This is the fifth in a series of Friday posts on congregational song.
When I read 1 Corinthians 14, I identify with Paul’s situation. He’s talking about speaking in tongues and the place it should have in the church at Corinth. He doesn’t forbid speaking in tongues, as long as an interpreter is there to edify the church. But he does strongly emphasize providing solid, understandable food for the mind, not just the emotions.
That reminds me of my inner struggle every time our Sunday worship service is loaded with contemporary praise songs.
Now I’m certainly not equating praise songs with speaking in tongues. But I do see in 1 Corinthians 14 something of the situation we face. I sense that part of the hymns vs. praise songs issue in our churches is similar to the struggle Paul was facing in Corinth: mind vs. emotion.
Again, hymns are not pure “mind”. They express lots of emotion. And on the other hand, praise songs are not pure “emotion”. They certainly express objective truth. But if there is a line stretching from “mind” on one end to “emotion” on the other, I assert that hymns are nearer the “mind” end, and praise songs are nearer the “emotion” side.
I like what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:15:
I will sing with the spirit and
I will sing with the mind also. (NASB)
Music is always an emotional medium. But it can and must be more than emotional stimulation.
Speaking for myself, and myself alone—expressing personal preference only—praise songs are generally boring. The thought rhythm is too slow; that is, they seem to feed the emotions more than they feed the mind. Too little content, too much repetition. And with their complex, soloistic melodies that I can’t see (I’m used to reading music), they just aren’t worth the effort. They annoy me.
But for every one of me, there is at least one good, godly, Spirit-filled, committed child of God who finds my congregational preferences boring. They find them short on the emotional flavor they prefer, and thus the message just doesn’t connect.
Different cultures, ages, personalities, and individuals are comfortable at different places on that scale of mental stimulation to emotional stimulation. And of course, by even characterizing music that way, I’m painting a highly colorful media in black and white. The issues in congregational singing go far beyond the mind vs. emotion element.
But my point here is this: our Creator God has provided us with an amazing wealth of congregational song that runs the full gamut of mind to emotion. If you’re a worship leader, be aware of both needs, and know your congregation. Feed them a rich and varied feast of song, and don’t be afraid to give them a new flavor once in awhile. They might like it!
If you’re a worshiper, be tolerant, and allow yourself to be stretched. Consider it a chance to broaden your perspective and grow. Participate, and let yourself experience something outside your comfort zone!
For all of us, never forget these two unchanging truths:
- Congregational singing is like everything else in life: you will get out of it what you put into it. If resentment and annoyance are all you put in, resentment and annoyance are all you’ll get out.
- Always, unfailingly, constantly, show patient kindness toward your brothers and sisters in Christ. Pursue love (1 Corinthians 14:1, NASB).
As those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone…Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. (Colossians 3:12-14, NASB)