A Guest post by Rev. Justin Morehead
Colossians 3:16 - Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (ESV)
When it comes to the Sunday morning singing of Church congregations, the voices of men should rise above the rest as the church sings together.
Men should lead their families and their church in the joy, instruction, correction, and gratitude that congregational singing provides. However, a visit to many Sunday services will likely reveal one of two things: 1) There is too much going on for anyone to really be heard, 2) If you are able to hear, you’re probably not hearing many men.
Why Aren't the Men Being Heard?
1 - For many churches, worship through music has become a production and a performance…
Imagine being in a darkened auditorium illuminated by impressive stage lighting and the glow of projection screens that display the crisp image of song lyrics and HD video images of a worship team. A worship song begins and you feel the rumble of the low register of synthesizer pads and a bass guitar. A perfectly mixed drum set comes through the speakers, driving the energy of the song forward while guitars ring out and the polished voice of a soloist soars above the powerful foundation of a full choir. You are immersed in the polished production of worship music.
It has become both the trend and the norm for music during worship services to become an opportunity for churches to display their talents in music and investment in technology. Incredible soloists and instrumentalists are given center stage amid a light and technology display. When this is the case, congregations are dislocated…meaning, they’re put in the wrong position. Instead of worshiping God and having their attention focused on His righteousness, and His glory, and His perfections, congregations are put into the position of evaluating the talent on the stage, and gauging the effectiveness of their music ministries on their ability to “move” people. Instead of God's glory on display, it easily becomes the glory of the performance.
But, here’s the problem, the Bible says that music in worship is about the coporate participation of the body, not personal experience. This isn’t to say that excellence is a bad thing or that personal experience is unimportant. Excellence in musical leadership will help us experience, personally, the richness Paul refers to in Colossians 3:16. However, it is faithfulness that will lead to the appropriate experience. If we’re following a sensational experience with the expectation of being led into faithfulness, we’re out of order and heading in the wrong direction.
It is often said that our singing on Sundays is for an “audience of one.” The sentiment of this is nice, but its also unbiblical. In the verse above (Col. 3:16), Paul is telling the church to instruct and correct each other by singing together. Ephesians 5:19 explicitly tells us to “address one another” in our singing. These verses clearly instruct us to be singing to each other as well as to God. The ability to hear each other well, free of unnecessary distraction, will greatly benefit the faithfulness of our music ministries.
But, there may be a second reason men aren't singing...
2 - For many men, singing is thought of as a feminine activity.
Imagine, if you will, being a part of a modest congregation where the voices around you can be easily heard. What is often lacking is the rich, baritone timbre of male voices. For starters, across the board, with both men and women, singing is believed to be something you either can or can’t do (thanks, American Idol). It is true that some people can intonate (match pitch and sing in tune) better than others. It is also true that of those who can intonate well there are a variety of timbres, colors, or tones of voices - some being more pleasing than others. However, mathematicians aren’t the only people expected to balance a checkbook. Similarly, God doesn’t just command the best singers to sing, but all His people.
Psalm 98:4 - Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! (ESV)
That being said, men seem to consider singing (especially “singing out”) as something best reserved for the women-folk. For many men, singing out is thought of as a particularly feminine behavior. This thinking is the product of a culture that has misunderstood what it means to be masculine. Let’s consider our wrong view of masculinity. Manliness is often thought of as:
Muscles (physical strength)
Meat (steaks, burgers, smokers, etc.)
Man Toys (ATVs, boats, guns, smokers, etc.)
Not Crying (unless it's because of too much smoke from the smoker)
Not Sharing (unless its about sports and politics around the smoker)
Not Feeling (unless you’re feeling full from the smoker)
Not being creative (unless you mean “industry” instead of “art”, or creating a new recipe for the smoker)
But, is that real manliness? Is that real masculinity?
Douglas Wilson defines masculinity as “the glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility.” I think this is a good and helpful definition. God has appointed us men to be the leaders in our homes, communities, and churches. To accept responsibility, and to sacrifice in order to see that responsibility carried out — that’s what makes good men and good leaders.
