Everybody Sing

After church last Sunday I had the privilege of taking Ebbie to a Tennessee Titans – Philadelphia Eagles football game.  I am a huge fan and Ebbie has caught the spirit, too.  In Sunday’s game the Titans were outplayed for the first three quarters, but dominated the fourth quarter to win the game.  During those first three quarters I became a bit preoccupied with what was happening among the crowd.  There were a bunch of Eagle fans behind us (a drawback to being in the cheap seats).  Even though our team was unable to get anything going, the crowd stayed in the game, especially when we were on defense and the crowd sought to live up to their reputation as the “12th man.”  Part of my preoccupation was attracted to what all took place on the jumbo-tron scoreboard.  The music spurred fans to clap in rhythm, yell responses to rhythmic patterns repeated, like a build up to a shouted response, “Go, Titans, Go!”  It was a clever kind of “Question – Answer” mantra.  I started noting how the entire stadium (minus those annoying Eagles fans) could be mesmerized, manipulated right into a given response by the repeated pattern setups.  I actually thought some about some Gospel songs and worship songs that have a similar call – response formula.

Toward the end of the third quarter I was caught a bit offguard when an old country song cranked up and before the end of the second phrase the whole stadium was singing (even the Eagles fans jumped in).  The song?  Johnny Cash’s anthem, “Folsom Prison.”  So get the picture.  60,000 people singing along with a recording of a country band and old school country music icon about being stuck in prison after shooting a man in Reno just to watch him die.  I was struck by the level of singing.  Not the musicality, of course.  It was mainly just loud and proud.  The influence of alcohol on those around us gave them the confidence to sing out with gusto.  Nobody really cared.  They just sang as part of the moment; part of the experience.  Interestingly, a few minutes later the Titans seemed to catch fire and, though down 19 – 10 with 13 minutes remaining in the game, they dominated and won 34-19.  It was quite a game, and we had a great time, but I couldn’t get the singing experience out of my mind and relating it to what does or doesn’t happen in worship.  How could a country anthem, popular as it is, be so intoxicating for a stadium full of people with no hesitancy about engaging in full throated singing, whereas Sunday worship often finds us leaders trying to coax people who say they are “believers” and/or “worshipers” into joining in a song of faith expression.  Folsom Prison is not exactly a fight song, nor is it really connected to the football team, unless you count a loose connection by virtue of being recorded by a former Hendersonville, TN resident (Johnny Cash), and the whole Music City identification thing.  Nevertheless, we all sang.  It was fun and unifying in its own way.  I could not help but wonder, though, why has the church lost its song?

In the case of Folsom Prison it didn’t really matter what the words said, people were just singing to be part of the experience.  In church worship, the words are important as they carry the weight of the message of the worship song.  It may be that our proliferation of so much new music in church worship (much that seems to be prompted simply by the presumed need to include lots of new things), is counterproductive to encouraging people to sing their worship.  In the case of Folsom Prison, the song was nothing if it was not familiar.  Seems to me it would serve us well to engage people with familiar and spring from there toward whatever new material we feel helps progress the interaction of worship; Revelation and Response with God.

I encourage you to take serious note of how well your congregation sings its worship.  Don’t be afraid to turn cameras on the congregation and record what is or is not happening out there.  Watch the video and evaluate.  Perhaps enjoin the choir to assist you in worship leadership that engages the congregation by praying for the congregation, singing as admonition in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.  If you don’t move your congregation toward participatory worship through singing; who will?

“So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.”  (I Cor 14:15)

Singing with heart and mind,


Explore posts in the same categories: Church Music, Leading Worship, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Reminders, Worship thoughts

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