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Godward vertical worship—in preaching, prayer, singing, communion—is our ultimate aim when the church gathers together. But we should not neglect the horizontal dimension of worship.

With singing, for example, we are not only singing to God (in adoration and confession and thanksgiving and petition) but we are simultaneously supposed to sing to one another (in encouragement and edification, correction and instruction).

For example, Paul says in Ephesians 5:18-19 that we are to be “filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.”

Or in Colossians 3:16 Paul tells us to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly”—by means of and with the result of “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

Along these lines, here is a good word from Greg Gilbert:

I think we ought to encourage every member of our churches to sing every song in the service with gusto, even if they don’t particularly resonate with the song.  Every Christian has a certain set of hymns and songs that deeply resonate with them—the melody, the words, an experience they had when they first heard it—and our natural tendency is to give those favorites everything we’ve got . . . but then sort of check out when the next song is one we don’t particularly like.  

But here’s the thing:  When you sing in a congregation, you’re not just singing for yourself; you’re singing for every other member of the congregation, for their edification and building up in Christ, too.  In I Corinthians 14:26, Paul tells us that when we come together, everything we do—including our singing—is done for each other.  Singing hymns is not just an opportunity for each of us, as individuals, to worship God in our own way.  It’s an opportunity for the church, as a whole, to worship God together.  That means that even if you don’t like a particular song, it’s likely that someone else in the congregation resonates with it deeply—they feel about it the same way you feel about your favorites—and so you have a responsibility to love that person by singing that song with all the heart you can muster.  In other words, don’t check out on songs that aren’t your favorites; sing them!  And sing them loud and heartily, not because you particularly like them, but because you may be helping to edify another brother or sister whose heart is engaged deeply with those songs.  Worship isn’t finally an individual experience; it’s corporate.  And everything we do—everything, Paul tells us, including our singing—should be done for the building up of the saints.

You can read his whole post here.


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22 thoughts on “Don’t Neglect the Horizontal Dimension of Singing and Worship”

  1. susan hart says:

    hi–thanks for posting this. anyone who is interested in this subject might want to listen to bob kauflin’s message from the worshipGod11 conference a couple of weeks ago. very helpful.

  2. DC Washington says:

    Amen

  3. Josh says:

    Not a fan of the whole singing thing…just isn’t me. Glad it works for some tho.

    1. David says:

      Josh, His Word tells us that if we don’t praise Him, the very rocks around us will. I am not into a lot of the praise, but I try to make a Joyful noise unto the Lord.

      1. Josh says:

        The funny thing about that passage is that it notes that the disciples were praising God in loud voices, but does not say that they were doing so in song. They could’ve been excitedly talking, or shouting. They were giving their testimony about the things they had seen. Story. I love God absolutely, the way I bring praise to him is through story and writing but, as the passage also notes, God doesn’t need me to glorify him because all of creation is a testament to him. The issue I take with the post is this:

        “I think we ought to encourage every member of our churches to sing every song in the service with gusto, even if they don’t particularly resonate with the song.”

        Yeah, that sounds great. I understand the idea behind it, but it also encourages a “good Christians do this or that” attitude. If someone doesn’t express themselves in song, yet are strongly encouraged by the church to do so in the interest in “keeping a command” (which I still haven’t seen a reference to where God says ‘Thou shalt sing all the worship songs in church on Sunday’) it will end up being a facade. Last I heard, Jesus took real issue with people who put on Sunday facades in the interest of keeping commandments.

        1. Jeff Downs says:

          Josh,

          What do you do with passages in which we are commanded to sing:
          click here.

          In fact, this is the practice of Christ, the disciples and the saints in the OT. Simply by example, we should folowing, but more than that, we are commanded to Sing unto the Lord.

          1. Josh says:

            I really think that many problems in modern Christianity come when someone takes one particular verse out of context and says that this is THE way to do something. That verse is one of many in Ephesians 5 that talk about components of a Christian life. The passage also describes how Christians shouldn’t have sexual immorality, greed, obscene stories, foolish talk or coarse jokes. Some call these mandates, and they are in their own way, but God is about more than just a list of commandments, as demonstrated with Jesus.

