The following is part of a series of blog posts dedicated to exploring John Wesley’s Rules for Singing.
1. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.
For every Sunday that I have led worship; for every special event where I have led congregational singing, there is always at least one person (but usually a measurable percentage, such as 5-10%) who refuses to sing, and stares at me or the band or the screen. Their look almost always communicates one of four things—boredom, distraction, disgust, or anger.
The following reasons are the “usuals” that I’ve heard:
- They refuse to sing because it is a certain style
- They refuse to sing because they don’t know the song
- They refuse to sing because the song is too hard to sing
- They refuse to sing because they dislike congregational singing
- They refuse to sing because they believe they have a bad voice
- They refuse to sing because they don’t consider themselves a follower of Jesus and don’t want to give lip service to praising Him (in my opinion, ironically, this is the most honorable reason).
There are more, but these are the biggies. Wesley has some important words to speak to the matter. First, we must admit that his words seem very forward and maybe even offensive: “Who are YOU to tell ME how and when to sing with the congregation? That’s MY choice!” The individualism and idolatry of self had not yet wrapped its gnarly fingers around the neck of America when Wesley was writing this. (But obviously something was going on which was significant enough for Wesley to put it into his rules…and put it first, at that.) Why would Wesley demand that we “sing all”? Because there are many reasons why it’s tempting not to. Notice the word “tempting”? Yes, the enemy takes pleasure out of robbing God of the worship He is due, and all our many “reasons” play right into his hands. Wesley was aware of this.
Second, Wesley points out another worship-robbing idol: our own comfort. The fact that, for some, to sing may be a “cross to bear” insinuates that it is still a worthwhile endeavor despite its difficulty. In fact, it is a way that we become more like Christ. For the person who says, “I just don’t like singing…I don’t get a lot out of it.” Wesley’s answer is, “It’s not about you. Deny yourself and take up your cross.” What a different approach to worship! Worship (specifically singing) is not a product to be consumed by some and left on the shelf by others. It is something we all must do, even if it means it is at times (or permanently) difficult for us.