly distinctive as well and would likely be difficult for both the 20 years olds and the 80 year olds at Central to sing along.

    In reading Col. 3, which you had referenced in your following point, I noticed something I had never noticed before in that the “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” infers there is great variety of expression, including distinctive styles and purpose, in corporate singing—this suggests all of our songs don’t have to be the same style or have the same purpose.

    Currently, I think Central has a good blend of contemporary songs and traditional traditional hymns, some of which are sung in a contemporary style. The mix of songs is also excellent, as there are loud, fast and catchy praise tunes as well as quiet contemplative songs. I appreciate the variety. When the makeup of the congregation at Central, including the age and particular culture from which most are from are taken into consideration, I think the overall music is very conducive to congregational singing and worship. This is good.

    “encourage and teach one another”

    I found this phrase you used to be awkward and ambiguous.

    “Encourage” primarily means “to give support, confidence, or hope to someone,” (OED) but it can also mean, when used as a verb with an object, “to give support and advice to (someone) so that they will do or continue to do something” or “ to help or stimulate (an activity, state, or view) to develop.”

    I think you used “encourage” in the primary definition in your purpose statement, but then in in your explanation you used it in the secondary meaning, as in “encourages people to “zone out,” which makes it confusing.

    In regards to “teach one another” in song, I think thats rather an odd way of putting it. You may have picked this up from the Col. 3 passage, where right before talking about corporate worship music, it mentions “teaching and admonishing.” However, this teaching and admonishing is an indirect reference to the preaching and teaching pastors and elders do at the leadership level, which flows down to the congregation, who themselves should be learning to teach and hold accountable fellow Christians. This is a separate activity from that of congregational singing. We don’t teach one another by singing congregational songs. If we are taught at all, then we are taught by the lyrics of the song, but thats still odd, as the primary purpose of congregational singing is not didactic.

    To put this in another way, preaching and teaching are fact based logical arguments, or at least they should be, whereas congregational singing is an argument based more on rhetoric. And rhetorical doesn’t mean the argument isn’t based on fact, it is a different method of expressing truth.

    “…through rich, Christ-centered songs”

    I affirm what you say about singing good songs that are going to last long enough so our grandchildren sing them, but you have to realize that the cultural will have undoubtedly changed so that the lyrics will be sung to heavy metal hip hop, or more than likely to some style that has not even been developed yet.

    I don’t think congregational singing is the way to refute nominalistic psuedo-Christianity. That is better left to the preaching and teaching aspect of corporate worship. Of course if our Scripture is about Christ, then it follows that our songs should be as well, but then not all Scripture passages are specifically about Christ, so all our songs need not mention Christ specifically either, though they must reflect Scripture.

    I hope some of my feedback has been helpful.

    • Thanks Phillip! And thanks for you consistency in playing week in and week out. I really appreciate you and your wife.

      You’re right about the purpose statement. It’s more of a statement for those leading than for the congregation.

      You’re also right about there being some subjectivity in what can be sung and not sung. Of course that depends on the congregation and the culture and other variables. And certainly, we can do the song with the key change again if we prepare people for it. I was only noting that because we didn’t let people know, it deterred our singing together. I wasn’t saying all key-changes are bad or that people can’t learn to sing more difficult harmonies. It’s something to consider, however: if the melody is too difficult for the majority of the congregation to sing, then that might be evidence we’re not very concerned about equipping the congregation to worship.

      Regarding Colossians 3, perhaps Paul is saying we should let the message of Christ dwell in us in teaching and in singing. But even if it is saying that instead of that we should teach one another in our singing, our music most definitely teaches people. Christians will long remember the theology in our singing long after they remember a sermon I preach. (Praise God!) 🙂

      All of Scripture is about Christ in some way. The apostles claimed this, and so did Christ Himself. In fact, the Col 3 passage tells us to let the word (message) of Christ dwell in us through our singing. So we will sing of Christ boldly and frequently.

      Perhaps we should agree to disagree, but our music is most definitely a way to dispel nominal Christianity that is so pervasive. It is not the only way, as you mentioned, but it is part of the answer.

      Thanks for your thoughts. They helped refine mine. I look forward to many years of worshiping the Lord together at Central.

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