Singing as Discipleship: Gifts and Pitfalls
“How does our singing help us be apprentices of Jesus?” Andrew Dyck asked.
Many have never thought about it as a tool in that way, but singing is our most enduring spiritual practice, he said. (And he’s got a PhD thesis worth of research to support his assertion.)
Though like most evangelicals, we’ve called our singing “worship,” that’s not nearly the only purpose or meaning of singing.
Andrew traced MB singing styles through our short history:
- from exuberant practice and adoption of the first gospel songs to differentiate from the main Mennonite from whom they’d broken away
- to the days of employing conference personnel to conduct choirs and convene workshops (look in MB Herald obituaries for stories of meeting a life partner at choir practice)
- to our current use of singing often as a vocalization-optional individual experience of God.
Singing is not just for worship but also for teaching, evangelism, identity and community formation and to glorify God.
Different tensions about worship have arisen at different times
Do our songs shape our minds, our decisions, our relationships. A judgementalism restricted the choices during each era, deeming certain things more sacred than others, observed Ken Peters during the discussion period.
One frequent fear has been that appreciation of the artistry will distract from the holiness – an odd fear, observed Jacqui Block, since artistry and music often opens space for people to experience God.
Andrew urged attendees to forget the worship wars. It’s not about style; look at texts.
Do some songs teach (while others respond)? Is there a range of themes (call to worship, confession, praise)? Do our songs cover a range of experiences (aging, anger, lament, loss, community)? Is the music accessible, understandable and open to participation even from those without training? If evangelism is a motivator, we should embrace diversity with songs that different wildly in style but are strong in substance.
What does our singing do? he asked. Look around; how do people participate; how does it shape our community life.
The New Testament never names a gathering of Christians “worship,” Andrew said: gathering are about discipleship, about bringing each other up, as former MB Mission director Victor Adrian once said, in “a whole gospel for the whole person.”
What are the latest shifts in how music functions as a tool of discipleship within our gatherings?
—Karla Braun is associate editor of the MB Herald, and a lay song team leader at Crossroads MB Church, Winnipeg.