Gospel Meetings (III) -The Singing

Connie W. Adams
Akron, Ohio

I have been convinced for sometime that too little attention is given to the vital role of singing in a successful gospel meeting. Certainly, it should be remembered that singing is to be done "with grace" in the heart "to the Lord." (Col. 3:16). It is possible for singing to be musically exact and pleasing to the ear while unacceptable to God. However, there are some who seem to be under the impression that singing must be discordant and/or poorly led in order to please the Lord. I do not claim to be an expert on singing or gospel meetings, but I have preached in a good many meetings and have attended many others and have observed some things which led me to present this article for whatever good it might do.

What Good Singing Does For a Meeting

(1) By "good singing", I simply mean singing that is from the heart, scriptural in content, well led and in which the church participates enthusiastically.

{2) Good singing creates an enthusiasm in the congregation which thrills all present and prepares it for the teaching of God's word. Draggy singing, with only slight participation, destroys interest in the whole service, including the preaching.

(3) Good singing helps a preacher to do his best. I have been in meetings when the song service was so uplifting that I could scarcely wait to get in the pulpit and start preaching. On the other hand, I have been in meetings were I was about "out of puff" from laborious singing, and hardly ready to get up and preach. Several years ago I went to a country community for a meeting. The first night the song leader arose and announced the first song. He arched his back, propped his book on his belt buckle and started out in the most mournful fashion leading us in "To the Work." I was about ready to go home before we got to the chorus! After four songs led in this manner, I was expected to get up and "knock out the black" with my sermon. The meeting was poorly attended, and I doubt that the preaching was anything to brag about. The next year they engaged the services of a brother from a nearby town who was an excellent song leader. The interest built throughout the meeting, crowds were good, and six were baptized. Oh yes, the preaching was a little better, too.

(4) Good singing helps to impress upon visitors the simplicity and sufficiency of the Lord's plan for worship. Many times I have heard people comment that they did not realize how beautiful and uplifting singing could be without an instrument. Whatever we do in the worship of God should be done as well as we can do it. This is not a matter of trying to please men. When we do the best we can in order to please God, it will have a definite effect on men.

The Song Leader

(1) A brother chosen for this important public part in the worship should be a faith-fid Christian. If his life is filled with sin, the church will be identified with his sin when he is allowed to lead the singing. A drinking, swearing, fornicating man has no business leading the singing anytime, and certainly not in a gospel meeting, even if he is an expert musician.

(2) How many song leaders shall be used during a meeting? Of course, this is a matter of judgment. Some places will use the same leader each night, while others will have a different leader each service. What is the purpose in having a different leader each time? Is it to give everyone a chance to lead? Is it to keep everyone pacified and keep down jealousy? Is it to "show off" how many song leaders a congregation has? Or is it really and truly, done because it is thought to be in the best interest of the meeting? From my own observations in meetings over the last several years, it is my judgment (for whatever it is worth) that it is far better to decide before the meeting starts who is to lead and have him lead through that meeting. If there is an abundance of talent along that line, let another lead at the next gospel meeting. A congregation becomes accustomed to the mannerisms of a good leader. The singing will generally improve from night to night under a good leader. You don't get the crowd used to anyone by trading leaders each night.

(3) It is a sad fact that there is entirely too much jealousy among song leaders. In a meeting once there were two song leaders. No advance arrangement was made as to which one should lead each night. It was a race all week long to see which one could get to the building first and post the numbers on the board. The victor would give the loser a condescending smile. They had a bitter rivalry and the congregation had sorry singing.

(4) It helps a meeting when a song leader tries to work with the preacher. Sometimes it might help to have a certain song just before the lesson, or perhaps an invitation song would fit well with the sermon. There are some 'little things which really add a lot to a service. Generally it will help if the song leader will have the audience to stand for the song just before the sermon. They are going to be seated awhile, and this change in positions will give them a needed rest. It will also help the preacher, for by standing his blood will begin to circulate, and he will be in better condition to get right into his sermon.

