Over the years, we’ve had our arguments about what to sing in church. Which songs are appropriate? Can we add hymns to our repertoire of Psalms? What about choruses? What styles of music are best for worship? We’ve pretty much settled on letting churches decide for themselves what is best for their context of worship.
But we don’t talk much about how to sing in church. Leave it to the Wesley brothers to describe a method of how to sing. Since Charles wrote hundreds of hymns and John was a minister, it’s fair to say that they knew a think or two about how to sing a song in church. Here are the singing rules credited to John Wesley:
- Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.
- Sing lustily, and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of it being heard, then when you sing the songs of Satan.
- Sing modestly. Do not bawl, as to be heard above, or distinct from, the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.
- Sing in time. Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before, not stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can. And take care you sing not too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
- Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this, attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.
I’m not much for a set of rules to sing by, but I appreciate their appeal to us to sing as part of a community, joining our voices, not standing out or speeding up. Most of all, we are reminded to always sing as unto the Lord.
What are ways that we can lead and shape congregational singing in our churches so that we contribute to community, enhance understanding of the text and mold hearts that are attentive to the Lord?