A few years ago, I saw one of the funniest and disturbing things on the internet. Someone had put together a collection of different reviews of all the wonders of the world, places like the Grand Canyon, the Pyramids of Egypt, and Niagara Falls, and the reviews all had one thing in common.
They were all written by people who gave these majestic wonders only 1 star.
As in 1 out of 5 stars.
Go look at some of these reviews People left 1 star reviews for the Pyramids complaining about being inconvenienced by not being able to leave out the same gate, someone referred to Stonehenge as “just a pile of rocks” and someone gave Sequoia National Park a 1 star review because, and I quote “I lost my keys in the restroom and nobody helped me out.”
These are people who are standing in front of some of the most mysterious breathtaking wonders that we know about. They are standing in front of things that when people first discovered them they were speechless. Imagine the first time a Native American stumbled across the Grand Canyon, imagine the amount of wonder and awe that they would’ve had.
But in 2009, one Brad M. saw the Grand Canyon and said this in his Yelp review:
“as amazing as the views are it is really kind of boring. Every 500 ft a new vantage point of the same thing: a really big hole in the ground.”
The Grand Canyon is a boring, big hole in the ground?!!
I know this is funny, but it’s a sad kind of funny because this is actually something I see in our culture and in the mirror a hundred times a day.
I also believe this is happening in the way American Christians are approaching worship. I think we need to start reconsidering why we worship, and also why we don’t.
This is at the heart of why this past Sunday at the Highland Church I preached on how important it was for Christians to engage in worship, specifically by singing together, and today I’d like to follow that sermon up by giving 3 Reasons Why I think Christians need to re-discover the habit to sing in church.
1. Worship is For God
Every week I see some article that someone shares on social media on their opinion on what’s wrong with the worship in the church these days. These articles range from: “There’s not enough Hymns or Hillsong or Tomlin” to “the music is too loud” and “the men don’t sing.” Sometimes they are saying “we should do high church liturgy” to “we should definitely not do that.”
And I get all of that feedback, I honestly do. But you should know that every week, your worship leader has a thousand problems and preferences that they are having to navigate as they plan out a corporate worship. But here’s the one thing I’d like to point out about most of the conversations I’m seeing about the churches worship.
It’s about me.
I like Hillsong, and the banjo and the Book of Common Prayer (all of which are true, and would be an awesome combination for some Sunday), but sadly most of our talk about worship preferences leave out a central idea that can save our shrinking souls.
Worship is, and has always been, for God.
I think when we forget this we become like the person who went to went to Niagara Falls and left a review saying it was just a “waste of time.” They were there, but they couldn’t experience what was right in front of them.
Do we realize who we are singing to each week?
Do we realize what story we are singing about each week?
How in the world did we lose that breathtaking vision that Heaven is leaning over the rails listening to what we have to sing?
Do we honestly realize that when we sing, it actually pleases the God of the universe?
How did we start to approach this moment, as if it had anything to do with our preferences?
2. Worship Makes us Honest
I think that the real reason we don’t sing, is because singing makes us vulnerable. Where else in life do you normally sing out loud where others can hear you? Singing puts us out there in a way that can leave us feeling exposed to others, and I think that’s the reason we’re tempted not to do it..
I think we come up with all kinds of reasons after the fact, but the truth is that we don’t like feeling so uncovered. So we protect ourselves and we lose the very thing that drew us to church in the first place, the joy of feeling the pleasure of God.
This dawned on me back when I did jail ministry in Ft. Worth. Every week, I would worship with a group of 20 guys in a 10×10 room singing along with a CD, and every week these men, facing shame and years of incarceration, were singing with great joy, at the top of their lungs. We sang off key, we clapped out of time, and it was the best worship experiences of my life.
Because it was real worship done by people who had come to the end of themselves and had nothing left to hide.
There’s a reason that Paul, the earliest church planter, would write back to the churches he planted (often from jail) reminding them to sing together. Maybe that’s also the reason he had to write so much to churches to mediate arguments. Because when churches gather not everyone is going to get their way.
And not getting our way, is a really good thing for most of us to experience on a regular basis. Because I’m not sure we’re experiencing it in many other places. If you watch enough cable television and consume enough advertising, you will fool yourself into thinking that you are the center of the world.
I think corporate singing, is still a really good way to remind us of how small we really are, and where we really fit in the universe.
This is the very reason that The Church made huge Cathedrals in the Medieval ages, it wasn’t because they didn’t care about the poor, (they were the ones who taught the world to care about the poor). They made these huge Cathedrals, because they were, for most people, the largest things that they would ever walk into. They were the Grand Canyon of those people’s world.
They made the Cathedrals because the Church has always known that one of the deepest needs of the human soul is to feel appropriately small…To get outside of ourselves.
3. Worship Changes Our Heart
The Church has always known what the New York Times just stumbled across last month, that wonder and awe leads to service and justice and compassion. This is why the largest book in the Bible is the Psalms, because God knows that the Psalms can do what the Prophets cannot.
When we worship, it softens our heart and makes us more susceptible to the strange ways of the Gospel. I’ve seen this time and time again, the biggest lever to changing the human heart isn’t a sermon, it is what we hear ourselves sing.
I believe that the way Jewish/Christian ethics were woven into most of our hearts, wasn’t primarily from that Bible class, but from hearing our grandmother sing things like “Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother” or our dad singing “Each day I’ll do a golden deed, by helping those who are in need.”
Our songs have shaped the way we view the world, and how we think about things like justice and mercy toward other people. They have given us courage to resist the status quo and to live in counter-cultural ways.
I like the way Richard Beck says this in his book Slavery of Death:
[Remember} how central and vital singing was to those involved in the American civil rights movement. Singing is what drove the movement. People would gather in churches and sing freedom songs before going out to face angry mobs ready to curse at them, spit on them, even violently beat them. And then they sang in jail. These civil rights activities never stopped singing. Why? For the same reason Paul and Silas sang. For the same reason the early Christians sang in the catacombs. For the same reason we need to sing. To find our courage. Singing is a way to resisting despair and fear. Singing is an act of resistance.
Now I don’t know what style of worship your church has, and maybe it does need to change, but I don’t think a church’s style matters as much as we think. What really matters is that we learn to engage worship, not as an individual, but as a community, for the pleasure of God.
Corporate worship can’t be judged individually, because it can’t be done individually, and it’s never, ever done for the individual.
It’s done for God.
And while it may not look like much, and often has sounded like even less, it has changed and blessed the world.
So for God’s sake, for the sake of the Church, for the sake of the poor, for the sake of the world, let’s stop giving 1 star reviews to our church’s worship, we are the Church, let’s start singing along.