By In Culture

Of Course, the Lame Can’t Waltz: Refocusing Current Music Discourse in the Christian Church

Guest post by Jarrod Richey

Asking why the church doesn’t sing hymns or even why men don’t sing in church is a bit like lamenting over the lame man who can’t waltz on the dance floor. While it is a valid question, the more immediate question would seem to be, “why doesn’t the lame man walk?”

There have been a number of blogs and articles of late noting the lack of singing from Christian men in the church today. While there is plenty of commentary on the reasons for this, most of the analysis, I find, skips over the fundamental reason which causes such problems in the first place.

Remembering the basics

I am reminded of the well-known anecdote from hall of fame Green Bay Packers football coach Vince Lombardi. After a demoralizing defeat, he gathered his football team around him and cited the need to get “back to basics.” He then lifted a football he was holding into the air and calmly said, “Gentlemen, this is a football”. Likewise, we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves when it comes to music in the life of the Christian Church. We must make some similarly rudimentary explanations for music in the church.

Johnny can’t sing hymns because Johnny can’t sing

I’m thankful for the dialogue generated by books like T. David Gordon’s Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns. But before we question why Johnny can’t sing hymns or why men don’t sing in churches today, we must simply ask and answer the more fundamental question, “Why Can’t Johnny Sing?” It almost seems too simple to ask, but it is precisely the question we need to answer in our present musical discourse. But it must be addressed if we are going to reverse the modern musical trends in the Church.

The proverbial Johnny has not been trained to see the importance of music and singing in the creation in which he lives. As a result, there is little importance given to the training in music and in making music as a response of praise. I don’t want to start up a debate on music form in hymn styles, etc. Rather, I want us to back up and rethink why we are not training our children to sing at all. When we do have music programs and curricula in our schools, we often miss the mark in training our students to be singers who are able to use their voices skillfully in praise to God. Instead, despite good intentions we are only giving our students a survey of music. They are not given the tools to be music makers themselves. They are only able to speak about composers or significant points in music history. That is not what we want to settle for in the long term. Rather, we want to be able to “sing praises with understanding” as the New King James Version of Psalm 47:7 exhorts. As we grow in our understanding of who we are as children of God, we must grow in our understanding of what it means to better reflect the glory of the Triune God. The God whose glorified speech created the heavens and the earth from nothing is the same God whose glory echoes throughout creation.

God sang creation into existence

It is not adequate enough to say God spoke all things into existence. We would do well to refine that it means that He sang this glorious melody of life, and it continues to echo to His praise and glory in a grand symphony. He set the temperament, tuned the world and is continually tuning the world. Therefore, it is our business to view ourselves as part of this symphony. How we live each day is a part of the gospel harmony on a macro level. But at the micro level we must not miss the opportunity to resound the triune melody in new and more glorious ways. Music making is the tool for that. What a joy to grow in how we reflect the musicality of God. He creates; we go forth and “wee-create”. In singing and making music, we are being like God, and we are better able to exhibit what it means to be filled with the Spirit of God. This is why we must train our students to be such re-creative singers.

The First Steps to Change

To start, we’ve got to put music back in the Christian school and homeschooling co-ops. Beyond that, we must have pastors and elders who exhort their flock to be like God, who joyfully sings and enjoys all of His creation singing back His praise. When we start, we must start small. Instead of viewing music as an artistic aside, we must think of it as language-like, in that it has components and tools that must be studied if proficiency is to be achieved. In other words, we must have students trained in music literacy in such a way that they can read, write, and sing (or think) in terms of music. This doesn’t mean they have to be career musicians. It means that our people will be musicians simply because they are humans made in the image of the Triune God. If the Lord calls them to a vocation in music, then we should value and encourage that. But we should not resist the idea of music training because we have a stereotype of what it means to be a career musician.

So, if you are reading this and think, “we’ve got to do more, but what first?” then you need to have someone help teach your folks to sing. Have your kids in music lessons, find courses on singing and reading music. Have folks who have experience in Kodály or other music philosophies that can give children to adults the sequenced tools that will enable them to grow as singers first and musicians second. That’s where you must begin. Then, if you are older, you must pour your energy and resources into the younger ones in your family and church. Use what provision and means you have to help others come to a better understanding of music than you have currently. This after all is what we are about as Christians. We are seeking to move from glory to glory. We want our children and our children’s children to build upon our strengths and understanding to new and more glorious ways of living and serving their creator.

Do not be discouraged. Do not be grumpy. We must not forget that The Lord is working his purposes out in his own timing and purpose in regards to music and singing. Our job is to be thankful in all things and to press on to see a more faithful generation that will seek to reflect God’s glory through faithful living and praising our Creator in songs and hymns and spiritual songs.

Jarrod Richey currently lives in Monroe, Louisiana with his lovely wife Sarah and their four children. He is both the Director of Choral Activities and Pre-K4 through 12th grade music teacher at Geneva Academy. In addition to this, he has been on staff at Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church since 2005 handling both church media and choral music responsibilities. Jarrod has recently founded Jubilate Deo Summer Music Camp in Monroe, LA that seeks to train joyful worshippers and young singers with the above goals built in to the very core of the camp. For more information on the camp visit, www.jubilatedeo.org or search Jubilate Deo Summer Music Camp on Facebook.com

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3 Responses to Of Course, the Lame Can’t Waltz: Refocusing Current Music Discourse in the Christian Church

  1. Geoff Holloway says:

    I don’t agree with the first premise that people aren’t singing in church because they don’t know how to sing. I know too many examples of people (my parents in particular) who participate loudly in the song service but would admit that they know little to nothing about music. They were taught that it was their reasonable service to sing, and so they sing as best they can. The author’s later point, that the congregation needs to be exhorted to sing by the leadership, is the more fundamental issue. (I am all for teaching people more about music and making them more capable singers, but I think that is not the central cause for lack of participation in congregational singing.)

  2. Angie B. says:

    As a fellow music teacher at a classical Christian school, I give this essay a thumbs up!

    Lack of training may not be the only reason people aren’t singing in church, as Geoff mentions in his comment above, but I’ve seen firsthand that it can be a factor. There are two important aspects to music training in regard to singing: reading music and vocal production. Usually it’s far easier for a child to learn these things than an adult, so why not start young?

    Here’s a blog post I write for the Biblical Horizons blog awhile back about this topic with a few simple ways to begin implementing this training at home: http://biblicalhorizons.wordpress.com/2008/01/29/paedo-adorans-training-our-children-to-worship

    Keep up the good work, Jarrod.

  3. We are in agreement that singing is not the only reason that people don’t sing in church. Maybe I should reiterate that I am using singing in the fullest sense of the word, or “singing with understanding” and the ability to read, write, and make music purposefully and not just spontaneously. Of course, all people possess the ability to sing on a simple level by virtue of having vocal cords, breath, etc. My desire is to see us get back to training singers and this focus will only help the cause of more singing in our church congregation. Thanks for your comments. -Jarrod

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