I want to tell you about Darryl Tippens' booklet "That's Why We Sing," subtitled, "Reclaiming the Wonder of Congregational Singing" (Abilene, TX: Leafwood, 2007).
There aren't many items I might put on a list of required reading for elders, preachers, and worship leaders among the Churches of Christ. But this is one of them. Tippens starts out with these words:
"When I think of my most memorable moments in church, the times I have felt closest to God, almost always they involve hymns. When I was a small boy, I recall my mother going forward to receive Christ in baptism, as we sang:
Trust and obey,
For there's no other way
To be happy in Jesus
But to trust and obey.
Whether it was through exuberant gospel songs in Sunday worship, devotional songs around a campfire, or Christmas carols sung heartily with family and friends--the joy of divine love and the wonder of forgiveness reached my head and my heart largely through music." (p. 5)
Following a short, rousing introduction, Tippens talks about his purposes:
"In the pages that follow, I wish to do two things: first, to recall some of the main reasons why singing is central in the life of the church; and, second, to offer some suggestions for its preservation and renewal." (p. 8) He accomplishes those goals so very well, it's hard to imagine how it might be done better. A few more quotes.
On the capacity of singing to connect us to God:
In the free church tradition, of which Churches of Christ are a part, a suspicion of sacrament and mystery is common. We have tended to emphasize knowing the right things (doctrine) and doing the right things (ethics and conduct). As one wit has put it, we're good at doing worship 'from the neck up.' Thinking, doctrine, and ethics are very important, of course; but we must admit the obvious; they alone are not sufficient to sustain our faith. One can know the right things, but falter. Our hearts cry out for more, a divine encounter. We want to enter Bethel (the house of God) and shout, 'Surely the Lord is in this place!' (Genesis 28:16). We don't just want memories of a God who once touched his creation; we want communion with him today. (p. 9)
On the power of singing to teach:
Hymns . . . rehearse the stories of Scripture. In word and melody we experience Gethsemane, the cross, and the resurrection. We remember our sinfulness, our need for redemption, our duty to our neighbor, and the promise of eternal life. In a time when people have a diminished capacity to absorb long sermons, hymns stand ready to offer important inspirational and didactic service to the church, as they have done for millennia. (p. 15)
On accentuating the positive:
Many of us reared in Churches of Christ have heard a number of arguments for a cappella singing that seem to carry far less weight than they once did. It is perhaps time to consider other ways of approaching the subject. Many of the old arguments were negative in nature--why instrumental accompaniment is wrong. I suggest that we would receive a better reception if we offered positive arguments for unaccompanied singing. (p. 19)
On congregations learning new songs:
Unfortunately, some song leaders alienate segments of the congregation because they fail to consider that many do not know the new songs. Many older members appreciate the new hymns, but they sometimes feel left out since no one took time to teach the new songs before making them a part of the worship service. (Compounding the problem, often there is no musical notation to give struggling worshippers any help.) The resulting alienation is unnecessary. In singing there is an intimate intertwining of the minds, hearts, and spirits of the worshipers. Singing is not only for God, it is for one another; but when a segment of the worshipers cannot participate because of basic unfamiliarity, the possibility of joyous transcendence is blocked. Worship would greatly benefit from a simple commitment to introduce new songs as a part of the church's teaching program (p. 24).
Preachers and teachers, before your next sermon or lesson called "Sing His Praise!" or "Our Worship in Song" etc., you'll want to read this fine little work. With stories and quotations from Augustine and Karl Barth all the way to Kathleen Norris and Anne Lamont, "That's Why We Sing" will both inspire and inform you. Above all, Churches of Christ should take to heart and put into practice its message.