By W. P. Risener
The singing we do in worship to God deserves the same thought and attention that we occasionally give to others aspects of our worship. We wish to notice a few things, some of faith and other in which we make suggestions.
Many do not sing who could. Perhaps they are influenced by human churches where choirs do the singing and others are entertained. “Teaching and admonishing one another” (Col. 3:16), prohibits choirs, and passiveness by other worshipers. This, along with “singing,” also prohibits humming softly by some while others sing. If you are concerned about how you look with your mouth open, remember the Lord looks on the heart, and you are not singing to be seen of men. So open up and sing: You may like it and please the Lord besides.
Certain mood makers have recently sought to manipulate the singing, along with lighting effects, to help them get in the spirit. This is not a new need. The large, medieval cathedrals were built by those whose spirits also flagged at simple worship. Be content to worship sincerely “in spirit and in truth,” “singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” If you do this, you will have the mood just right.
Since we are not performing a Mozart masterpiece, there is some room for latitude in pitch (how high or low to sing), and in tempo (how fast or slow to sing). The tendency is to get songs too low in pitch. The man who never made a mistake was not a song leader, but practice should help even if it does not make perfect. If you really need to stop and start over, go ahead and do so. And if you have to get the pitch from a fork or pipe, or from another person, I suggest that you do this too. A little thought should help you with the speed. You would not want to drag a song like, “I Want to be a Worker for The Lord,” nor speed away on, “Abide With Me.”
The singing will suffer if you speed up and slow down without reason while leading a song, because the singers will have to listen along to see where you are. They need to have a feeling of security so they can “jar down” and know they will still be with you. Do not let a few draggers drag you and the singing down even if you have to tune them out in order to keep your speed. Many song leaders think they should speed up a little when 3/4 time changes to 4/4 time, like at the chorus of the song, “Take My Hand and Lead Me.” This is not the case. Continue your same tempo.
Writing songs is hard, profitless work. My respect for song writers will not allow me to take gross liberties with their songs, such as singing them in 6/4 time if they were written in 4/4 time. Occasionally a particular song, perhaps an invitation song, will go especially well with a sermon. But the practice of matching song to service can be run into the ground.
The worship service is not a good time for a musical workout. If you lead a difficult song in fast tempo, a lot of worshipers will give up after a short struggle. Let them be comfortable without being at ease in Zion. Some leaders pick the gospel meeting to spring new songs on the congregation, even the song at the end of the sermon. If you do this, try to be close to the exit when you shake hands with the preacher.
There are some places, like at the end of some songs, where some are to hold a note its full length while others have some more words to sing. These singers, many times the alto and tenor parts, do not like to sing after everybody else has quit, especially if the leader starts another verse before they can get through. So hang in there and do not leave them out on a limb, up in the air. I would not use a song in the worship, such as one written as an alto-tenor duet, unless all the worshipers could sing it together. Since all are to worship in song, even in long passages where some of the parts are omitted, it is better for all to join in and sing the written parts than to sit and be serenaded.
There is a crying need for “truth,” as well as “spirit” in singing even the songs edited by faithful brethren. For instance, there is a popular song that tells of sinners lingering on the brink of woe. The singers say they can not bear to let them go. And so they plead with the Lord to send us as He did the prophet of old? Is it the Lord’s fault that we are doing so little to reach the lost, because He will not give us that special, denominational concept of calling and sending? Other songs tell how we are ready to suffer grief and pain, go over mountains and stormy seas and, Oh, how I love Jesus. Brethren, let’s be careful and truthful in our singing unto God.
People tell me, I would give anything to be able to read music. Well, just give me a thousand dollars and a little time and effort. No, you do not have to be professional in order to worship. But if you had rather improve your singing than watch T.V. all the time you can do it. With but little time and effort you can learn the rudiments, and then you get out what you put into it. But you cannot bottle up and spoonfeed the ability to read music to someone on the spur of the moment. I have known people who could hardly read, but who enjoyed getting together and singing, who could read music quite well. It ought to rebuke us until our cheeks blush with shame, that worldly minded rowdies may freely get together to coarsely and raucously best one another in a game of chance or skill, while Christians must remain in seclusion, barricaded in their gloomy castles trying to out stare the bright faced monster. No wonder we cannot do anything. When are we going to say, “I’ve had enough,” and really mean it?
My earnest and urgent desire is to help and not hurt the cause of Jesus. These few thoughts are written to help and encourage us to worship in spirit and truth in song.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 35, p. 571
September 6, 1979