Another little thing has to do with the beginning of the invitation song. I have seen song leaders kill the effect of an invitation by taking their own good time about getting to the stand and starting the song. This can destroy the effect of the invitation appeal. If a song leader wants to help a meeting, and to help persuade people to obey the truth, let him be ready, and when the preacher asks the congregation to stand and sing, let him hit the floor singing! If a person is in need of obeying the gospel, and has been listening in earnest to what has been said, and is about persuaded to come, he is more apt to start forward at the moment the congregation stands to sing than any other time. It is easier then for him to overcome his timidity about coming forward than any other point in the song. Have a long pause, and often the decision is delayed. I wish all the song leaders could learn this.

The Selection of Songs

(1) There is a time to learn new songs, but during a gospel meeting is not that time. The old familiar hymns that have rekindled the fires of faith from generation to generation cannot be improved upon. Even in our modern times, such songs as "The Old Rugged Cross," "Rock of Ages," "Nearer My God to Thee," "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms," and "Tell Me the Story of Jesus," are yet well known and dearly loved. Not long ago I attended a service in a gospel meeting and did not know a single song that was sung. In traveling around among brethren in different parts of the country, I thought I had a fair smattering of the songs brethren use, but I had never heard a one of them. I could not worship in song that night.

(2) The appropriateness of songs to the occasion should not be ignored. The story is told of a stalwart preacher of a generation ago who was preparing for baptism in a creek. The crowd was gathered on the bank and the song leader was directing them in "How Firm a Foundation" while a black thunder cloud boiled overhead. Then the preacher lost his footing and stopped in a hole. When he regained his balance (and his composure) he interrupted the song and said "That song is not appropriate for this occasion, turn over there and sing 'On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand.'" I have heard brethren sing "Oh Why Not Tonight?" at a morning service. Once a brother led "Arise the Master Calls for Thee" for an invitation song. It is for this very reason that "Break Thou the Bread of Life" is not an appropriate communion song. The song itself speaks of the Lord breaking loaves "beside the sea." That has nothing to do with the Lord's Supper. It would be appropriate to sing before a sermon or Bible study.

(3) Some song leaders are especially taken with the type of song which features syncopation in the chorus, the Stamps-Baxter variety. I will not argue the merits or demerits of such songs with all the ups and downs and breath stopping syncopation, as long as they are scriptural, but I must say that it is hard for me to sing with much understanding when I have to be worried about "coming in" at the right time. I was in a service recently when every song, including the invitation, was of this variety.

(4) The number of songs to use is again a matter of judgment. Someone asked me once if I had noticed that the slowest song leaders nearly always pick out the longest songs (I had), and then usually sing every verse, and two or three extra songs. Many a preacher has been charged with being long-winded when his sermons were of reasonable length. It was the song leader who was long winded!

The Congregation's Part

The best of leaders, with the best selection of songs, must have the cooperation of the congregation. They must open up and sing. Sometimes in a meeting a rather large meeting house will be sparsely filled. It would make the singing better, to say nothing of helping the preacher, if everyone would get together. Then there are grim-faced, tight-lipped individuals who are determined not to sing. There they sit! They seem to feel that when God authorized singing, he meant to exempt them. Then there are those who try to take the leading away from the appointed leader. I have seen brethren in their seats beating time and singing either behind the leader or else ahead of him. Such is not orderly. I don't even think it is decent.

The way in which a congregation joins in the singing tells a great deal about the zeal and enthusiasm of the members. Every congregation needs a singing school periodically with a good instructor. This will help develop song leaders, teach us new songs, correct mistakes on old ones, and educate our young people to love the praises of God.

Good singing helps to make successful meetings and I hope and pray that these comments may cause some brethren to give more attention to this matter than has been the case in the past.


November 27, 1969

Gospel Meetings (IV) Kinds of Gospel Meetings