We had one of the best music days we've ever had at Third Avenue last Sunday. It was incredible--loud, heartfelt, worshipful, and exciting, even on the songs that aren't "naturally" exciting, if you know what I mean. I remember listening to the congregation sing behind me, hearing people say "Amen" at the end of the songs (a fairly rare thing at our church), and a couple of thoughts hit me. One of my goals at Third Avenue is to work against music ever becoming an "issue" for the church. It's always seemed to me that Satan must take a peculiar pride in the tactic of taking music---which God intended to be a beautiful means of worship to Him---and turning it into a line of division and battle among His people. So a couple of thoughts hit me, and I decided to share them with our church. Maybe they'll be helpful to you, too.
First, it fills my heart with joy (no kidding!) that the success or failure of our music on Sunday mornings depends on whether our congregation shows up ready to sing. It's amazing, really. When we as a church show up prepared to engage in the service, excited to worship Christ and hear from his Word, our music succeeds in a big way---the voices fill up our sanctuary like a flood, and it's beautiful to hear. When we as a church don't show up, though, when we're distracted, down, and thinking about anything and everything but the worship of God, our music is really bad. It's quiet, empty, and completely without energy. I realize it might be a strange thing to say, but I'm glad that's how it works! I actually think it's a very good thing that our congregation bears a good deal of responsibility for how our services go each and every Sunday. When I feel that kind of weight---that my attitude and state of mind affects not just me but the entire congregation---it makes me pay more attention to my heart and engage more with the service.
Second, and closely related, I think we ought to encourage every member of our churches to sing every song in the service with gusto, even if they don't particularly resonate with the song. Every Christian has a certain set of hymns and songs that deeply resonate with them---the melody, the words, an experience they had when they first heard it---and our natural tendency is to give those favorites everything we've got . . . but then sort of check out when the next song is one we don't particularly like. But here's the thing: When you sing in a congregation, you're not just singing for yourself; you're singing for every other member of the congregation, for their edification and building up in Christ, too. In I Corinthians 14:26, Paul tells us that when we come together, everything we do--including our singing--is done for each other. Singing hymns is not just an opportunity for each of us, as individuals, to worship God in our own way. It's an opportunity for the church, as a whole, to worship God together. That means that even if you don't like a particular song, it's likely that someone else in the congregation resonates with it deeply---they feel about it the same way you feel about your favorites---and so you have a responsibility to love that person by singing that song with all the heart you can muster. In other words, don't check out on songs that aren't your favorites; sing them! And sing them loud and heartily, not because you particularly like them, but because you may be helping to edify another brother or sister whose heart is engaged deeply with those songs. Worship isn't finally an individual experience; it's corporate. And everything we do--everything, Paul tells us, including our singing---should be done for the building up of the saints.