Connecting

Greg de Blieck asks ‘Is your music struggling to “connect” with people?’

Greg de BlieckDoes your church have a disengaged congregation?  Maybe your church struggles to engage with a certain social demographic?  I believe that the fundamental challenge of genuine churches is how faithfully to communicate the glory of the gospel.  But we are struggling to do that and our church services can often be testament to that depressing fact.

I believe that understanding the principles behind why we sing in worship can help us to think more clearly about the broader issues our churches face and the role of music in helping us fulfil our primary purpose.  In other words, if we know why singing is important in our church services, then we have a way of understanding whether we are doing it rightly or wrongly.

So why do we use music in church?

Music is an expressive art form which helps us to appreciate, experience and share truths on an emotional level.  That’s why we use it in church.  Music is a gift of God to facilitate communication, community and ultimately communion.  Communication is the action, community is the visible result, communion is the experience.  Communion is being of one accord, of one heart, with God and with his family.  (Remember Jesus’ prayer for his followers in Gethsemane?)

So with communion as our goal, we are using music to communicate truths amongst the community of God’s children.  These truths may be new truths that we need to learn for the first time, or they may be old truths that we need to remember.  They are not just any truths, but truths revealing the glorious reality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is the greatest truth, the thing most worth understanding, remembering and celebrating. Gospel truth transforms those who receive it, because the gospel is the heart of God’s self-revelation.

Why do We do Corporate Singing?

To the unchurched, this seems like an obvious question, but one we rarely ask within the church.  The reason we sing is this: corporate singing gives Christians an opportunity to experience a sense of community in the family which Christ has brought us into.  We sing together, because the blending of our voices acknowledges a unity of purpose.  It is a public way of testifying with our brothers and sisters that we agree with them regarding the things we are singing about.  We sing, because using music as well as words is a useful and convincing way to demonstrate that your intellect and your emotions are in agreement.  In this kind of environment, Gospel truth flourishes.

The point I want to make is this: how clear are we on why we are doing what we do, week in, week out at our regular church gatherings?

So many of the things we do in our church services become routine.  It starts to become empty religion: something we do to punish ourselves, or feel superior.  Or perhaps we do it because we take comfort in the familiar.  But it has to be more than that.  Our biggest risk in leading worship is that we sever the action from its intended purpose.

Here are some of the functional problems we face.

Message

If the truth is not plainly and compellingly spoken to your congregation on a regular basis by your minister, they will rarely feel moved to sing.  Singing is a natural response by people who are moved by truth.  If the pastor himself is not demonstrably moved by the truth he expounds from scripture, then he will not communicate it to his congregation.

Music

You can’t expect people to sing songs that are too high or low.  You can’t expect them to sing in a style that is alien to them.  You can’t expect them to enjoy singing songs where the music is out of tune, or out of time, or just aesthetically substandard.  Worship leaders have to ask themselves some tough questions about whether their own limits as a musician are serving to distract people from the point of worship.

Method

The point of Christian sung worship is not to create a culturally relevant and varied aesthetic experience, as useful as that may be.  The point is to draw people into communion with each other and with God by reminding them of gospel truth.  Never do the former at the expense of the latter.  Always do the latter.

There are many benefits to bringing in new styles of music into your church.  But if you want to widen the aesthetic palate of your congregation, to expand their musical lexicon, then you must teach them.  If you choose to teach them by example, you had better ensure you have the requisite skill to demonstrate it in a convincing and compelling way.  Alternatively, you can run teaching sessions where the purpose is primarily to learn new skills.  Just don’t confuse a teaching session with sung worship.  People can survive with a narrow lexicon, but they suffer when they don’t get the chance to worship.

So if people are not experiencing communion through sung worship, you need to look at the quality of the songs you are singing, the style of the music, the competence of the musical leaders and also the ability of the preacher to communicate effectively.  Ask yourself whether truth about the glory of God is being shared in a compelling and authentic way: that is how you measure something’s value.  Does it magnify Christ, or does is distract from Him?

Music in churches is not just entertainment.  Recognise the value of aesthetic excellence, but don’t regard it as your end goal.  Understand that badly- executed intricate music distracts people a lot more than carefully-chosen simple music.  Think carefully about what your songs are communicating and listen to people when they tell you how it affected them.  And don’t wait for them to tell you...

It’s a good start, but it’s not enough that people enjoyed the music.  It’s a good start, but not enough that they sang loudly.  Be thankful for these encouragements, but always look to the ultimate aim.  Communicate Gospel Truth... and thank God when you see evidence of people being fed by the truth of God’s glory, made explicit in the person of Jesus.  We know the gospel has taken root when it starts to bear spiritual fruit.  That’s the aim of sung worship.  Pray and labour to that end.

Greg de Blieck is a hymnwriter, worship-leader and record producer from Glasgow, Scotland.  Examples of his recent work can be heard on the 2012 album ‘New Scottish Hymns’ and his aim is to serve the Church by using music to communicate the compelling glory of Jesus Christ.

An additional article written by Greg for Different Voices in 2013 can be found below.