congregational worship

Your Church Needs to Hear You Sing

I look down, and on the pages of my bulletin I see the words, 

Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free
For God the just is satisfied
To look on him and pardon me.

I look up, and across the room I see Jeremy. He’s smiling with abandon. He’s belting out these words like he means them. And here’s the surprising thing: he’s looking right at me. It’s as if he’s willing the truths of this song into my soul by the sheer force of his contagious joy. 

Do you love the members of your church enough to minister to them through song?

A few months ago, David Mathis argued that God intends our corporate worship to nurture love among the body of Christ. I want to apply his point to congregational singing in particular. 

Why? Because if we’re not careful, the individualistic tendencies in our hearts can lead to a “me and God” approach to worship through song. We close our eyes, meditate on the words, and sing along softly with the band — all the while missing out on one of the hallmarks of congregational singing: the ministry of the family of God to one another.

You Are in the Choir

The New Testament describes singing as a corporate activity. A hallmark of those who are filled with the Holy Spirit is that they address “one another” in song (Ephesians 5:19). Why? Because singing is an avenue for Christian love. Consider Colossians 3:16, Paul’s famous teaching on singing, in its broader context:

Above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 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. (Colossians 3:14–16)

There are countless threats to the unity of the body (Colossians 3:6–9). Paul knows that brothers and sisters may have “complaints” against each other (Colossians 3:13). What does it look like to foster a community of forgiveness and love? One important part of the answer, according to verse 16, is the singing ministry of each member. In other words, Paul has just signed up every believer for the choir.

Remember, each week we gather as wounded people to have our spiritual sores treated by the Great Physician. In his mercy, he uses our songs to apply his sweet balm. 

The Christian enduring persecution from his biological family needs to hear the dozens or hundreds in his spiritual family sing, “Jesus, I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow Thee.” The believer struggling hard against shame needs to watch you exult, “My sin, not in part, but the whole, has been nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more!” The saint overburdened by work, striving, and performance needs to listen as you affirm, “We rest on Thee, our shield and our defender.” 

Of course, we don’t only address one another as we sing. Ephesians 5:20 and the psalms of praise teach that God is the primary audience of our songs and melodies. But raising your voice to edify others is, in fact, precisely one of the ways we exalt God’s worth. By singing, we beckon our brothers and sisters to delight in his beauty. 

What Difference Does This Make?

If we see our singing as part of our personal ministry to others, it will shape how we approach music at church in practical ways. Here are four suggestions to help press the implications of Paul’s command into the corners of our worship. 

1. Pray for members of your church prior to and during the gathering.

As part of your preparation for Sunday, consider their struggles, fears, and trials. Ask God to remind them of his kindness through the songs. If a line in a hymn brings someone’s situation to mind, pray that the words would minister to him or her in that particular moment.

2. Sing with conviction.

As I mentioned earlier, my friend Jeremy buoyed my faith simply by showing that he believed the words he was singing. One way to demonstrate conviction is to sing loudly. There are few things more spiritually invigorating than being surrounded by believers exalting Jesus at full volume. 

3. Use body language.

This will vary according to your personality and culture, but even in the most subdued settings we can convey a lot by our body language during corporate singing. Smile during hymns of joy. Convey contrition during songs of confession. Perhaps most importantly, don’t always keep your eyes closed. Making occasional eye contact with others is a powerful way to show that you’re singing with them in mind.

4. Lay aside your stylistic preferences.

Since one of the main purposes of corporate singing is to build others up, music gives us a wonderful opportunity to “count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). If the words are true, excellent, and beautiful, try to engage with every song, even if it’s not your favorite genre. You might just find that the joy you see on others’ faces helps you appreciate the song for its ability to edify people who have different tastes than you. 

We sing because Christ first loved us. We love because he first loved us. May we do both as we gather with his beloved bride this week.


Matt Merker (@merkermatt) serves as a pastoral assistant at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. He has composed several congregational hymns, including “He Will Hold Me Fast.” He lives on Capitol Hill with his wife and their daughter.


You can find the original posting of this article here. Used with permission.

Tom and the Psalms: Using the Psalms in Corporate Worship

Meet Tom. Tom has been leading worship at his home church for several years now.

Tom doesn’t always have a ton of time to dedicate to what some higher-ups would call “professional development,” but Tom does his best to read articles, listen to podcasts, keep up with new music, and stay informed on new ideas as much as he can. He really takes his job as worship leader serious.

