When they won’t smile or even sing

Okay, Tony, I’m with you on not calling our singing the ‘worship time’. I’m with you on not even calling our church gathering the ‘worship service’. I’m with you on wanting to avoid mere emotionalism. In fact, I also know you believe the emotions (or better, the affections) matter.

But I believe singing is important.

I believe the Bible says it’s important.

Psalm 33:1-3 begins,

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
    it is fitting for the upright to praise him.

Praise the Lord with the harp;
    make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.

Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully, and shout for joy.. (NIV)

And verses 33:4-5 provide the reason for song. It’s the impact of the truth of the Word of God:

For the word of the Lord is right and true;
    he is faithful in all he does.

The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of his unfailing love. (NIV)

We Christians should sing joyfully because God is faithful and righteous and just and unfailingly loving! Hallelujah!

This does not seem to be an option for followers of Jesus. Paul says,

Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord (Eph 5:19 NIV)

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Col 3:16 NIV)

And there’s going to be a lot of singing in heaven (e.g. Rev 5:9, 14:3, 15:3).

Now, let’s assume for a moment that (as much as lies within our power) at our church, we have decent musicians and singable tunes (even ones men can enjoy), and biblical teaching and lyrics.

But Tony (and anyone else who cares to comment), what do we do when some people—especially blokes—won’t even open their mouths in the songs? (I am talking about committed Christians.) And what do we do when one song leader tells another it would be better if you don’t show any emotion up the front?

(P.S. I think I am with Luke on this subject.)

16 thoughts on “When they won’t smile or even sing

  1. This is a real problem.  Something I have found does not help is when the song leaders end up ‘performing’ in the minds of the blokes who just listen, like they’re at a concert. Song leaders need to be sure they don’t overwhelm congregational singing.  I don’t mean they shouldn’t show emotion!!  Of course they should in a natural way, but the problem comes when the song leaders are over amplified, or they sing with such great harmonies that some, especially men who don’t like singing, just listen. 

    Also, having someone to whom they relate as a song leader can help.  Down to earth male leaders can really help them to sing.

  2. This all presumes that reaching men is the most important thing.  From what I’ve seen, if you want to grow a church then reach the teenagers, the parents will follow.  If you can’t do that, reach the women, the men will follow.

  3. I think the song leaders have a lot to do with shaping how the congregation sings. I have found that song leaders who engage with the congregation – eg by introducing the song thoughtfully, making eye contact with the congregation, looking like they WANT to be up there, reflecting the emotion of the particular song – help me to sing with appropriate emotion. I find it hard to connect with leaders who ‘go off into their own world’ or stare blankly at the music stand etc.

    Part of good preaching is really BELIEVING in what you are preaching – otherwise how can you expect the congregation to believe in it? Likewise with song leaders, believe in what you are singing! If the song leaders seems unconvinced that we should “sing with joy to the Lord” then the congregation will probably also be unconvinced.

  4. Sandy, thanks for your post – it raises a very real issue. Perhaps you’ve already tried this, but if committed Christian men in your church regularly listen rather than sing, maybe (and I say this respectfully) someone appropriate should get alongside them and ask them why they choose not to join in. I wonder how many different responses you might get.

    It’s a tough gig to encourage a ‘singing culture’ in a church where core members of the body habitually don’t join in, especially when others notice and are influenced by their silence. Maybe it might help, one Sunday, to talk biblically about ‘why we sing in church’ – an expanded version of your post.

    With regard to songleaders, one thing which has helped a lot at our church is a program of occasional training days for the musicians and singers. When musicians and singers are taught the biblical basis of what they do regularly in church, it becomes easier to foster a God-centred, musical culture which emphasises service, rather than performance. In the context of a training day it’s then possible to discuss things like ‘how should the singers present the songs?’

    Our church is privileged to have a large cohort of amateur musicians and singers. The male song leaders vary in their approach when it comes to emotional intensity, but somehow it still works. Whatever their approach, these men are conscious that they’re not there to perform – they’re there to serve and encourage. They do this enthusiastically and by just being themselves. So, I agree wholeheartedly with Philip’s comment: “having someone to whom they relate as a song leader can help.  Down to earth male leaders can really help them to sing.”

  5. some people—especially blokes—won’t even open their mouths in the songs?

    Why don’t you ask them?  Their reasons may be many and varied. Lack of confidence in their ability to sing, afraid they will sound bad and disrupt others, cultural inertia, as much rhythm as two dogs scratching… 

    There might be good opportunities for edifying others, helping them address whatever the issue is that keeps their mouths closed.

  6. I agree with Brett that there can be a range of reasons why people may not sing.

    Asking some people to sing is like asking a person who can’t read well or read at all to read in church. Sensitivity needed.

