Sunday, January 20, 2008

All sung out.... . .

The only thing I really dislike about church these days is ... singing. I have spent my life singing in various contexts, as a child, as an adult, along with music, on my own, with others -and in various church contexts have sung probably every hymn and worship song around. It isn't simply that my voice is failing and that I cannot sing properly anymore, although that is an increasingly uncomfortable obstacle to overcome - I think it is more than that. Today for example, the kids talk was great, the times of quiet reflection and prayer were helpful, communion was meaningful, and the sermon useful, solid exegesis; however I am increasingly finding the church music a distracting obstacle to overcome in order to present myself in a worshipful frame of mind to God. What makes it worse is that I am struggling both with the musical style which we use - and some of the lyrical content offered. In short, I am sometimes invited to sing songs I don't identify with, in a musical format that makes me cringe.. sometimes deeply.

It isn't simply a case that we don't import the latest trendy worship songs from the conference circuit because these can be amongst the worse offenders. Today for example, meaningful worship was facilitated in songs such as "Great is Thy Faithfulness". I was conscious the whole time of my Grandma's failing health in the hospital, this was uplifting, and faith-nurturing. The new song sung however, was from the very bottom drawer of the "Jesus loves you Boogaloo" school of songwriting, with vacuous theology and a tune so twee it could have come from Mary Poppins. Such things make me feel almost entirely alienated, and frankly depressed.

Do you know what I would really like? A complete rest from singing in church. Even if it were only for a few months -perhaps that would rekindle my enthusiasm. Perhaps it would enable us to find other ways of expressing our praise, and it might also facilitate some serious thinking about the purpose of church music, rather than the assumption that singing is what we must always do when we meet together! (There is a biblical mandate to sing, but no indication that this must form the essential content of every meeting of believers.)

The other thing I would really like would be to meet with other people, read the Bible together, pray together, share needs and support one another - without a cheesy musical accompaniment....... so, see you at housegroup!!
[rant over]


lynn said...

Oh dearie me....Hideous me old pal, I didn't enjoy reading about your discomfort/unease. Not because I didn't agree with you (I think) but because.....I guess God wants us to love whatever we do that is FOR him, in his presence.

I love love love singing.
Probably too much - is that possible? I took an assortment of kids to see Enchanted yesterday (you MUST see it) and have been singing the song "True love's kiss" all day; would probably have sung it at church too if someone had played it.

I feel fortunate that I get to sing lots of resoundingly solid material of new and old genres for most of the time in my place of worship; and not all comfortable to sing; some downright painful and require me to stand soberly and reflectively at times, but I'll post about that on my blog later tonight.

Fish Wifes Tales said...

I love singing but sometimes I think we could have less singing and more praying or even silence.

Your idea of having no singing has already been tried: Day 13 in The Purpose Driven Life says "Matt Redman..tells how his pastor taught his church the real meaning of worship. To show that worship is more than music, he banned all singing in their services for a period of time while they learned to worship in other ways. By the end of that time, Matt had written the classic song 'Heart of Worship'."

The newly learned song that you so aptly described is not one of my favourites either, especially since a friend nicknamed it "A frog went a-courting"...enough said.

Endlessly restless said...

I think you're being a bit harsh ... on Mary Poppins. All of the tunes in Mary Poppins were classics compared to the boogaloo anthem!

I'm not entirely convinced by a singing ban, but I am keen to change the way that we worship (see my rant today). We could also introduce different styles of service at different times of the day - including a boogaloo club if necessary! Or is that just too radical??

Dr Stumpy said...

Alas, alas, the joy of That Hideous Man is... incomplete.
I too find this aspect of worship in church difficult at times for a number of not disimilar reasons.
(a)Singing theologically dubious hymns is not only annoying it is just plain dangerous because for the obvious reasons of rhyme, rythm & repitition we will remember them, when quite frankly we forget the sermon. Thus the songs we sing are much more likely to form our theology than any sermon.
(b) There are lots of perfectly good older pieces. My vague presbyterian associations require me to mention lots of psalms & paraphrases, which do have the (I feel rather huge) benefit of being pretty tight to scripture.
(c)This last one is pure personal preference- but I'm afraid in terms of musical accompanyment I, though not a minimalist, prefer the instruments to be uninvasive. Of course one man's invasive is another's congruence with the text.
Finally there is the (pure pschological quirk of my personality) which finds the use of strong drumming (eg) quite disturbing - in that when our (excellent & very nice) drummer in church does a 'solo' accompanyment to a piece I, quite simply and honestly want to burst into tears and bolt for the door. All the more odd given I really rather like various rock such as Rush & U2.
Actually I think in terms of worship I'm probably most at home in an traditional Anglican format (which is amusing given my fundamentalist upbringing).

