Among all the (many) things to consider as you go about the challenging, exhilarating work of planting a church, what thought have you given to singing?
You may have a pre-existing idea of what singing should look like in your new church, but let me encourage you with two thoughts:
- Building a culture of Spirit-filled singing is vitally important and will have a massive impact on the health and growth of your church.
- Building a culture of Spirit-filled singing requires work, intentionality and clarity.
Why is Singing Important?
In Scripture, singing is not an optional exercise for Christians. There are more than 400 references to singing in the Bible, including 50 direct commands. In Ephesians 5:18-19, one of the first results of being a Spirit-filled Christian is “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” And by God’s grace, as we sing, we more fully experience the wonders of who God is and what he has done.
God’s people are a singing people. We come together to “ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name” (Ps. 29:2), to “forget not all his benefits” (Ps. 103:2), and to “magnify the Lord … and exalt his name together” (Ps. 34:3). And one of the primary ways we accomplish all this is when we, “Sing to him, sing praise to him” and “tell of all his wondrous works!” (Ps. 105:2)
Singing is a time when the word of Christ can dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16). It also enables truth and emotion to coexist in beautiful harmony. The glorious truths we are singing stir our hearts – amplified and deepened by melody, instruments and dynamics.
I’m sure you want this for your church. But good singing doesn’t just happen.
Building a Culture of Spirit-filled Singing
Here are a few encouragements.
1. Create clear goals for your corporate worship, including singing
It doesn’t have to be a treatise; it can be a few simple bullet points. But clarity will help you and your congregation focus on the right things. Think through priorities in your services like Christ-exalting (vs. man), corporate singing (vs. individual), theologically rich (vs. shallow), etc. Give thought to the order and structure of your service. Do the songs and various elements in your service lead somewhere? Do they help people understand how we approach and encounter God?
There are many other influences that define what “worship” should look like, sound like and be like. The people in our church (and, if we’re honest, us too) can be negatively affected without clear goals. Those goals should inform your feedback and evaluation. I have often met with worship leaders who receive confusing feedback, even at times, from the lead pastor. Can we do more happy songs? Can we turn down the lights? How can we create more energy in the room? How can our music sound like so-and-so? Agreeing on the goals for your Sunday meeting will keep you accountable and serve your musicians.
2. Find worship leaders and musicians whose love for the Lord is as good as or better than their skill
We all want the worship leader with an amazing voice, musical talent and pastoral sensibilities – and while we’re talking about it , also does graphic design, leads the youth, counsels and works on a part-time salary! Chances are, that person isn’t readily available (or doesn’t exist). When we can’t find the “perfect” person, we can be tempted to prioritize someone with musical gifts over someone who can effectively lead others to worship the Lord through song. Your church needs faith-filled singing, not amazing music. While great music can be a blessing, it is not essential. Look for people whose daily lives fuel their worship on Sunday mornings. And take responsibility to train and disciple them as they help lead your Sunday gatherings.
3. Build a ‘hymnal’ of the right songs
Not all songs are the same. Some songs are easily accessible and simple. Others are ideal for a particular moment or season. Still others are weighty enough to carry your congregation through the many joys and sorrows they’ll experience. Prioritize those songs in your first years as a church plant. It’s easy to do accessible, well known or even catchy songs in order to encourage participation. But what you win them with is what you win them to. In the first couple of years for your church, prioritize teaching and leading songs that are filled with rich theology. Like your preaching, equip your congregation with Christ-exalting, horizon-expanding truths that will deepen their faith in and love for God.
The songs we pick each week are vitally important. What words have you given people to sing when a baby dies in your congregation? Or someone finds out they have cancer? Or when people are struggling with sin? What will you sing when your church experiences numerical growth or people come to Christ? This doesn’t mean you only sing hymns. My encouragement is to pick the best songs you can and don’t just settle for what is popular and well known. It’s worth the effort.
4. Model expressive engagement
One of your roles as a pastor in the church is to recognize the importance of singing in your own life. I encourage you to take your eyes off your sermon notes – and your mind off that last point you need to work out – and sing to the Lord. Your heart should be stirred in the same way as any other person in the congregation. And it will have a positive impact on your preaching and leadership!
5. Equip your church to understand the importance and priority of singing
Most people know that singing is part of a Christian’s life, but most don’t understand why. Consider doing a series or at least a message on this topic. It will serve your congregation and deepen their walk with the Lord.
Remember, your congregation doesn’t need the music to sound a certain way. They need to understand that God is worthy of all our worship. He has invited us to lift our voices in song. He has given us the opportunity and privilege to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly.
Pastor, equip your church to sing!
Published September 7, 2022