Improving Congregational Singing

According to the forty-seventh Psalm, we are to sing the praise of the Lord “with skillfulness.”   I will leave the musical instruction side of that commandment, with its pitches, note reading, beat, proper breathing, harmonizing, etc., to those more gifted than I am in this area (which would be quite a number of people).   Yet a congregation can make vast improvements in its singing even without choral training.  How?  Simply by listening to and obeying the Word of God’s instruction on how we are to sing in the presence of God.  Consider applying in a purposeful way these short exhortations to your singing as you go to the house of the Lord the next time.

Sing to the Lord!  So many Scriptural exhortations tell us to sing to the Lord or just place the words in our mouth that we will do so, such as “I will sing to the LORD, because He has dealt bountifully with me” (Psalm 13:6).   How quickly we can forget that we are before the throne of the Lord who has redeemed us.  He is worthy of all honor and glory and praise.

Sing with the Lord!  Our Lord Jesus, who is Immanuel (“God with us”), is with the church whenever it gathers. His church is the very temple of God, and through the continual presence of His Holy Spirit He dwells with us.  We are told that Jesus says, “I will proclaim Your name to My brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will sing Your praise” (Hebrews 2:12).  When we take His word and its truths upon our lips, His Spirit is there singing with us.  These first two reasons alone should sharpen our singing!

Be enthusiastic!  This post was prompted by a recent experience.  Last Thursday evening I was about to step forward to speak again at a youth conference.  To be honest, weariness from some extra pressures right before the conference, including a funeral, had caught up to me.  Though the message was the one I had most looked forward to delivering, I felt drained and empty.  Yet right before I went forward, the youth sang.  Their spirited, robust singing not only filled the room but my heart.  I floated up to the pulpit. My energy returned.   Enthusiasm is contagious.  Regardless of other’s attitudes as they come to church, if  you have the attitude “O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together” (Psalm 34:3), others will be affected.

Engage your mind!  You should not read the Bible mindlessly or pray rote prayers.  Neither should you sing this way.  Paul exhorted the Corinthians by personally testifying, “I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also” (I Corinthians 14:15).  Listening to the minister’s introduction to the song, and then singing what the words mean are vital to praising God in truth.  We cannot be loving Him with all our hearts and minds if they are distracted from the words we are using as we sing.

Reflect the mood!  Along with using your mind, your singing and face should acknowledge the tone of the song.  When singing penitent psalms and confessing sin, often a more sorrowful note and facial expression are called for.  “The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses.  Look upon my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins” (Psalm 25:17-18).  If a call to Christian duty and battle are ringing forth in the hymn, should not fuller-throated, serious notes be heard from our lips like a war trumpet and looks of determination be seen in our countenance?  At the times when songs are praising the Lord, joy should radiate from us.   “My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God” (Psalm 84:2).

Admonish the brethren!  Remember that the Lord is not the only object of your singing.  “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).  We are to sing into the hearts and lives of those around us as we ourselves become instruments of the Holy Spirit’s ministry to our fellow believers.  Like player-coaches, we are both instructing them in the things of God and then urging them on in faithfulness to sacred truths as we sing.  Your neighbor is supposed to hear you sing!

Warn the unbelieving!  Our singing is to be evangelical in nature also.  Unbelievers are to be hearing of the holiness of God and the way of salvation He has prepared in Christ for people.  “Sing to the LORD, bless His name; proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.  Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples” (Psalm 96:2-3).  Yet not only do we need to warn them so they will turn to Christ.  We also must warn them of what will happen if they do not.  The early church, after Herod’s threats, sang and prayed from Psalm 2 (see Acts 4:23-31).  This psalm ends with this warning, “Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; take warning, O judges of the earth.  Worship the LORD with reverence and rejoice with trembling.  Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath may soon be kindled.  How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!”

Finally, lift your voice!  You should sing at a volume that says you want to be heard.  Notice everyone is included in the exhortation, “O clap your hands, all peoples;  shout to God with the voice of joy” (Psalm 47:1).  There are times when our singing should be lifting the roof.

And, yes, I know I skipped that part about clapping your hands.  After all, I am a Presbyterian minister.  But I did hear some of that at that youth conference last week…



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7 Comments

  1. kengsmith January 2, 2012 at 10:38 pm #

    Good tips! I went down through the list and put a “we can” in front of them. Singing has something spontaneous about it when one’s heart is attuned to the Spirit, and many of those things happen as the Spirit engages our worship. And they’re all good. And they can be “drawn out” by thoughtful and sensitive leaders. We can improve our singing! Amen!

  2. Rose January 2, 2012 at 11:58 pm #

    Can I ask you, how do you handle the singing of uninspired songs in congregational worship, should you happen to worship with a congregation that sings these? Or do you refrain from participating in that part of the worship service, or do you simply avoid worshiping where uninspired songs are sung in congregational worship? Thank you.

    • Barry York January 6, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

      Rose, on numerous other occasions I have promoted singing God’s Word (which is also a great way to improve congregational singing!). Here I was purposefully focusing on how we sing rather than what we sing. To answer you truly would take more time than I have. However, a quick answer would be I am thankful to worship almost always with those of like conviction, seek to express love and unity as far as I am able when in other situations, and yet do find times when my conscience will not allow me to participate in certain elements.

      • Rose January 7, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

        Thank you.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] Sing to the Lord!  So many Scriptural exhortations tell us to sing to the Lord or just place the words in our mouth that we will do so, such as ”I will sing to the LORD, because He has dealt bountifully with me” (Psalm 13:6).   How quickly we can forget that we are before the throne of the Lord who has redeemed us.  He is worthy of all honor and glory and praise. Click here to read the rest of this article. […]

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