I was recently asked to make a recording of worship music accompaniment to be used in a small, weekly bible study and fellowship group. The group leader felt that it would help to encourage the group to sing because they were too stressed about singing unaccompanied. I politely told the leader that I would not make such a recording and that he should encourage the group to sing without accompaniment for now and to pray for an instrumentalist to join the group eventually. The following is some of my reasons for my response and it could also be applied to why I would discourage the use of “vocal tracks” in worship services.
- Creational Ordinance: Produce not just Consume- God created humans to be producers and not simply consumers. We were given a command at the moment we were first created to â€œbe fruitful and multiply.â€ Ephesians 2:10 places this concept in the framework of the work of Christ saying that we are Godâ€™s workmanship created to do good works. It is this command that compels us to serve people, to learn a trade, to raise a family, to maintain justice and mercy, and to take up instruments or lift up our voices to praise the Lord. In America today, this has been replaced with a consumer culture that is self-serving, entertainment driven, I believe that pre-recorded accompaniment (PRA) is a perversion of the creational ordinance that we have been entrusted with because it takes away the impulse for production and replaces it with passive consumption.
- Worship by the People-The entire kingdom of God participates together in worship. From the worship of the patriarchs, to the tabernacle and temple worship, to the worship of the New Testament church, and finally the worship we anticipate at the end of time, the Scripture clearly reveals that God has a jealous desire to be praised by all people. In the Middle Ages, the Catholic church corrupted the worship of God by placing it more and more into the hands of a few priests and taking it away from the congregation. The Reformation was a time of returning to the Scriptureâ€™s view of worship as an act of the whole church. Isaac Watts’ (nice wig!) hymns were written in simple meters and set to familiar tunes for the specific purpose of encouraging all people regardless of there skill level or education to sing. Today, the culture we live in is a culture of passive entertainment. Many churches fall prey to this attitude when the congregation becomes passive in the worship services, observing the action on the stage as if it was another episode of American Idol. I try to continually remind the musicians and singers on the Music Team at New City Fellowship that they are music leaders who are still a part of the assembled body; their hands and voices are joined together with all the saints in praise. I believe that PRA is a step backwards in the Reformationâ€™s goal to see the worship of God placed into the hands (or more appropriately the voices) of all people.
“Ok, so what are we supposed to do with no instruments and such â€œbadâ€ singing?”
- “Easy for you to say Mr. Musician Guy, but what about all of us ‘average Joes’?” Why is it so easy for people to sing â€œHappy Birthdayâ€ for each other, yet singing for the Lord is such a challenge? Singing is a basic skill of human beings on par with speech. While some might think that singing is matter of talent, I believe that it is something for which all humans have the capacity and should practice. Relative pitch, the ability to hear distinct notes and to reproduce them, is a basic skill that is available to anyone from an early age. The argument that PRA would help those with a â€˜tin earâ€™ seems a bit illogical because if they did have a â€˜tin earâ€™ then no accompaniment would help them to sing better. So, sing simple songs like â€œGod Is So Goodâ€, â€œThis Is The Dayâ€, or as was mentioned earlier, the hymns of Isaac Watts that are rich in theology and yet simple to sing.
- “But, Iâ€™m embarrassed to sing and Iâ€™m even more embarrassed when that guy over there is singing.” The impulse to compare myself to others is a product of my sinful nature (in Sonship terms, itâ€™s the sign of acting like orphans), and living in such a way that we compare our skills and abilities to others is contrary to the gospel. A child in the presence of their loving father will sing loud and clear because she knows that her singing is not the merit for her fatherâ€™s love. There might be many different reasons for using PRA, but for sinners saved by grace who have been called sons and daughters of God, fear and embarrassment should never dictate how we worship. So, what is the internal motive for being so afraid of sounding â€˜badâ€™? Who are you comparing your singing to? Is God comparing your singing to that person or group?
- Or Donâ€™t Sing! While singing is encouraged in small groups (NCF’s “house church”), it is not main goal of those meetings. Fellowship and prayer take precedence over singing for worship. Instead of using PRA to force a singing-shy group to become comfortable with singing, use the other means of worship in your group. When we sing songs we are actually fulfilling various elements of worship; we praise, adore, confess, admonish, repent, reprove, etc. In a way, to over-emphasize the necessity of singing in worship is putting the cart before the horse. If singing is such a source of stress within a group, then use other means to worship like reading Scripture together, prayer, or testimony. Maybe even get creative and use some of the means of worship found in Scripture that are uncommon in Presbyterian culture like shouting (Ps 100), raising hands (Ps 134), kneeling (Ps 95), dancing (Ps 149), or playing percussion instruments (Ps 150). Meanwhile, pray together as a group that God will give you songs to sing. No one can sing praise to the Lord (or any other means of worship) without the Holy Spiritâ€™s motivation.