            But the verse you selected to justify God “commanding” people to sing…well I don’t read it that way. The translation I see says “speak” to each other…rather than sing. Which is equally possible, as you hear people read the psalms or sharing lyrics of hymns and whatnot.

            It says sing songs in your heart.

            Would I say music is powerful? Absolutely, but this verse is not a mandate to sing all the church worship songs, I’m sorry my friend.

            1. Jeff Downs says:

              That’s ok Josh. I have no desire to pick a fight with you. The scripture a plain on this issue to the majority of Christians thoughout the centuries (which should raise a red flag in your mind). We also know, in heaving, you will be singing your heart out:

              “And they sang a new song, saying “Worthy art Though to take the book and to break it seals; for Thou was slain, and dist purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation….”

              Notice the passage equates song and saying. Siminlar to the Ephesians passage.

              1. Josh says:

                Jeff,
                Wasn’t aware we were on the verge of fighting, just have different opinions is all. I appreciate you not wanting to pick a fight however, very kind of you. :) I’d just urge you to be careful when you choose to speak for the majority of Christians throughout the centuries, that’s a big channel to swim.
                Bit I am certainly content to agree to disagree on this.
                We will probably discuss these things in my weekly home church. :)

                best to you and yours.

  4. Jeff Downs says:

    Josh,

    What does that mean, in light of the fact that we (believers) are commanded to sing?

    1. Not to mention that God Himself does it (Zeph. 3:17).

  5. There’s an evangelistic component, also. When you find yourself visiting a family’s “dead” church, or you’re at a wedding or a funeral, or even a Christian school assembly, and you sing something like “Amazing Grace” with a voice and a countenance that shows you believe every word, in the midst of a room of people just mumbling, it’s about as a great an evangelistic opportunity as non-preachers and evangelists can get.

  6. Josh says:

    Different people celebrate God differently, we all have different personalities, singing doesn’t move some people as it does others. So just because you don’t sing in church doesn’t mean you are somehow any less of a Christian.

    1. Brandon says:

      it doesn’t make you less of a christian, but you are ignoring a direct command from God on how we should interact with Him.

      The facets of corporate worship: reading the Word, prayer, singing, preaching the Word, communion, baptism, edifying one another, etc… are not buffet items where we choose which ones fit our appetites. We need to conform our appetites match God’s.

  7. Brandon says:

    As a worship leader, this is something that I’ve tried to communicate to my congregation. It’s quite discouraging to see people just looking around like they’re bored during one song and on the next one that they like, they’ve got their eyes closed and a big grin on their face as they sing. Its a very individualistic view of corporate worship.

  8. Josh says:

    Duly noted. I’ll still maintain that this is a great example of missing the greater point. Some people sing in church some don’t, those that don’t may “edify” their neighbors in different ways such as affirming words or providing physical tangible things to another in a time of need. The body has many different functions andthat is the beauty of the church. Corporate worship is a means to an end, but it isn’t the end itself. Connection with God is the end, and when it comes down to it some people do not connect with God through song. And if I’m completely honest my voice in song may be more of a discouragement rather than an edifying experience to those around me. ;) Christianity isn’t about keeping some long list of commandments, rather it is allowing God within you to move you and shape you into the person he wants u to be.

  9. Matt Jacobs says:

    What a helpful and thoughtful post! Thanks for sharing this, Justin.

  10. Paul Adams says:

    Yes…somewhere I remember reading Augustine who indicated that in worship we’re addressing three parties: God, others, ourselves. And he based this upon the reciprocal pronoun. Though I am wary of his Greek knowledge, in this case he’s spot on.

  11. Larry Sittig says:

    The point is an important one, but many face the problem of worship services where platform performance is emphasized and the music is so amplified that it’s impossible to tell whether the congregation is singing or not. So I wish this were given as a challenge to worship leaders as well as congregants. I think the very concept of _leading in worship_ can be lost when leaders think of themselves as pressured to put on a production that competes with or mimics Hollywood entertainment. I look around the big room and see many disconnected emotionally from the show up front. I think they are not being instructed as well as not being led. They can feel guilty for not feeling the strong emotions those on the platform display. But they can’t be blamed if the thought occurs to them that while others praise the emperor’s clothes, they see none.

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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