Each Sunday I stand with a congregation of dear friends and join in song. I actually look forward to it all week. I've experienced few occasions as powerful as those moments when we sing with unity and boldness such phrases as, "Hallelujah, all I have is Christ," or " My sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul!" I am deeply encouraged as I sing on Sunday morning, but that hasn't always been the case.
Corporate worship takes on many forms, and my understanding has been mostly based on my own experience. Childhood hymn singing left me desiring more. The format was stale and predictable. The singing felt wooden and contrived. I became convinced that hymns were little more than a ritualistic burden. That's when I discovered contemporary christian music.
Contemporary worship seemed to be the antidote for the stuffy hymns I was used to. Words like "relevant" and "authentic" were used to describe this new worship experience. I appreciated churches who turned down the lights because it gave me a sense of being alone with God. I was also thankful when the music was loud since I felt more comfortable singing when I wasn't worried about being heard by others. I thought I had discovered true worship. But in the darkness and the noise I was missing out on a wonderful blessing -- other Christians!
The New Testament does not say much about corporate singing, but there are some helpful passages to consider.
These passages highlight an important reason for corporate singing: the encouragement of the saints. When we join together to sing songs rooted in God's Word we have an opportunity to encourage one another in a way we could not otherwise achieve. Corporate worship, it seems, is meant to be directed both to God and one another. When a congregation understands this responsibility the singing takes on a deeper meaning.
I'm fortunate to be part of a congregation that has kept the lights on. Rather than going dark in favor of an individual worship experience, we encourage one another by singing with eyes wide open. Some of the most worshipful moments I've experienced have resulted from observing my brothers and sisters in Christ in song. I have been encouraged and convicted by looking into the eyes of recent widows, abandoned spouses, former addicts, and others who passionately sing because they are convinced that God is worthy of praise no matter their circumstances.
In addition to keeping the lights on, here are three opportunities to consider as you approach corporate worship:
1. Consider decreasing the volume of the accompaniment. Corporate singing is most effective when the voices of the congregation function as the primary instrument.
2. Consider singing a variety of old and new songs. There is great value in singing hymns that have withstood the test of time. It's a privilege to sing the same phrases echoed by christians who came before us. There are also many wonderful songs being produced by this generation. There is much to gain from the doctrinally rich lyrics and melodies of contemporary christians.
3. Consider learning harmony. Corporate singing becomes even more symbolic when various vocal parts combine to form one unified sound. We serve one another well by singing in such a way that we produce acoustic richness and vibrance.
I trust that God will use corporate worship to encourage your soul this Sunday. Remember that the brothers and sisters standing around you are depending on you to encourage them as well. Praise God for the gift of corporate worship!