Should we hear other people sing at church?

I had a great time with our college students last night kicking off College Midweek, and had a great discussion of how we interact with one another in worship. Probably like most young adults, their perspective was “We like it loud, so that no one can hear us sing.” The argument is that we’ll be more enthusiastic in worship if no one can hear our missed notes or voice crack.  And I think that’s true.  As someone who is “tone challenged,” I know I get into it more when it’s loud.

That being said, there is something to hearing one another in worship, even in our imperfections. Two of my favorite blogs have brought up this question recently (Justin Taylor and Jon Acuff), each from his own distinct perspective, and it’s fresh on my mind. One of our students led the time of singing last night, the first time she had done so.  With only a small group of us there and no amplification, there was nowhere for her voice (or any of our own) to hide. While she did a good job musically (in guitar and singing), what stuck with me was how her singing came out of a place of honest emotion, and that was an encouragement to me.

As Justin Taylor points out in his post (linked above):

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.”

Singing is a horizontal (in addition to a vertical) act. I benefit from hearing your singing not just if it is beautiful, but if it is broken.  It reminds me of the gospel. Broken voices reflect the need for a healer God.

What keeps us from singing loudly? For me, it’s shame. I don’t want you to know that I’m not exactly David Crowder behind a mic. That’s okay, though. In Christ there is no need for shame.  The God of the universe, who knitted together your vocal chords and your neighbor’s ears, wants to hear your singing.  You’re going to be shy because some mortal might find it less than perfect?  As Psalm 98 says, make a loud noise. Don’t be ashamed who hears it. You might bless the people next to you with your flawed voice more than the singer up front does with her perfect one.

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