Disturbing the Hush – a Guest Blog

congregational-singing1I invited Pastor Greg Lindsey of Mill Springs Baptist Church in Jefferson City to write a guest blog.  Earlier this year I conducted a Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing Weekend at Mill Springs, and sensed a real connection with Pastor Greg.  His writing is articulate and artful.  While the post is longer than my normal articles I think you will find it engaging.  I am happy to note that Greg will be with those of us who are gathering for an East Tennessee Training for Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing leaders at the end of July.  Thank you, Brother Greg for your friendship and for sharing from your heart.

“Disturbing the Hush” – Pastor Greg Lindsey

I can still hear her voice. Loud. Strong. And above all, joyful – soaring upward to the highest notes of her favorite hymn: “Love Lifted Me”… but also, here and there, lagging just a bit behind the words, as was her wont. In all her years, my Granny was never asked to sing a solo in church; but that didn’t stop her from singing! Instead, she lifted up her “ordinary voice” (by human standards), given her by the Lord of voices, and praised Him with all her heart through all her days – until, in 1986, she passed from this earth to keep on singing of His greatness in heaven. Her example of love for God in song inspired her grandson to lift up his own “ordinary voice,” which I’ve tried to do ever since.

Several months ago the familiar thought returned: “I sure do miss hearing Granny sing!” And that’s when I realized, “I miss hearing anybody sing like Granny used to sing!” And I began to ponder it: “How come that kind of singing seems to have disappeared? Where have all those voices gone? Ordinary voices (most of us), but loud, joyful, and intense – united in stout praise of the God of our salvation? Why isn’t that kind of singing heard anymore? We still gather, but what happened to the singing that used to ring out?”

I think of John Wesley’s, Directions for Singing (1761): “Sing lustily and with 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 its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.” (By “lustily,” our brother meant “vigorously, enthusiastically.”) This is the kind of singing that’s so largely vanished. Voices “lifted up with strength.” Oh, yes! We can amplify music “lustily” today – more than Wesley would have ever imagined, I’m quite sure! We have the power and technology. Unleash Brother Bose® on a congregation and he can jar loose the snuggest dental fillings! But kill all the microphones, loudspeakers, stage monitors, power amps, mixers, and instruments just for a moment on any given Sunday morning, and listen to what’s left: not much. A hush that disturbs.

“Since when did a hush ever disturb somebody?” Since the day this pastor began to notice call after call in his Bible for God’s people to praise Him loudly with their singing! “Therefore in the east give glory to the LORD; exalt the name of the LORD, the God of Israel, in the islands of the sea. From the ends of the earth we hear singing: ‘Glory to the Righteous One’” (Isa 24:15-16); “My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to You – I whom You have delivered” (Ps 71:23); “Sing the glory of His name; make His praise glorious” (Ps 66:2); “But let all who take refuge in You be glad; let them ever sing for joy” (Ps 5:11); “that my heart may sing Your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise You forever” (Ps 30:12); etc., etc., etc…. You get the idea!

Does anyone else see the irony of gathering on the Lord’s Day to faintly sing, “Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise”?

Then, as God would have it, I came across a brother named Paul Clark, Jr. and an online brochure describing something he was calling a “Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing Weekend.” I stared at those half dozen words. “Yes, this may be it!” I said. “The answer to the hush!” So I emailed Brother Paul and inquired about a weekend, and received a most gracious reply the next day. “I am at once humbled and encouraged that you would reach out,” he said. “And I would be honored to assist and consider serving alongside of you by conducting at Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing conference at your church.”

And just that quickly, the ball was rolling. We were able to secure a workable date for both our schedules, which turned out to be March 6-8, and Paul shared the plan: He would meet with me and the church’s worship leader on Friday afternoon into the evening. The next morning, he would gather with all our leaders (Sunday School teachers, deacons, committee chairmen, etc.) for conversation and instruction, followed by an afternoon session with our praise team, musicians, and audio/visual team. On Sunday morning he would preach God’s word on the subject of worship. The weekend would be capped off with an evening session led by Paul on “A Biblical Theology of Worship Singing,” culminating in an hour of “congregational rehearsal,” in which we would attempt to translate our learning into action.

When I met Paul in person for the first time and we sat down to talk, I quickly realized that my brother in Christ not only has a mind for worship, but a heart for worship. His years of working with the Lord’s churches and, most importantly, of walking with the Church’s Lord, made our time together extremely edifying and beneficial. I discovered in Paul a man who genuinely loves the church that God “bought with His own blood,” and who also appreciates the tremendous responsibility that pastors bear as under-shepherds, “to keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers” (Acts 20:28). And now he had traveled many miles to come alongside me in seeking worship renewal for a local church. I was grateful and hopeful. I knew that with a servant-leader like Paul, if the Lord saw fit to bless our weekend, something special was going to happen.

He did. And it did!

