FOR THOSE WHO HATE TO SING IN CHURCH…
Confession: Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always hated singing in church. Some say “hate” is a strong word. I’d say it’s probably not strong enough.
Being a pastor’s son, I was always in the children’s choir. I didn’t want to be exposed as a fraud, but I didn’t want to sing either. So one of my middle school buddies taught me that if you just mouthed the word “watermelon” over and over, it would look like you’re actually singing real words. I don’t know if that actually worked or not. It probably looked ridiculous (“why are those two kids in the back row saying ‘watermelon’ instead of singing?”) But I did it anyway and escaped having to learn the words and sing along.
I think the choir director sniffed me out though, because she placed me in between my buddy’s twin sisters who sang really loud. I guess she hoped that they’d be a good influence on me and maybe I’d start belting it out. But mostly I just spent my choir rehearsals giving the twins bunny ears or sticking gum in their hair or whatever boys do to torment their buddies’ younger sisters.
I remember one particular choir performance of mythic proportions. It was at some national competition and it was apparently a pretty big deal. We had to dress up and be polite and stand on the risers in perfect formation and all that. The song traded off verses between the boys and the girls. So we get to the boys-only part of the song…and none of the boys sang. There we were in front of a hundred or so people, all dozen of us boys mouthing the word “watermelon” perfectly in sync with the backing track. The girls rolled their eyes. The choir director was pissed. Our parents were embarrassed. And us boys all felt pretty proud of ourselves. The girls could’ve sang with a little more gusto, sure. But other than that we felt like it was a pretty solid performance.
I spent the rest of my coming-of-age years pulling similar antics, figuring out ways to not sing in church. I never felt like I was missing anything. In fact, as I got older and developed my musical tastes into some impressive music snobbery, I started to feel way cooler than the idiots who got duped into singing crappy church music. My excuses got more nuanced, and I developed creative new reasons that I didn’t want to sing in church.
All along the way people kept saying I should be a “worship pastor” some day. I guess the equation was pretty simple. I loved Jesus and I loved music, so why not combine the two in my career choice? But I hated the idea. I was always annoyed by having to turn down invitations to Michael W. Smith concerts and explaining to people that “worship music isn’t really my thing.” I was pretty content to let “music” and “Jesus” take divergent paths in my life.
But years went by and my musical aspirations never panned out like I’d hoped. When I got married and had a family, I knew it was time for a new career choice. “Starving artist” sounds really cool. “Starving family” does not. So eventually I gave in to all the people who said I should be a worship pastor. I went back to school for “pastoral studies,” feeling creatively defeated and incredibly uncool. Then a few months into my schooling, the obvious hit me:
How am I going to be a worship pastor if I hate singing in church?
Sadly, this never dawned on me before I signed up to go back to school. But it’s pretty funny when you think about it. Here I was training to be the guy who asks people to worship together when I didn’t even like the whole “worship” thing myself. I mean, sure, I could play guitar and sing and lead a band and all. But I still didn’t like the music in church, and I wrestled with this tension for a long time.
Finally, I figured I should probably just try it. I was going to sing in church.
I hoped that between the low-lit room and sitting towards the back, no one would really see me singing anyway. So I stood when the song leader asked us to stand and I opened my mouth and sang. I didn’t like the songs all that much, but I sang anyway hoping maybe I’d realize something important. Maybe I would finally get it? Maybe the worship lightbulb would click. Or maybe God would speak to me and say, “It’s cool, you can sit this one out. Just go to the prayer room or read your Bible or something…”
But what happened was more subtle than that. As I pushed through the self-consciousness and kept singing, my tensions and preferences seemed to melt away. And they were replaced with a sense of gentle profoundness. It felt like a fog was being lifted. I found myself wanting to sing louder. And as worship time ended that day, all I could think was that I didn’t want it to stop. My heart was scrambling to maintain that sense of closeness with God.
It was like my green-eggs-and-ham moment. All along I thought I hated singing in church. It turned out that I loved it, but not for any of the reasons I would have imagined.
There’s some crazy transformative thing that happens when we worship. The Creator of the Universe wants to meet with us. The Perfect embraces the imperfect. Our self-consciousness is consumed as we start to feel tiny next to His immeasurable Big-ness. The face of the Father smiles as His kids revel in the only thing that will ever truly satisfy them. We drink in His presence and we trade the fake for the Real.
And I’m convinced He doesn’t care exactly what songs we sing or how bad we sound when we’re trying to hit all of Chris Tomlin’s high notes. His real passion is simply to be with us.
So if you’re a person who hates singing in church, I get it. Maybe worship music is cheesy or the band at your church sucks or you don’t like the way the singer holds his microphone or for whatever reason, you just can’t get into it. The good news is, all these things can be true and you can still have a profound experience with God. Your worship isn’t dependent on the fleeting externals of Sunday morning music. And it’s not dependent on our feelings or opinions or emotions. And it’s okay to worship God even when you don’t feel like it.
I’ll never ever be the guy who tries to shame or guilt someone into singing in church. But here’s my encouragement to you: just try it some time. Pick a Sunday, maybe even this Sunday, and choose to sing. Just open your mouth and sing. Stick it out there and keep an open heart toward God. Tell Him that no matter how bad it sounds or how much you dislike the music, you’re going to sing together with your church. Then wait patiently and ask God to reveal Himself to you in new ways.
I have a hunch that He’s eager to answer that prayer.