My own policy on these matters is
(1) Words:If I don't believe it I don't sing it.
(2) Music: Try to realise that my personal preferences are indeed just that. Recall Michal's disdain in 2 Sam 6

Remember - One man's Latin Mass is another man's Graham Kendrick

lynn said...

ooooh I have LOVED reading all these comments; they have been made in such a positive vein - the last one has had me in fits of giggles; congrats THM on raising a sensitive issue with humour and open-ness.

I didn't want to post this before, but I was actually quite upset at a vitriolic outburst on someone's (in a Far Far Away Land) blog about Chris Tomlin who I feel has written anthems for this day and age - so I had decided just not to read postings on church music any more.

However you guys have made me laugh!

(just what is the boogaloo song? And the frog went a courtin song?)

I have got to plug "Enchanted" again - take Boris, Noris and Doris to see it :-)

Steg said...

The only thing I miss about church is the singing, though I realise that probably isn't an advert for singing-as-worship. Especially as were I to de-lapse I think my chirch of choice would be the Quakers (I realise that's not a v logical stace). There are some terrible new (well OK 70s or 80s since it's a while since I heard any) songs. Least favourite Christian song of my teenage years has to be 'Zip bam boo zam a lam alam a boo there's freedom in Jesus Christ' and 'I want to live and walk for Jesus' or somesuch to the tune of match of the day. Then again, I've never been very fond of 'Will yer anchor hold in the storrums of life' which is v trad.

Anonymous said...

Unlike some of the commentators, I don't know who you are. I have discovered your blog from Lynn's blog. I agree totally with your post and also dr stumpy's comments, especially "one man's Latin Mass is another man's Graham Kendrick". I can recommend Nick Page's book "And now let's move into a time of nonsense" (subtitled "Why Worship Songs are Failing The Church). My husband bought this for me for Christmas 2006 due to my moans! Read this and you will have difficulty singing ANYTHING in church again! (Nick Page is keen to stress that he is not advocating "a return to the good old days of hymn singing", and that's not what the book is about. It is a good laugh and a thought provoking read.

Lins Honeyman said...

I wasn't too keen on that new song on Sunday either and even started taking the proverbial out of it by singing it as "Froggie Went A Courting" to my kids this morning to drive the nail in a bit further - how could someone write trash like that, I thought to myself.

Then my son stopped me in mid flow and said "We've been singing that song in our school assemblies this week."

Big oops on my part.

I'd completely forgotten that God uses weak things (songs and people alike) for His purposes and that, although the song isn't to my own taste and isn't by any means perfect, He had a plan for it anyway - one which involved a schoolful of mostly unchurched children hearing about His glory.

I felt a bit daft - especially since His rebuke came through my 7 year old son!

That Hideous Man said...

A rebuke you have passed on to me!

Hymn Singer said...

I posted as anonymous last time but didn't intend to! Personally, I still feel that to a certain extent we (i.e. society!) have lost the beauty of language and I feel really sad about that. Everything is "dumbed down" and is "txt speak!" There are some fantastic, timeless old hymns, with great tunes, which were designed to be easily sung by a congregation of all ages and all vocal abilities! (or lack of!) Okay there are some rubbish ones too, with equally dodgy lyrics, but a lot of modern worship songs are only fashionable for a few weeks, and are not that easy for a congregation to pick up and sing!

I wonder what the "Frog went a-courting" song is?! I'm sure we never sing it at the church which I go to (which is the same one as Lynn!) I expect if it is "new" and "trendy", we must have sung it!
Personal rant: we have sang the same irritating (in my opinion!) song at every morning service for the past three weeks! No doubt give it a few weeks and my particular current irritating song will never see the light of day again.

Amie said...

An interesting debate, one which I suspect many churches have engaged in for many years. It's interesting when you think that the two main places where any communal singing takes place these days are at church and football matches. Possibly also at gigs...

Music style and the theology of the lyrics aside...(A big debate for another day) How to the 'un-churched' respond to singing in a congregation. For many it would be a highly unusual experience. Therefore I woud be inclined to think about how 'worship' (this word being open to a variety of interpretations) is used to include the outside or those on the periphory of church. Does it engage those who otherwise would be uncomfotable singing in public?
As it happens I am a musical and singing kind of person who is very involved in the worship team at my church. I recently looked exploring other ways of worshiping e.g. Through art... through nature ... through prayer ... and there are lots of different ways to 'worship' beyond the typical hymn singing. I recommend 'True Worship' by Vaughan Roberts. He discusses the place of music, musicians and emotion in regards to worship but also seeks to define what it means to live a life of worship. Worth a read.

Amie said...

(Must learn to preview all comments, as it seems that my typo errors are numerous. Sorry!)

a. l. scot said...

Song as Worship is a response to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. When we allow ourselves to become immersed in His Word, the natural outpouring of that pursuit will take the form of a Psalm, Hymn or spiritual song(Colossians 3:16). Whether this occurs in the church, the study or the shower matters not to God(in my humble, I pray, opinion).

