Why Do We Sing In Church?

13937815_10154007536976725_405577530640927386_oI get it. You don’t like music in general. Or you don’t like the music selected for a particular worship service. Or you find some of it hard to sing along to for whatever reason. And so you ask a reasonable question:

Why do we need to sing in church anyway?

Oh sure, you understand why we have things like readings from the Bible and sermons. God’s truth changes lives. And so it only makes sense that we need to read that truth in the Bible and be taught what it means and how it applies to our lives. So far so good.

And you might acknowledge that praying makes sense as well. After all, who doesn’t need God’s guidance and help for all kinds of things? You might even think that it’s good for us to admit to God all the ways we blow it with him and with others. And so you don’t normally have a problem with praying in church either.

Still, none of this necessarily has to involve music or singing. And yet, pretty much every church throughout history has regularly included those things. How come?

Let me suggest at least two reasons:

It’s memorable.

I regularly hear my young kids (currently ages 9, 8, and 6) singing or humming songs they hear in a worship service. I doubt very much that they remember the main points from the sermon for very long, but their memory of those songs can be striking (as in, it’s often displayed by singing those songs at a way-too-high volume from the back of a minivan…but what do you do?).

Adults are the same way. I’m willing to bet you’d recognize and remember at least some of the words of a surprising number of songs if you heard a bit of the music. And this is true even if you don’t particularly like the music. If you don’t believe me, think of all the advertising jingles that have stuck with you over the years.

It is vital for us to learn and be reminded of God’s truth. It really does change our lives for the better. And music, it turns out, is an excellent way for us to do that. That’s why many wise heads will tell you that, if a church has vibrant, theologically sound music, it’s likely to be a vibrant, theologically sound church.

It communicates in ways that speech or even non-verbal actions can’t.

Have you ever had the conversation with your friends about what you’d pick if you could have any song instantly play every time you walk into a room? Aside from revealing something about our own personality and tastes, this kind of thought experiment acknowledges that music is capable of impacting us in ways that other forms of communication can’t.

And we all know this instinctively. That’s why we very often want to accompany or even commemorate significant events with music. Think of everything from a football player listening to a certain kind of music before a game to “Taps” played at a soldier’s funeral to songs like the “The Star Spangled Banner” and “1812 Overture.” It’s also the reason every movie has a soundtrack. If you want to get some idea of the effect that music can have, just play the following clip.

Our ability to communicate verbally and rationally is fundamental to what makes us human. But it’s not the sum total of who we are. We also have an emotional and intuitive side. And music, in some mysterious way, speaks to that part of us. And when we combine words with music, it can be a particularly potent mix.

With both of these things in mind, it’s no wonder that God actually commands his people to worship him with music (see, e.g., Psalm 147:7, 149:1-3, 150: 3-6; Colossians 3:16). It turns out that the one who designed and created us in the first place just might have a good idea of what’s actually needed to move our heads and hearts in the right direction.

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