I was invited to take part in a webinar for church leaders organised by the FIEC, where we discussed the challenges of singing together when we can’t sing together as churches. You can watch the whole video below:
My short section (18:45 onwards) attempted to answer the question of how we can maintain something of the one-another aspect of our singing, while being restricted in various ways. Here’s what I said:
Ideally congregational singing should be a one-another ministry. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”
And so, however long restrictions last, we don’t want to emerge from them having lost a biblical sense of the place of singing in the congregation. Two potential errors that we’ll want to avoid are:
FIRSTLY – Where we regress to the priesthood of some believers, believing that it’s only the people up the front who perform either our worship or our singing on our behalf.
SECONDLY – Slipping into congregational consumerism, where we inadvertantly encourage the congregation to be passive evaluators of the music and singing taking place, rather than participating in some way.
Part of the difficulty in navigating these things is that the guidance puts the congregation into a particular category. If you compare the guidance for churches with the guidance for performing arts, then it’s clear that the congregation are in a very similar category to the audience in these other contexts. We can understand why, but at the same time – theologically, when it comes to singing, the congregation are more in the category of the artist, rather than the audience or the consumer. So this presents some difficulties, but also – I think – maybe opens up some opportunities too.
So how can we maintain something of the one-another aspect of our singing, while we are restricted? Here are my 6 quick tips:
1. Teach about congregational singing from God’s word.
To counter the potential dangers I mentioned earlier, it would be a great time to do some teaching about why we sing as God’s people today. Why not plan to do that, and as you do, point out how abnormal it is to just have some people singing, and encourage your people to appreciate biblically, what they are currently missing by not being able to sing together.
2. Encourage the congregation to discuss the songs as well as the sermons
I hope you encourage your congregation to talk about the sermons they hear. Why not extend that to the songs they hear sung to try and retain this one-another aspect of singing. Yes, we can’t all serve one another in singing at the same time. Currently our singers at the front are serving everyone else, who are in turn being served, without the opportunity to join in.
Some of the things I have been encouraging the congregation to do is to really focus on the words as they hear them sung, and then to take home the service sheets to sing the songs at home during the week. And also to talk about the songs and how they have encouraged or challenged them. And then to feed that back to those who are singing from the front, so that they are reminded that their role is to serve one another in song, rather than simply performing.
3. Encourage family singing and ‘household’ singing
Aaron Johnson talks more about this on the video above. It would be a tragedy if some of our congregation did not sing at all for the duration of restrictions. So do encourage family and extended household singing at home. Particularly families with children. Keith and Kristyn Getty have been championing this recently, so do check out their resources, and encourage your households to sing more together with God’s word open.
4. Take physical participation to new heights
Phil Moore talks more about this on the video. Do encourage physical participation by the congregation in the songs being sung. If you feel your congregation would benefit from humming along to the tune of the songs – and that they would be able to resist the temptation to open their mouths – then do encourage humming! It brings a higher degree of participation, and therefore encouragement of one another, and can also aid our focus on the words, and give our hearts some expression of those truths, especially if the songs are familiar ones.
5. Rotate as much as possible those singing from the front
We want to reduce as much as possible the distinction between those who are singing and those who are not singing. One way to do that is to make sure you don’t have the same people up the front singing for every service. Rotate that role as much as possible, so your singers get a feel for what it is like in the congregation, and so as many others get the opportunity to serve by singing.
6. Be creative with choirs
This might not be possible for all churches, but – if you can – I would recommend considering forming a small choir, or a few small choirs. Christmas is coming, and churches will often use choirs in carol services or outreach events. For rehearsals and performances, you will have to follow the guidance for the Performing Arts. But I think it should be possible to do so safely. And why not encourage as many of the congregation as you possibly can to come and join a rehearsal and sing together, bearing in mind all the guidance.