John Stackhouse has some wise words of advice to Christian worship bands (Christianity Today, 2 Feb 2009) which resonated with me. I accompany worship regularly in my own church, and have for well over 30 years, so it would appear we are of the same generation. I thought it was just me that found it distressing when the band blocked out my ability to hear what my brothers and sisters were singing, but it seems I am not alone.
If I could add one more thing to an excellent article it would be this. Congregations should be more sensitive to the words they sing. I was brought up in a church where we sang in hushed tones about the agonies of the Lord on the cross. But increasingly I hear congregations gulder* how they walk through the valley of the shadow of death, or how silently our Lord suffered. Perhaps they’ve become so accustomed to the universal excessively amplified “worship” it’s impossible to think about the words. It’s so refreshing to visit a congregation where they sing words sensitively.
Of course, that such sensitivity need not be quiet. I vividly remember returning to the church I was brought up in for a Bible study workshop and being asked to accompany the singing of the hymn “And can it be”. The congregation was about 200 strong, predominantly men. Within a couple of lines it became obvious that the piano was not needed. I doubt that anything other than the first note had been heard. It was pointless to pretend that I was accompanying the worship, so I abandoned the piano to join in wholeheartedly with that vibrant singing. I can still feel the pulsating sensation in my chest as I write. It was electrifying, and not an amp in sight. But it was sensitive. How else could one sing
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
but with gusto and volume.
So my additional plea to John Stackhouse’s five would be for congregations to sing with sensitivity to the words, and accompanists to encourage that with variation in volume.
* For those who live outside the cultured North of Ireland that’s insensitively loud speech.