Perhaps we Methodists like to sing because at our roots, one of our founders was in love with music. Of course, I’m thinking of Charles Wesley.
Charles, the younger brother of John, is credited with writing over 6,000 hymns. By any standard, that’s a lot of music!
Why write so much?
I think I know…
Recite the last sermon/message you heard. Give me more than a synopsis of any message you have ever heard. Having trouble?
Let’s take a different approach. Give me the first line of “Amazing Grace” or “The Star-spangled Banner” or your favorite song. I’m guessing you’re still singing even as you read these words.
Singing connects with memory in a way simple speech/hearing does not. Further, since we often repeat what we sing, singing it over and over again, we are able to memorize songs (even complex ones) without much training or knowledge.
So take a largely illiterate group (Wesley’s crowd), how will you teach them the basics of Christianity? How will you train them in theology?
You could preach at them. Or you could get them singing (and preach at them as well).
So if we recognize songs teach, and teaching is formation, what we sing becomes very important.
This is why I take an interest in the music that goes into worship. Singing is formation and I want to be aware of what kind of disciple (can I use that word?) we are forming. I want to make sure what we sing is consistent with the message being proclaimed I want to align what we sing with our values and practices. I also want what we sing to be powerful and compelling and able to compete with the other songs out there trying to shape and form us.
I think John Wesley had a similar interest. Check out his instructions for singing included in the first Methodist song books; instructions still included in our latest hymnal.
John Wesley’s Directions for Singing (Select Hymns, 1761)
- Learn these tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.
- Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.
- Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a single degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.
- Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, then when you sung the songs of Satan.
- Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.
- Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can; and take care not to sing too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
- Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.
So, let’s all turn in our hymnals to hymn #57 “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” and see if we can make the Wesley brothers proud.
Life is better together,
Whatever you do, be sure to check out these”#1Word5voices” friends: