Cross Words: Christ-centered, congregational singing


By Isaiah Pauley - Cross Words



I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my five years of leading worship. My voice has cracked. My guitar pick has broken. My pickup battery has died. I’ve started singing in the wrong key. One time, my guitar string snapped and almost hit my sister in the face. I’ve even led with blood running down my fingers. But what happened this past Sunday might be the best mistake I’ve ever made while leading worship.

I was singing the third verse of “Living Hope” by Phil Wickham, and the congregation sang along. Before long, it was time to return to the chorus. Now, the pianist and I had decided to sustain the D chord for a measure before resuming the chorus. But the congregation got ahead of us. In fact, they engulfed us. They sang so loudly that I went along with them, skipping the measure and leaving my team in the dust.

I doubt too many people noticed. But this experience has been on my mind a lot this week. You see, I hate making mistakes while leading worship. But I’m not disappointed this time. Why? Because my congregation sang so loudly that it messed me up. And I think that’s a good problem to have.

Paul writes, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16 ESV).

Our worship should be fueled by the Word. That’s why I begin our services by reading a Psalm. When gathering as the people of God, something must point us to Christ. The Holy Spirit does this (see John 16:14-15). In a sermon on this passage, Spurgeon writes, “It is the chief office of the Holy Spirit to glorify Christ.” So, what fuels our worship? The Spirit or the Word? Well, the answer is both.

This might mess with our minds a little. But the Holy Spirit is never at odds with the Bible. And the Bible is never at odds with the Spirit.

I once heard someone say, “It’s Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not Father, Son, and Holy Bible!” But Scripture cannot be properly understood apart from the Spirit (see 1 Cor. 2:6-16). Sure, someone can read the Bible without being “pierced to the heart.” But to read the Bible as God calls us to read the Bible only comes through the Holy Spirit. On the flip side, the Spirit’s revelation to us is given to us through the Word. To emphasize the Holy Spirit apart from the Word leads people away from Christ. Why? Because the Spirit is not at odds with the Word. Rather, the Spirit seeks to glorify Christ by illuminating Scripture to us. After all, the Bible is authored by the Spirit’s illumination to begin with.

Tim Challies writes, “In brief, then, revelation is from God to man, inspiration is man to paper, and illumination is paper to man. The entire process is governed by the Holy Spirit.”

So, Paul writes, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly …” (Col. 3:16) because our worship must be fueled by the Word as displayed to us by the Spirit.

And this leads to what Paul says next. Our dwelling on the Word should lead to congregational singing. He says, “… teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16).

You see, when we sing together as the people of God, we encourage one another. We remind one another of God’s promises. We consider together His faithfulness. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul writes, “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up” (v. 26 ESV).

Congregational singing results in mutual edification. The parallel passage for Colossians 3:16 is Ephesians 5:18-19 where Paul says, “… 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” (ESV).

Notice how Paul mentions “Spirit” rather than “Word” here. But remember, the two are not at odds. Our worship, then, should point to Christ by dwelling on the Word by the power of the Spirit. And this, in turn, fuels congregational singing from the heart. A kind of singing that edifies our brothers and sisters in Christ.

So, I’m not upset about the mistake I made on Sunday. In fact, I hope the congregation sings loud enough to throw me off again and remind me that our worship is not a performance. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about musical excellence and good sound quality. But those things must never result in the loss of congregational singing. And it’s not just congregational singing. It’s singing fueled by the Word in the Spirit’s power for the glory of Christ.

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By Isaiah Pauley

Cross Words

Isaiah Pauley is the Minister of Worship for Faith Baptist Church in Mason, W.Va. Find more at www.isaiahpauley.com. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.

Isaiah Pauley is the Minister of Worship for Faith Baptist Church in Mason, W.Va. Find more at www.isaiahpauley.com. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.