Martin Luther once said, “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does.” The same is true of congregational singing.
Although God commands Christians to sing, he doesn’t need our singing in order to be God. He has an eternal choir of living creatures that never cease to sing his praise (Rev. 4:8). And yet he’s designed us to experience joy—and encouragement—when we lift our voices in praise. Though we often conceive of corporate worship vertically, there’s a rich horizontal dimension too. Your neighbors need your church’s singing.
Which neighbors? Consider four.
1. Your Doubting Neighbor
Some believers barely make it to church each week. They have doubts about God’s goodness, about whether he loves them, about whether showing up to church is still worth it. Singing may be the last thing on their minds.
But in congregational singing, we teach and admonish one another (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). In his excellent book Corporate Worship: How the Church Gathers as God’s People, Matt Marker writes, “While we address our worship to God, we simultaneously spur one another on: Listen to these praises! Delight your soul in the Lord! Take comfort in his promises!”
Singing God’s Word can strengthen the doubter more than we realize.
2. Your Tone-Deaf Neighbor
“But I can’t sing on key at all,” some might protest. Thankfully, God doesn’t command Christians to sing beautifully—he commands Christians to sing. Congregational singing is participatory, not performative; it’s for edification, not entertainment. Rather than spectating, all are called to participate—even those who can’t carry a tune.
As one of my pastors likes to say, “When you join the church, you join the choir.” Your singing may help a tone-deaf brother or sister as you together make a joyful noise to the Lord.
3. Your Lost Neighbor
Wouldn’t starting the service with Tom Petty or Guns N’ Roses be more appealing to unbelievers? Maybe. But what you win people with is what you win them to. Gimmicks might appeal to the unbeliever, but once converted, will the same gimmicks help them grow?
Consider what happens when you sing with the saints. You demonstrate to unbelievers that though the church consists of different parts, it’s one body. Though singing harmony uses different notes than singing melody, when put together something beautiful happens: the notes blend to create one unified chorus.
What a picture of the church’s love for one another! Though we are different, our mutual love shows our lost neighbors that the gospel creates a community where unity and diversity go hand in hand. “God intends our corporate worship to provoke the watching world,” Merker writes. “Our gatherings not only proclaim the gospel. They also display a gospel people, a foretaste of the coming new creation.”
Leverage that to draw lost people to Jesus and his church.
4. Your Suffering Neighbor
I became our church’s music director at a time when members were suffering. Many still are. One family that volunteers to lead music lost a niece and a best friend in the span of three weeks. Despite the darkness, this sister wanted to serve her church through singing. The song she led was her best friend’s favorite. During rehearsal she said to me, in tears, “I might need you to sing it for me.” I responded, “Sister, that’s what we’re here for. We may all have to sing this song for you—and that’s OK.”
We may all have to sing this song for you—and that’s OK.
She sang the song through tears, with a whole congregation to help her. Congregational singing helps the suffering saints when they can’t sing. You can sing for them when they can’t sing themselves.
We impoverish ourselves when we neglect the horizontal dimension of corporate worship. Merker sums it up well:
Exaltation and edification are mutually reinforcing. We can’t separate them. Glorifying God encourages others, and loving our brothers and sisters brings delight to God. The vertical and horizontal belong together, every Sunday.
God doesn’t need your singing, but your neighbor does.
The Gospel Coalition