December 1, 2014

Why People Don't Sing on Sunday (Part 2)

Last time we talked about why people sing in church. But some of what the articles say is true, there are plenty of times people don’t sing with those leading worship. And yes, we worship pastors occasionally make mistakes in the way we arrange, prepare, or lead some of our music. Some of us do it consistently. We really don’t mean to, but it happens.

But there are lots of other reasons people don’t sing.

For example …

Most of us can agree that there are some underlaying assumptions about worship through song that might be cause for people to sing or not. As in, if you aren't a Christian, you probably won't sing in church. Maybe this one is too obvious, but if you’ve never encountered Jesus, if you don’t yet agree with the lyrics of the song or have never heard it before, chances are you’re not going to want to worship Him through song. Of all those people who aren’t singing, is it possible some have never encountered Jesus? Is it possible they’ve never been in a church before, or for very long? Might they be seeking but unsure of what is True? Yes. Yes. Yes. And let’s be clear: THIS. IS. AWESOME! It means that we must be doing something right! It means that people have come to our worship gatherings because they sense something different and want to know what it is. And THAT means those people in our churches are surrounded by other people who love Jesus and DO have a relationship with Him, are providing an example of worship and discipleship. Hopefully, that’s going to rub off; eventually, those people will sing. They'll sing their freakin' lungs out, and it will be epic.

Other people are sitting next to them in the pew, but entirely self-obsessed. They think they're too good for the music that's been chosen. They think the theology of this one isn’t quite right; the drums were too loud on this one; the organ too soft on this one. And they could never sing music that wasn’t reflective of God’s perfect Truth, or deserving of God’s perfect favor, could they? Unfortunately, such people will never be happy because God’s favor is not something that really concerns them, and it is not actually possible to satisfy them; they have not come to church to engage God. Instead, many other reasons bring them; loyalty, duty, power ... anything aside from the pursuit of a relationship with a redemptive God. Many are either unaware of their own shortcomings or too ashamed of them to allow their carefully placed masks to slip. Their posture often (but not always) gives them away - closed arms, bent head, a slight frown: judgmental (maybe planning to blog about what the pastor's doing wrong). I must confess that have been here; self-righteousness was an easy habit to gain and remains a hard one to break. Only time and God’s patient prodding helped me to let go of my own aims and sing again.

Another reason some people don’t sing is that they’ve been caught up in the music in another way: they’re listening. Absorbing. Experiencing. Sometimes we sing at the top of our lungs and surf the wave of the music all the way to the shoreline. But sometimes we get overwhelmed by the ride and let the wave wash over us, and instead of surfing, we go swimming. When God speaks through music, it’s not always because our mouths are moving - in fact, often, God speaks through quiet, hushed spirits. Sometimes our singing can be about busywork, keeping our minds or bodies distracted from the quiet, still voice of the Spirit. I’ve had times when, in the middle of a song, I suddenly feel the need to stop and listen, and God says something to me that messes with me, be it through lyric, through melody, through an instrumental piece … if my mind does not quiet down (usually starting with my mouth), I miss what God is saying to me.

Some people don't sing because they are self-conscious. They know that there are lots of people out there - maybe (likely?) next to them in the pew - just waiting to judge them for their voice, the way they dress, and/or their commitment to God. So they don't sing; because, you know, why should I draw unnecessary attention to myself? I’ve been this person many times, worried what others around me would think if I tried a harmony from the pew and failed. And so I will say again what I said before: the haters aren’t worth your anxiety. For everyone else, only time and excellent hospitality will draw a song from their lips; when they realize that their pew-neighbors love them (maybe because of OR in spite of their voices; musical talent has very little to do with it), the masks will start to come away and the authentic self will start to emerge in the midst of the melodies.

Related to this: some choose not to sing out of guilt. Just as some choose to sing because others guilt them into it, others choose not to sing because they don't feel worthy of the words. They feel that they don't deserve to participate, either from the shame of ongoing sin or because of the pressure of the community around them to look perfect. But if there's anything we've seen so far, it is that nobody is perfect; everyone chooses to sing or not sing out of reasons related to their imperfect circumstances. In our singing, we have a chance to sing our way to a new way of living, and so if you find yourself caught up in guilt for something, singing will only help you move away from it. If anyone tells you you are not worthy of the music, they are lying to you; God loves you as you are and it is in the act of surrender that He begins to transform you - it won't happen without your permission. We are transformed because of God's love, not to earn it.

Some people don’t sing is because they’re in pain. For most of us who have gone through something hard, singing is suddenly not at the top of our lists. Many songs we choose to use in Church gatherings (regardless of style) focus on joy, happiness, the wonderful things that God has done. Rightfully so. But think for a moment; what music do YOU listen to when life is suffocating you? I know that “And Can it Be” and “One Thing Remains” (two of my favorites) are not on my list … I usually grab some John Mayer or Linkin Park or Evanescence … angry music. Music that expresses the dark insides of my current thoughts and emotions. Sometimes, people don’t sing because they just. can’t. do it.

It's hard to sing when you're holding back tears.

The lament is a lost art to the western mind; it doesn’t fit our cultural masks very well. When somebody says “hey, how are you?” our first reaction is always “great, how are you?” That should tell us something; it means we don’t like to look sad, or to be vulnerable. But when our emotions take such a beating that the mask starts to fail, with them, so will our voices. Which means that the rest of us need to sing all the louder for them, to lament on their behalf when words fail them, to surround them with the prayer of lyric and melody.

Let’s not give into the peer pressure to sing every note. It’s ok to not sing for a lot of reasons. Music is so powerful, don’t dishonor what God does through it. If God uses music to open your mouth in praise, sing with all your might. But if God uses music to shut your mouth to listen, don’t dishonor Him by opening it again anyway. Give grace to those around you who are not singing, remembering the times you too have been in their shoes. And sing all the louder, because somebody worked really hard to give you space to hear from God that morning.

Next time: what will help or hinder people to sing with those of us who lead?

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