Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Non-Congregational Singing: Performance or Worship?

In our Small Group meeting Sunday morning, conversation touched on this subject-- one which really needs examination in the Light of Scripture.

I've thought some about it prior to then, and have been thinking about it ever since. I encourage anyone and everyone to chip in their thoughts, especially those with specific Scripture in support of the viewpoint.

In my mind, the question revolves around whether musical offerings, especially non-corporate, non-congregational, thus either solos, trios, or choirs, require some degree of "quality" or "perfection" with respect to musical ability, ear-pleasing to the human hearers........or whether that is in fact, irrelevant, because the idea should be that of an offering to God, a sacrifice of praise.....and the fact that the singer is not "recording-artist quality" and may even be off-key and not particularly "pleasing" to our ears should not be a consideration.

Now, I am a great example of a non-starter when it comes to singing: can't carry a tune, even with a wheelbarrow. I have no desire to stand up on the platform some Sunday morning to sing a solo! I'm not overly convinced that solo or small group performances are a big contribution to corporate worship at all.....but to continue this line of thought, suppose we are having a time of testimony on Wednesday night.......or in our class......and rather than talk (or preach!) I am moved to "sing" a testimony? Songs like "And Can It Be?" and "There Is A Fountain" speak strongly of my personal view, my own experience, and I sing them all the time (when no one can hear but the Lord).....So, if I stand up in a group and squawk out a verse or two of a song like that.......it seems more like real worship than an orchestrated, pristine, rehearsed, "professional" rendition, though the latter would be more appealing to the ears of the congregation by far..........

There is great emphasis in music ministry (I speak as an outsider) on "quality" performances: timing, orchestration, overall pleasing to the human ear musicality. Defenders of this intense effort, in my experience, fall back upon the description of O.T. sacrifices to justify their position.....that the sacrifice be "perfect, spotless, not the lame or otherwise flawed." Is this proper exegesis? When we speak of the sacrifice of praise, is that offering to be "perfect, flawless" in the eyes of man?.......or the eyes of God?

To me, this looks like a case of man looking upon the outward appearance (outward sound)........where God views this offering of praise as it comes from the heart of the person singing.

Complaints about poor quality singing in "specials" are surely a product of the flesh: the music did not "sound good" to our ears. In all this, I am assuming that the lyrics are Scriptural. There is no defense for unscriptural lyrics, no matter how "well done" they are. So, what are we doing if we criticize or avoid altogether a singer whose "offering" is off-key or not too sound musically.......Can we say that because we were not thoroughly "entertained" that his act was not pleasing to God? On what basis do we, or does any man, judge the acceptability of a sacrifice of praise offered by another believer?

How much emphasis do we need (as a congregation) on musical praise being technically perfect to human ears?
Do we need to cull poor singers in our body to keep them out of the "limelight"......to keep the overall group from being subjected to "poor singing"?........
Do we need to eliminate all sorts of "performance" singing: solos, choirs, small groups? Have congregational singing only?

I look forward to your thoughts.


S.J. Walker said...

My thought has alway been (in my immensely long years, ahem. Whoa that hard for even me to wallow!)that those who are in music or are spontaneously lead to sing, like you mentioned in a meeting or something like, and application where song is the mode of praise, preaching, and testimony(which should all be nearly synonymous in many respects) should be done or 'performed' to the very best of the person's or groups' ability and knowledge. I do beleive God gave us ear to hear 'good music', and we should use them.

Above all, my motto is "make a joyful noise". Do your best, but meaning what you sing should be most important. My Dad's church can't sing worth a hoot by even my tone deaf standards, but i love worshiping with them because they, at least many of them, MEAN IT.

I think then that we all should strive to our very best for the sake of the Lord in correct application of offering a spotless sacrifice, but the spotlessness and purity are based not on vibrato nearly as much as vigor.

So for me, it's an even mix with God at the top. I am flat as a pancake and my wife is sweet as honey to hear, but we both mean what we song and sing what we mean. Also, as far congregational, it's the same thing. Make it as good as you possibly can, use the talent and knowledge of musical quality God gives, but do it for HIM not 'them'.

So, I think I'm with you on this one.

It's great to see you posting again Brother. Keep it up


thekidsmom said...

hmmmm....this is actually an issue I have very mixed feelings about, and have changed my mind about a few times. I don't know that I could offer scriptural support one way, or the other. However, I do think that, as with most things in our spiritual life, God is interested in the heart. I cannot imagine that God is more "pleased" with a polished, practiced "performance" than he is with the spontaneous, heartfelt praise of one of his children, albeit off-key. That is not to say He is not pleased with a polished performance, which may, indeed, be offered out of a desire to bring glory to the Lord. So, I have to believe that, if the heart is right in the matter, the Father is pleased, and honored, by both.

Anonymous said...

Today I was in tears to God over this very subject. I love to sing and God has blessed my voice to sing; and what I love most is singing to God when He's the only ears that hear me! At times I'm asked to sing solos in church, and I don't mind singing because it's something I'm passionate about, but what disturbs me so much is the feeling of being judged by the congregation because of my 'performance'. I know God loves to hear me sing; as much as I love to sing to Him. But I hate feeling I have to sing to perfection in order for someone to receive a blessing.

Bob said...

interesting what the last commenter wrote - i have to agree - it is terrible that we have to judge to this degree in the church. I LOVE good performance, and to be honest i would describe myself as a critic - i can judge the quality of the writing, lyrics and melody, the singing, timing, energy etc etc etc - i have written recorded and performed songs, both secular and christian , congregational and non for more than 20 years now. i have worked as a professional musician and as a recording engineer/ producer in the secular arena......I say all that to say this - the secular world is nowhere nearly as critical as the church when it comes to music --- and the crazy paradox (in my opinion)is that the church is only beginning to catch up to the world in terms of quality. My own personal experience is this - people's attitude is wrong on 2 levels - someone listening to a performance in church should not be so harsh - and should be looking for the good and not the bad ( a critical spirit is demonic and seriously affects the atmosphere and can actually ruin a performance - throw that in the bin if you like but i know it's actually the truth ) - on the other hand church leadership needs to be more bold about speaking the truth (in private) about bad quality performance - what i mean is that someone who is not that good should not really be allowed to solo to be honest - i know God looks on the heart for people in the pews but people on the stage ought to be gloryfing God IMHO.
It's much the same for preaching - if i do my best and teach in private and lets say i get it all right and my heart is right but in front of 1000 people i couldnt talk for nerves then the pastor wouldnt be long about pointing me in another direction would he ?

all vastly misunderstood in my opinion - and not that difficult - ironicly i think we need to look to the world - not because they have the answer but becuase to our shame they (in this subject) know a lot more than we do !!!

the bible does say to play "skillfully" - so that has to mean SOMETHING

Joseph said...

Solo church singing is intended to deliver a message. A soul penetrating message that awakens the spirit within you as a believer and that impacts the potential believer enough to get them thinking about living for Christ. In order for this message to be effective it must be delivered in a way that is pleasing to the ear. Think about it! Do you get a message or really care about any meaning or story the song is intended for if you don't like the way it sounds? Most likely not. You change the station or you buy what is pleasing to you, what soothes you, what relaxes you and takes you away, what gives you a temporary peace of mind. It's really not any different when your sitting there in church. That spiritual message delivered in a song must be pleasing to the ear in order to have the positive effect intended. Otherwise, it will not be received by the congregation in a positive way. To end, Yes! God may be very pleased that you are trying your best to deliver a message, but, when it comes to music "of any kind" it must be delivered in a way that is pleasing to the ear.