The Bible instructs our congregations to sing together, and it lists the benefits of faithfully doing so (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). The songs of our faith are declarations of belief. Singing Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs is a way of contending for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). To reach down deep and lift our voices in song, leading those around us to join us in faithfulness and joy is particularly masculine! Initially, adopting this practice might require us to sacrifice our pride, our comfort, and the familiarity of our normal behavior, but in doing so we are embracing the responsibility of corporate singing and enabling its many benefits to be experienced by those around us.
What are we listening for when we sing?
1 - Biblical Richness.
When the church sings Biblical truth together, it's like adding butter and salt to a baked potato - the truth is enriched. Harmony, melody, chords, rhythms, poetry - these are some of the beautiful, God-ordained components of music. But when these beautiful components of music are married with truth like:
“No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me. From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny. No power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from his hand. ‘Till he returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I’ll stand”
…and that rich truth is being proclaimed together by our brothers and sisters in Christ, it becomes a very rich thing to experience!
2 - We listen for Instruction & Correction
“Not the labors of my hands can fulfill Thy law’s demands.
Could my zeal no respite know?
Could my tears forever flow?
All for sin could not atone.
Thou must save and Thou alone.”
These words make up the second verse of one of my favorite hymns, Rock of Ages. Consider how this song instructs us and corrects us in the doctrine of justification. This verse is teaching and reminding us that no matter how strong our desire, no matter the extent of our brokenness and our weeping, we cannot save ourselves from the consequences of our sinfulness. Only God, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ can save us (Eph. 2:8-9). This is a truth our churches will always need to be reminded of. And men, we should lead the way!
3 - We listen for Wisdom.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). To rightly fear God isn’t servile fear and trepidation. It is reverence, honor, and obedience. To fear God is to trust and obey that His ways are better than our own, and to strive to live according to His will. If the songs we sing aren’t filled with the truths of Scripture, our singing isn’t correcting and instructing in wisdom.
4 - We listen for Thankfulness.
Psalm 111:1 - Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Our response to the grace of God in Christ should always be that of gratitude.
“Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain, he washed it white as snow.”
Thanks be to God!
So, why should men be loudest?
Because we are the Leaders! That's what God has created and appointed us to be...
As leaders, Christian men bear the responsibility of leading their families, churches, and communities in the pursuit of godliness and the rejection of worldliness. Our culture consistently perverts the truth. And, in particular today, the truth about masculinity and femininity.
Men, the world wants us to continue silently masking our insecurities with its preferred symbols of masculinity.
Don’t know what you believe? Bark, growl, and yell.
Don’t know the real issues that need your attention? Talk more about sports.
Don’t know how to be in a real relationship? Be the strong, silent type.
Don’t know how to manage your home? Talk about politics.
Don’t understand the Gospel? Place your faith and hope in your work-ethic and morality.
What the world doesn’t want is men who demonstrate their fear of God publicly and vulnerably.
Such men are dangerous to the world because it is through such men that God is transforming the world.
So, men, allow the loud leadership of your Sunday morning singing to be a practice that instructs your heart in all areas of life. Your willingness to have the loudest voice during congregational singing will certainly bear fruit in the corporate worship of your church. It will be a mark of faithfulness, and the Word of Christ will dwell richly in you as you lead others to join you in song.
It will also serve as a catalyzing practice in your own spiritual formation. You will become practiced and seasoned in your commitment to honor God above all else. Not only will your voice be raised in song during worship, but it will begin being raised in truth at city council meetings, in office break rooms, neighborhood gatherings, and in your own home. Your families and friends who see and hear you lead in worship through music on a weekly basis will begin looking for your leadership elsewhere as well. What an opportunity to honor God!
The voices of men should be loudest during congregational singing because we accept the responsibility to lead those we love most in the truths of God.
Justin serves as an Elder and Music and Discipleship Pastor at Woodlawn Baptist Church in Lowell, North Carolina. And he is one of my dearest friends.