I have played piano, essentially, all my life. Lessons began in second grade and I just kept playing. My university degree is in music, and my professional career has revolved around education and performance and music-related ministry.
I teach privately, which is immensely rewarding.
And I love to hear the people sing.
If you know my current vocation and the way in which we do large church gatherings, you might find that hard to believe. Although my focus has been on the pastoral side of ministry over the past several years, I’m still deeply committed to our musical expression each week; and that expression is contemporary, for sure. Our musical expression is pretty much rock and roll church, and what you usually can’t hear is the people singing. Modern evangelical, contemporary-Christian leaning in style and music; it suits our model; it reflects our mission, and we try to choose music for our gatherings that has integrity in every way: Missional, theological, spiritual, musical.
But it’s loud. At first glance it might seem performance-oriented – it is not designed to maximize the experience of hearing a crowd of people sing – at least not like in a traditional church setting or a choral venue. Again, it’s a missional thing; over a longer conversation (or in a different blog post), I could unpack our choices. For now, I’ll just acknowledge that what I’m about to share personally doesn’t seem to line up with where I hang my hat vocationally; I admit to some discrepancy.
Where my heart beats loudest in a musical gathering is in those places where there is little amplification, where instrumentation is sparse, and where what matters most is the people, singing. We occasionally have opportunities to stand around the piano and sing; sometimes before Wednesday night small groups, while Christmas caroling, in staff meetings. In those situations, somebody always makes a comment like, Oh, you don’t want to hear ME sing!! or Y’all will cover your ears if I start singing! and I am always quick to say, Oh, no you don’t – don’t say that. EVERYBODY can sing! Everybody can make a joyful noise!
And I really believe that.
And it’s truly what I love to hear most in music.
My cousin’s daughter recently performed with a Middle School Honor Choir in Nebraska; Facebook videos showed snippets of focused, tuned, passionate, expressive and accurate musical interpretation. It was a beautiful thing, all those kids singing together. I loved it.
When the Cubs were in the World Series, every game held an extra bonus – everybody singing Take Me Out to the Ball Game with gusto and passion and a lack of inhibition. I didn’t watch the games, but I sought out the seventh inning singing segment of each game. I loved it.
Our Christmas Eve service ended with an a cappella version of Silent Night that still stirs my heart, buried in my aural memory. Five hundred of us, singing together.
That’s the kind of singing that moves me. And that’s the kind of singing we don’t always hear at our church, it seems. Truth be told, we’ve created that environment. We have incredibly talented and gifted musicians facilitating – or “leading” – worship every week. It seems as thought we elevate the talented and set the bar fairly high and expect everybody else to just watch. It’s true that we recognize musical gifts, and we give space for them to be utilized. But maybe we haven’t done a good job reminding everybody else that we all can sing. And we all should sing.
I’m thinking these thoughts because tomorrow, the snow is forcing us to have one combined service, rather than seven spread out over four campuses. I wasn’t scheduled to play, but now I’m joining in with the band and I’ve been looking at a new song we have on tap for tomorrow. I ran through the chords and was reminded that it’s an incredibly simple song; the same four chords, in the same order, throughout the entire piece.
And the words are far from complicated; in fact, the song is titled Simple Gospel, and everything about the song is just that. Simple. Some might find it boring.
Which is, of course, the point; the simplicity, the lack of complication (not to be boring!)
I ran through the chords and sang a bit this evening and I found myself coming back to just one thought, time and time again. There’s only one thing I want when we introduce this song tomorrow; in fact, I think there is something representative here about what I want in general, as I contemplate all these changes in our culture, in my job, in our church, in our families.
I want to hear the people sing.
I hope that this song imprints itself quickly upon hearts and minds tomorrow morning – like it did with me the first time I heard it – and that the words fit easily into our mouths and that we find it easy to proclaim.
I want to hear the people sing.
I want to know you, Lord, like I know a friend
I want to know you, Lord
So I’m laying down all my religion
I’m laying down – I want to know you, Lord
I use to think that I could box you in
But I’m laying down – I want to know you, Lord
Lord, I’ve been told to be ashamed
Lord, I’ve been told I don’t measure up
Lord, I’ve been told I’m not good enough
But you’re here with me
I reach out and you find me in the dust
You say no amount of untruths can separate us
I will rejoice in the simple gospel – I will rejoice in you, Lord