When I first began the journey of planting a church one common refrain of encouragement from seasoned planters was, “Identify your church’s core values. Communicate them clearly and often.”
Now, this isn’t the place to quibble with whether or not mission statements and core values ought to be a “first order of business” reality in planting a church. When used rightly, just like church confessions, core values function as faithful identifiers of what a local church understands and treasures about its faith and practice.
So we came up with what we call at Imago Dei Church, “Things We Want to Be True.” Things that we hope would permeate our church’s life together and witness to the world. One of those things is that we would be “A Singing Church.”
WHY WE SING
Why have a specific desire to be a singing church? Two things come immediately to mind.
1. Singing mirrors the character of God.
Zephaniah’s only recorded sermon helped bring spiritual revival to God’s people after the long and disastrous reign of Manassah. For three chapters Zephaniah has detailed the “day of the Lord,” a day when he would, according to chapter 3, “Pour out upon them [His] indignation, all [His] burning anger . . . all the earth shall be consumed.” The picture is bleak. It’s as though God announces that His storm of judgment is coming and His people stare at a sky swelling with rolling and thunderous clouds. And just before judgment bursts forth in power, a single ray of sunshine breaks through and shines down. Zephaniah says sadness and depression isn’t the order of the day for everybody. The sun of salvation is going to burst upon the earth because “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save. He will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zeph. 3:17) Our God is a singing God!
Faithful singing then is little more than a mirror of the great God who sings over His people. Our singing God creates and commands His people, which leads to the second point.
2. Singing is a mark of obedience.
God not only creates His people, but commands His people and one command is that we sing. As best I can tell, there are some four hundred references to singing in Scripture and over fifty commands to sing. God’s salvation compels the commands of Zephaniah 3:14, “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!” Did you notice from where our singing is to come? ”Rejoice and exult with all your heart.” What matters most in singing is the state of our hearts. God is honored when our hearts sings unto Him in joyful humility and honesty.
This is why we sing, because it mirrors God is and is a mark of obedience. Said another way, “We sing because He sang first over us.”
WHAT SINGING DOES
Another question worth pursuing on the topic is, “What singing does singing actually do?” If we long for a culture of singing in our churches, what kind of culture are we longing for? Among the myriad of things singing does, I believe there are four worth particular mention.
Singing glorifies God.
Spirit-filled churches, according to Ephesians 5:19, are those that sing and make melody to the Lord with all their heart. The first function of singing is vertical, a harmonious declaration of all His wonderful works (1 Chron. 16:9).
One way we teach one another is by “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Col. 3:16). Singing is biblical and systematic theology set to meter and melody. Want to help your church understand sin has the two-fold effect of curse and corruption, and that Christ justifies and sanctifies? Have them sing good Mr. Toplady’s “Rock of Ages”:
“Be of sin the double cure, save from wrath and make me pure”
The horizontal dimension of singing to “one another” (Eph. 5:19) means teaching and encouraging. They are closely related and functional synonyms, but it seems wise to distinguish them. Has a church member in your congregation recently lost a child through miscarriage? Help your church encourage them by singing “How Firm a Foundation”:
“Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand”
I don’t have an explicit reference for this, but I am increasingly convinced few things fuel humility like faithful singing. It is so common, isn’t it, for Christians to think, “If the music is just right, or is to my particular stylistic liking, then I will be able to sing along.” But the vertical and horizontal dimensions of singing compel us to praise even when the music may not be to our personal preference. We see that glorifying God and encouraging one another is more important than my hope that the musical glory of “Enter Your Favorite Band Here” invades the congregation.
This is why, if our churches are ever to be singing churches, we pastors must give our people a grand view of our majestic God. God’s majesty, not man’s music, must ultimately compel our singing. What unites us together in life and worship is not stylistic preference, but God’s majesty as revealed in Christ. Personal preference in man’s music can never truly unite a church in the bonds of peace, but prioritization of God’s majesty will. Pursue the majesty of God more than the music of men and find your church become a singing church.
A SINGING-SHAPED CHURCH
I hope then it is clear why we pray for God to form us into “A Singing Church.”
We want to mirror God’s character, so we sing.
We want to be obedient to His word, so we sing.
We want to glorify God, so we sing.
We want to teach one another in truth, so we sing.
We want to encourage one another in the Spirit, so we sing.
We want to humble our hearts before God, so we sing.
By His power and for His glory, may He form us all into singing churches.