Volume 12, No. 9 (September 2017)
“The most important musical group in the church
is the congregation.”
This vital truth was hammered home to me from several different angles during the month of September.
Capitol Hill Baptist Church
I had long wanted to visit this church (especially since I grew up in the D.C. area), located just five blocks from the U.S. Capitol. The first Sunday in September I got that opportunity.
The church is known for its congregational singing, and I was not disappointed. The Sanctuary was packed, mostly with 20- and 30-somethings. Yet the music style was very traditional, and the accompaniment very spare: acoustic guitar, piano, and four very unobtrusive singers. All the songs were printed in the bulletin, in four-part notation. All verses were sung, and the instruments dropped out for the last verse of every song, with rich harmony filling the room as the congregation sang all the parts! So beautiful and moving! You can see and hear a clip HERE.
Pastor Mark Dever is a great preacher, to which the packed sanctuary for the 2 ¼ hour service (!) attested, but the singing was a tremendous blessing, too.
Regardless of your church’s worship/music style, you should build in occasional a cappella singing. The human voice is the greatest instrument for praise! Some songs will lend themselves to extemporaneous harmonization, or at the very least, your choir or worship team can fill in the parts.
Getty Sing! Conference, September 18-20, 2017
The “modern hymns” of Keith and Kristyn Getty (including “In Christ Alone”), have been a real gift to the body of Christ; and this conference they offered was focused on congregational singing. Held in Nashville, the conference far exceeded expectations: it sold out five months in advance, and 4,000 attended! While the host church, Brentwood Baptist Church, is huge, two overflow rooms were still needed.
There was some substantial content provided by such speakers as Alistair Begg, D.A. Carson, and Paul Tripp, along with wonderful times of group singing (a lot of Getty songs, but other songs and hymns as well; the conference closed with all four verses of “Holy, Holy, Holy,” sung a cappella in parts—hear it HERE). There were also numerous practical breakout sessions. And on the first night of the conference the attendees packed out the Grand Ole Opry for a wonderful Hymn Sing.
A highlight for me and many others was hearing Joni Eareckson Tada on the last night of the conference. Alone in her wheelchair in the middle of the stage, she shared about her journey, her deep walk with God, her continuing struggle with pain, and her longing for heaven. Interspersed through her talk were times of a cappella hymn singing, with Joni leading us with her withered arms. Unforgettable! HERE is a clip.
There will be another conference next fall (September 10-12), in a larger venue, focused on the Psalms and featuring speakers Alistair Begg, John Piper, John MacArthur, and Tim Keller. Quite a lineup! Registration info can be found at www.gettymusic.com.
Intergenerational Worship Service
This month our church (First Evangelical Church in Memphis, Tennessee) embarked on its own adventure in congregational singing. This summer our elders had sensed that God was leading us as a church to combine our separate traditional and contemporary services into one combined intergenerational service. The way for this move had been prepared by our bi-monthly combined services; our people really enjoyed being together, filling the sanctuary with their voices lifted up to God in song.
We launched our new service on September 17. We are intentionally including the distinctive features of both of our previous services, including robed choir, organ and piano, contemporary band, and occasional string and wind instruments. The emphasis will continue to be on congregational singing, though we’ll still do a choral anthem most weeks; whenever possible, it will be one where the congregation joins in at the end, or at least where the congregation will immediately respond in song afterward.
Key to this process has been the deliberate practice of thematic worship (see below), where a focus on a particular aspect of God’s truth helps to blend together the different stylistic musical elements. Our themes so far have been The Church and The Holiness of God. For October we’ll focus on the great themes of the Reformation as our pastor preaches through the five “Solas”: by Grace alone, through Faith alone, the Scriptures alone, in Christ alone and Glory to God alone.
The first few weeks have gone really well (many, especially the elders, have been praying!). There is a new spirit of unity in our church, as our people sublimate their own preferences for the good of the whole, in an active exercise of “preferring one another in love” (Romans 12:10).
Related articles you may find useful:
Thematic Worship: A Rich Feast for the People of God
Series: Song in Scripture (Worship Notes Oct, Nov 2009; Jan-May, July, Sept 2010)