    But at the same time it is good to work out how to encourage singing.

    Getting good congregational singing going well (and loudly) helps the strugglers – they feel their voices are not heard by others! Cappella and ‘male’/ ‘female’ parts can accentuate inadequacies! (but not saying they should never be used)


  7. Sometimes singing might be precluded for reasons of frugality or pervasive laryngitis etc. In such cases I reckon it can be expedient to simply recite the lyrics of allocated psalms/canticles/hymns/songs together, whether in full or antiphonally.

  8. The main reason that people can’t or won’t sing is that they don’t know the songs. Having a song once every 3 or 4 months is not conducive to learning a song.

    A new song needs to be LEARNT. It needs to be done several weeks in a row for people to really get it. After all – they do not have a CD to listen to, or a radio tuned in to learn a new song.

  9. I know what song leaders shouldn’t do.

    Whenever a song leader tells us through the mic that we’re not showing enough emotion and we need to show how much we love Jesus by singing loudly, I feel like cracking out the 12 gauge.

    20 year old song leaders chastising the congregation from the front during church is a mortal sin.

    I’m done now.

  10. Haha Ben, classic. I don’t know you, but would love to have seen the expression on your face when that incident occurred.

    A thought – maybe you could ask these men to sit at the front. I am not a great singer, but when I am at the front I don’t worry about who is listening in front of me, plus I can hear everyone else’s tuneful singing better.

    Oh and singing in the vicinity of other guys makes things easier too – knowing there are others with a similar vocal range to you also wink

  11. Thanks for posting this and inviting the helpful comments.

    Visible, expressed joy is part of our imitation of David’s model, “Taste and see that the LORD is good” (Ps. 34:8).

    But it’s difficult for many of us who are used to a spectator/performer split in the church and struggle to embrace the role of an actively participating member in the service.

    We unabashedly express emotion over so many other lesser things (sports, food, films, etc.), and this makes our restraint in worshiping God all the more blasphemous and reveals the idolatries of our hearts.

    One note to all following Mr Juniper’s comment: “This all presumes that reaching men is the most important thing.  From what I’ve seen, if you want to grow a church then reach the teenagers, the parents will follow.  If you can’t do that, reach the women, the men will follow. “

    No, reaching men is not the most important thing, but it is critical. Biblically, men have been appointed as a responsible head in the family. That carries with it a responsibility to lead, not to follow.

    Men who meekly fall into line with stooped shoulders, following their wives or teens into church (to keep from being scolded for their devotion to sport or hobbies) will hardly have the strength of character to serve, to protect, or defend. This means that families are not served, wives are not protected, and the faith is not defended by men who are late adopters and remain passive.

    Consider these statistics (sorry, don’t know the original source).

    If a child comes to Christ, 12% of the time the whole family will follow.

    If the mom comes, there’s a 15% chance the family will.

    But if the man comes to church, 90% of the time the family will come along behind.

    Keep in mind, we’re talking statistics and patterns here, not the theology of sovereign grace and regeneration!

    Historically it does appear that God is pleased to save households. Sometimes he uses children as an entrypoint for the gospel, but when a man is regenerated, he has an influence on the rest of the family that far outweighs the rest.

    Exalting Christ and enjoying Him, let’s strive to display the supremacy of Christ and His gospel over pragmatism.

    Then the church will have something in our daily experience that we can shout about on Sundays.

  12. Once again music and singing are on the agenda and eliciting a variety of thoughtful and well-meaning responses. These tell me that, just as in the culture around us, there are many reasons why community singing has become less familiar. Trying to generalise the problem and the solutions doesn’t necessarily help, any more than trying to work out why public prayer times don’t always work in a church meeting. Perhaps a musician from Men’s Convention might share insights into why the singing there can lift the roof. My own observation is that one bonus that the older metrical hymns have is that you can pick three or four tunes that people do sing confidently and put different sets of words to them.  I’d be interested to hear from someone who knew Canon D.B. Knox well, why he never seemed to join in congregational singing, standing next to his wife, Ailsa, a wonderful singer.

  13. I’m sure that’s all right and true Steve, but the reality is that a happy wife makes a happy life.

  14. It’s getting a bit confusing because there seem to be two blogs about tis topic, Sandy’s and Tony’s, both creating a great deal of stimulating commentary. I wanted to add to my earlier response that congregational singing as we know it is an historically recent phenomenon. Don Cusic in his book “The Sound of Light” describes the rise of music schools and teaching methods in the USA of the 18th and 19th centuries that were started with the express purpose of teaching congregational singing. Perhaps we need to start these again.

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