Do our sermons start people singing?

We are all missing singing in church on the Lord’s Day. As the Coronavirus pandemic tragically continues, we as churches, along with many others, institutions and businesses, are still under the government’s restrictions.

At the beginning of October it was reported that ‘faith communities’ were being invited to take part in research based at University College London, into whether or not singing makes any real contribution to the spread of the virus. The hope is that this can inform guidance to allow worshippers to return safely to singing together in church.

Melody inside

Christianity is in many ways ‘the singing faith.’ The gospel puts ‘a new song in our mouths’ (Psalm 40:3) and leaves us ‘making music in our hearts to the Lord’ (Ephesians 5:19).

But with everyone rightly keen to able to gather and sing God’s praises together, a question is raised for pastors and preachers. Does our preaching of the gospel actually inspire the church and make our people feel they must sing. It is one thing to sing out of habit. It is another thing to sing from the heart.

Troubled people

The mental health issues, fears and worries accompanying the pandemic have been newsworthy in recent weeks. There are a lot of people out there who need to be given reassurance and confidence. God is our refuge and strength in troubled times (Psalm 46:1). Both Christians and non-Christians need to be pointed to Christ and his fullness and love.

As pastors we should ask God to help us strike the right note for people. A contemporary novel, The Music Shop, by Rachel Joyce, is a fictional story surrounding Frank, a big guy who runs a back street outlet for vinyl records.[1] He is a sensitive soul and often ends up acting as a kind of pastor to his customers. They pour out their troubles to him, and he thoughtfully recommends music for them to listen to, which will touch their hearts and help them to work out their problems – Aretha Franklin, O no, not my baby etc. Frank has a gift for this sort of thing and it often sets people back on their feet and puts a ‘new song’ in their hearts.

It is a secular picture of what, at a much more profound level, our counsel and preaching of the gospel should be doing for lost souls, anxious Christians and the broken-hearted.

When we eventually get back to sing in church, surely we want more than the routine tradition of singing. We want brothers and sisters to be singing ‘psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in our hearts to God’ (Colossians 3:16).

Bringing heaven with them

The sermons of great men like Daniel Rowland often brought joy to their hearers. Christmas Evans records being at Rowland’s preaching and as he warmed to his subject, ‘the effect on the people was wonderful; you could see nothing but smiles and tears running down the faces of all.’

Many would sing in anticipation of Rowland’s ministry, coming from miles away to be there. ‘It is well known that some hundreds of these pilgrims used to meet at a well within about two miles of Llangeitho on the morning before divine service, to take some refreshment, drinking water from the well, after long and tedious journeys through the night. After asking a blessing upon their food, and returning thanks, and praying, they would then sing a hymn, and proceed towards Llangeitho in this happy frame of mind, praising the Lord. Rowland was generally struck with their heavenly singing, as he was walking out musing on his sermon before the service. He would stop, listening, then observing, “Well, here they come, bringing heaven along with them.”’ [2]

Driving home?

Of course, these were revival times, but surely it is something for which preachers ought to aspire and pray – so to exalt the Lord Jesus as to set our people singing.

Yes, we are missing singing together in church. We lament our masks and all the rest of it. But people can sing as they participate online from home. Singing in the home used to be a regular part of Christian family life. And though we may be restricted in church, there is nothing to stop many of us singing on the way to service. Driving home in the car you can sing as loud as you like! May the Lord so empower his word as to fill our hearts with praise.

[1] The Music Shop, by Rachel Joyce (Black Swan, 2017).  

[2] See Daniel Rowland and the Evangelical Awakening in Wales, by Eifon Evans (Banner of Truth, 1987), pp. 353, 360.