A few years ago Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis (where John Piper is the pastor) issued a nine-point statement detailing their philosophy of worship. Only the final point deals with the question of worship style. Several of the points seem especially relevant to questions regarding congregational singing:
"2. Expecting the powerful presence of God: We do not just direct ourselves toward him. We earnestly seek his drawing near according to the promise of James 4:8. We believe that in worship God draws near to us in power, and makes himself known and felt for our good and for the salvation of unbelievers in the midst."
"4. Head and heart: Worship that aims at kindling and carrying deep, strong, real emotions toward God, but does not manipulate people's emotions by failing to appeal to clear thinking about spiritual things based on shareable evidences outside ourselves."
"5. Earnestness and intensity: Avoiding a trite, flippant, superficial, frivolous atmosphere, but instead setting an example of reverence and passion and wonder."
The entire document deserves careful study because if you read it, you instantly know that at Bethlehem, they have thought deeply about what they are doing on Sunday morning. Too many churches give little thought to the matter of congregational singing in corporate worship. They probably have never thought it from a theological point of view and they probably have never taught the congregation the importance of singing.
Pastor, what do you expect to happen when your congregation meets tomorrow morning? What have you taught your people to expect? Have you taught them the importance of heart-felt singing as part of their Christian duty when they come to the worship service? How much time have you spent this week thinking about the singing your people will do tomorrow?
Congregational singing serves as an excellent barometer of the spiritual life of the church. I understand that an alive congregation may have weak singing for various reasons, but it is impossible for a dead church to have hearty singing in which all the people join together with heart and soul and mind and strength in making melody to the Lord.
So how will your people sing when they gather tomorrow morning?
As a side note, it would be good for church leaders to work through this issue as the leaders at Bethlehem have done. Our people would sing better if we told them why it matters, if we helped them learn how, and if planned our services to give more emphasis to music from the congregation and less to performance from the platform.