If you were to follow Tom around for a couple of weeks you would usually find him on Wednesday or Thursday night scouring and hunting the internet, blogs, Spotify, and whatever else he can get his hands. He tries hard to find resources to help him plan ahead. Like I said, Tom takes his job as worship leader serious. Tom has even read some of the how-to books about worship leadership and is currently working his way through one of those big, tough-to-read theology books because he knows stuff like that will just help him serve his church better.

Tom probably wouldn’t be able to explain this fully, but he does all of this because he wants his church to know the truth about who God is and how they should respond to Him. Tom totally realizes that his church doesn’t primarily need him to be a pro on the new lighting system that looks more confusing than rocket science, but rather that his church needs him to understand the Bible.

I’m sure you, like Tom, search, hunt, and do your best to be the worship leader your church needs. You care about what your people say, what they sing, and what they learn about God. Tom is a pretty good example. I mean, he wouldn’t claim to have it all figured out, but really, who does.

Have you ever thought about how a worship leader in the Old Testament would have led? What about a worship leader in Jesus’ day? What about the ones who led worship at the apostles’ churches? Have you ever thought about what the corporate worship service would have looked like for all of human history before, I don’t know, 200 AD?

It must have been hard to lead in those times. Think about it, how in the world did they even know what songs to pick before the internet!? And since the times were so different, can we even assume Tom’s job is the same job those guys had forever ago?

I think so. There is a whole group of people talked about in the Old Testament called the psalmists who wrote songs and poems and led the people of God in worship. The modern worship leader’s job is the same as the psalmists’ job— that is to form the people of God around the story of God’s creation and redemption. The psalmists have been leading the people of God to respond to God in service, artful expression, and obedience in a corporate setting since the beginning of the Torah. So, back to the question, how did these Old Testament worship leaders lead and what can we learn from them?

Well, lucky for us, we have a curated, collected record of what Hebrew worship looked like right in the middle of the Old Testament. In fact, that record shows what it looked like AND some of the actual words, stories, prayers, and poems they used! You probably know where I’m going, but God has preserved for us a record of Hebrew worship that I think should be pulled back out and used by Tom, and every other modern worship leader—the book of Psalms.

As God showed himself to the Hebrews, they responded in the prayers, poems, and songs found in the Psalms. Even the structure of the book is in such a way that teaches the worshiper more about who God is, who we are, and how we relate to God and each other.

These are just two ways that the modern worship leader can use the Book of Psalms.

1. Use the Psalms as your guide for what you teach your church about who God is and how we respond to him. Really take a look at what the Psalms say and the story they tell. See if the words you put in the mouths of your people lines up with what the Psalms say.

See what the Hebrews were learning about God through the Psalms and compare that with what your church is learning about God through your songs and prayers. No, this is not easy. Yes, this will take some real work and require you to try and understand the structure and message of the Psalms. But folks, this is what God Himself gave us to lead with!

2. Use the Psalms as your tools to structure your corporate worship service. There are so many ways to do this, but at its most fundamental level it would look like your church saying, singing, praying, etc. exactly what a specific psalm or group of psalms would be saying.

The psalmist is telling the people of God to rejoice because of God’s steadfast love in Psalm 117? Tell your people to rejoice because of God’s steadfast love. Is the psalmist telling the people of God to put away foreign idols and serve God only or else destruction will come in Psalm 99? Use Psalm 99 to encourage your people to have no idols in their own lives and to serve God alone.

Using the Psalms in your corporate worship will shape your church’s thinking about God, man, the world, and how we respond to it all. It really is kind of simple when you think about it.

So, like Tom, keep working, keep searching for the best resources, and keep taking your job serious. And on a foundational level, see your job as similar to the psalmists. Use your influence to form the people of God around the story of God by using the Psalms.

Now Tom can go out there and know he is jumping in on a multi-millennia task of leading the people of God in worship. Tom and the psalmists are partners now—co-workers if you will. Tom is teaching his generation what the psalmists taught their generations about who God is and how we respond to him. Tom is not alone—and you are not alone. Let’s join together and worship with the Psalms.


Keith Willis serves as the research assistant at the Institute for Biblical Worship. He and his wife Amanda currently serve at Sojourn Community Church while he pursues his Master of Divinity at Southern Seminary.