I am blessed to have a Worship Pastor who WILL NOT offer up a song to our congregation unless the words align with Holy Scripture(7 years running). He also does an admirable job of mixing the old and new, although that doesn't stop people from complaining. Sometimes, I'll simply close my eyes during worship, quit singing and listen to the congregation offer up their praise to a God who loves them. What a fragrant aroma it can be to one's soul!!!

Please pardon me if this sounds a bit stuffy. That is not my intent and I thank THM, as have others, for bringing up this important subject.

The Hippo Critic said...

@A I Scot - can you give examples of worship songs that don't align with Holy Scripture that you won't sing?

Just interested to know what you mean.

That Hideous Man said...

I'm very grateful for the many varied and interesting responses to my initial rant!

A further thought.....

In the New Testament church, "eating toegther" seems to have been as central as "singing together" is to today's church!

Amie said...

I believe (from very limited knowledge!) that the Alpha courses revolve around eating and sharing together? I've never been to one so please correct me if I'm wrong! It is a good idea and very often in the bible Jesus shared mighty words of wisdom while sat around a table enjoying a meal.

Re: Songs with words that don't match scripture - I often wonder about:

# In the bleak mid winter .... snow on snow on snow #

Although this is only one verse and a seasonal song which is supposed to depict the Christmas story I often wonder why we sing it?!

a. I Scot: I do agree that worship through song is indeed a valid and biblical response to our encounter with Jesus and one I am grateful for on a personal level. =) I think the point is more somewhat that it is not the only one and perhaps churches need to consider and explore this further. I think you do have a point about not singing particular songs we are not comfortable with. To throw a question to the floor, should we sing songs that, although in suitable alignment with the scripture, we cannot confess to sing honestly? For example, songs about praising God in troubled times. Should we sing along when we don't really feel like we mean it?

Lynn: I saw 'Enchanted' too. Brilliant! (Although admittedly one must suspend their disbelief to quite an extent!)

a. l. scot said...

Amie, I agree with your point that this discussion is focusing on one particular form of worship, song. But Oh how important this subject is to the body of Christ. By the way, thank you for naming a song for me in response to Mr. Critic's valid question!

As stated in my earlier entry, I am blessed to have a Worship Pastor that prays over the music he selects and ties it nicely into the Scripture passages we read between songs. My apologies Mr. Critic as I truly can not come up with an example of potentially misguided songs off the top of my head.

I suppose I should confess that I am good friend's with the Worship Pastor and love him as a brother IN Christ, so I guess that could bias my position on this subject???

At the end of the day, I pray that all will encourage their Worship Pastors continuously(it's a tough gig). If a rebuke is in order, may it be gentle and delivered in love.

Steg said...

To all those Enchanted fans - yes it was good and yes my 7 year old enjoyed it, but it also gave her a fairly bad nightmare, so it's possibly not for the overly sensitive or for those who take everything on screen as 'real'.............

Dr Stumpy-Greenisland (as charaterised by that hideousman) said...

To follow on from an earlier question of things I don't sing:
These are divided into things I think
(a) I would be a hypocrite to sing ( eg I love you more than gold or

(b) are false reps of the wider world eg some remarks about the sad
sorrowful people in 'People need the Lord' would appear to be false in my experience:
> Everyday they pass me by,
> I can see it in their eyes.
> Empty people filled with care,
> Headed who knows where?

Actually alot of non christians I know are perfectly happy. Underneath
this song is some sort of emotional equivalent to the prosperity gospel.
Both are damaging - because both fail to deliver ( the firs tis a matter of public fact, the second in my personal experience).

(c) I am struggling to think 'off the top of my head' of a song I don't
sing because I think it is theologically erroneous. Hopefully this is
because there are not too many, but I'll dwell on that one. I guess my
main gripe is that there is sometimes a lack of balance in what we sing. All joy - little lament. Lots of God is forgiving, perhaps a bit too little that he is to be feared.

A word of advise to thathideousman:You should denounce something else next week - it certainly gets the readers remarking.

Anonymous said...

Amie said...

Here' a slight tangent that Lynn will enjoy. On our church worship forum somebody has brought up a point about how we make worship inclusion for children and young people, rather than making it the part of the service they just have to sit through. Thoughts anyone?

lynn said...

22 comments - and counting........

Amie, I don't want to hijack THM's blog with my rant so I have taken up your point on my blog too.

Suffice to say, I can write any one of a number of strategies of how to get children more involved in worship but I think right at the very heart of this issue is how the fellowship of believers of which you are part sees children; as little heathens needing salvation, outside of the kingdom? ...or ones who have been saved but who are cognitively not capable of worshipping God with the awe and reverence that us adults do? (!!) ...or as the very ones who worshipped Jesus for who he was - KING - which offended the religious folks of the day - Matthew 21: 15-16

Tumpy said...

What a wonderful debate with such an assortment of views. All I can say is I love the honesty of that hideous man, secure enough in himself to say what he really feels - give me more of that in the church please!