We had good participation in the conference (although as a pastor, it seems like you always wish you had had better). I think a lot of people, especially our leaders, came curious, wondering what it was all about. I guess some may have wondered if we really even needed such a conference. By the end of the weekend though, I could tell that the congregational singing “picture” was becoming clearer in our minds and that a noticeable shift in understanding was beginning to occur – away from us being “okay” with hushed non-participation and back toward the biblical standard: “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Col 3:16). Although we have some amazing voices (again, by human standards) in the church, we have many more “ordinary voices” like mine – and these were the voices I was especially hoping to reengage in singing, so the result would be all our voices together as one in praise of the Lord.

It was actually several weeks later, during our Sunday evening Bible study. About forty-five of us were gathered in our fellowship hall. I know of at least one person who was thinking about Brother Paul’s outstanding teaching given us over the course of our weekend together. (Inwardly, I was yearning to see and hear a singing difference.) Then suddenly, it happened! With the words of a song on a sheet of paper in our hands, we had begun to sing. No instruments were accompanying; it was just us. But now the voices were growing louder, the singing stronger than usual. The sound was becoming “fuller.” It seemed more intense somehow, more robust. It’s hard to describe. Everything just felt more “focused,” more “alive.” Unison was melting into the sweetest harmony, and the sound of praise to God was filling the room. It was beautiful! Faith was awakening from sleep! Distant memories of a treasured sound were roused in my own heart! I hadn’t heard God’s people sing like that in years! I looked around the room at my fellow worshipers. Eyes were wide open and faces appeared surprised, as if to say, “What’s happening?!”

I knew exactly what was happening: I was hearing my Granny’s voice again!

Three months after Brother Paul’s biblical instruction and investment of his time and heart in our “Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing Weekend,” I wish I could say that loud, joyful, intense singing to God is now the new normal in the precious church I serve. But, I can’t – at least not yet. Worship renewal is a battle, and not for the faint of heart. At times when we meet, I think we’re “coming alive” to what we’re singing in worship, but then we seem to slip back into the older, colder tendencies that we’re so familiar with. (What is it they say about “old habits”?) Truthfully, I’m the last person in the congregation qualified to point worship fingers. My heart knows all too well how easy staid, perfunctory worship is! And speaking of the heart, isn’t that the real issue for us all?

But I believe what the Scripture proclaims: “Jesus is Lord!” (Rom 10:9). And as “the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior” (Eph 5:23), He loves His church profoundly – beyond any measure of love that I could ever understand or show! “For Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word” (Eph 5:25-26). And one glorious day, He’s going “to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph 5:25-27). And on that day… oh, listen to us sing His praises!

Meanwhile, though, the people of God on earth aren’t called to sit around and wait until we’re the people of God in heaven. No! We’re charged to sing now! “Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, praise His name; proclaim His salvation day after day. Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; He is to be feared above all gods” (Ps 96:1-4).

Brother pastors, when it comes to the worship of our triune God, isn’t whole-hearted, full-throated singing worth contending for? Surely! Then let’s preach and teach like it! Let’s walk right up to this “hush that disturbs” and poke it in the eye with our preaching! How about we decide to disturb it for a change? How about we preach some sermons on worship that, like thunder rolling across a night sky, will rumble in the quietness of our churches? Sermons that will signal unmistakably to our listeners our own passion for the return of heart-engaged, Spirit-filled singing on the part of all God’s people? Imagine for a moment the impact of such congregational singing – on believers and unbelievers alike (1 Cor 14:25)!

More and more, my conviction grows that the hush in our churches is a sinful thing. Mumbled praises are malfunctioning praises, and utterly absent in heaven; let’s strive then to make them absent on earth! Pray for loud, impassioned, full-bodied singing when we gather as Christians! Let’s lead toward it in the churches that the Lord graciously has called us to serve! And keep leading toward it, until by His mercy it becomes a reality! Draw inspiration, if you’re able, by recalling how the Lord’s people used to sing – all those “ordinary voices,” united in loud praise. Be convinced, for example, that if a group of people who love folk songs can sing with power (Portsmouth Maritime Folk Festival), then a group of people who love Jesus can absolutely sing with power (Capitol Hill Baptist)! Call your people to sing this way! Encourage them in it! Urge them with all your heart, “Come, Christians, join to sing Alleluia! Amen! Loud praise to Christ our King; Alleluia! Amen!” And make sure they see you doing what you’re calling them to do – even if you’ve been blessed with an “ordinary voice” like mine… and my Granny’s!

“Sing to the LORD, for He has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world” (Isa 12:5).

About Paul Clark Jr

Worshiper, student of worship. Graduate of Robert E Webber Institute for Worship Studies (DWS), Director of Worship & Music Ministries for Tennessee Baptist Convention. Musician, Clinician, Conference Leader, Teacher, Author, Worship Music Leader, Husband, Father, Grandfather, fellow traveler.

Posted on July 5, 2015, in Tennessee Music Ministers, Tennessee Pastors, Worship Leaders, Worship Renewal, Youth Choir and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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