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The only time I travelled to India was fifteen years ago, somewhere around 2007. I got to see first-hand that it was really different from my experience. I ministered in some poor areas, and in one of my sessions, the music was being accompanied by someone on a percussive instrument and a synthesiser which did not have a lot to do with what we were singing. The person was playing the synthesiser, but it did not really match anything we were doing. On another occasion, in another city, I had to accompany on, I forget what it's called–it's a little instrument, you have to pump it to keep it going. I don't remember the name of it, but you probably know what I'm talking about (a harmonium). So, I was thinking, here's what I thought, “If my teaching does not serve these people in their situation, these brothers and sisters in their situation, it is not biblical. What we say about worship has to be applicable in every culture. Now there are cultural elements that you can speak to. But what I want to speak about to you today are things that go across cultures. There are biblical principles that we can apply no matter what culture we're in. And that's one of the ones I want to talk to deal with as I discuss “pastoring through song.”
Now, there are many reasons God wants us to sing. If you read your Bible carefully, actually you don't even have to read it that carefully! If you just read your Bible, you'll see there are a lot of references to singing. And someone asked me last night, “Why does God want us to sing?” Well, we sing because God is a singing God. Zephaniah 3:17 says he sings over us. We sing because singing helps us feel the truth. It's an emotional language that affects us emotionally. Singing helps us remember words.
And we're told in Colossians 3:16, we’re to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly. As we teach and admonish one another with thankfulness and a heart singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with thankfulness in our hearts to God. How does singing help the word of Christ dwell on us richly? Well, it not only affects our emotions, but it helps us remember words. I remember songs that I sang, you know, in my teens, 50 years later (I am 67). But I still remember these songs, because music helps us do that. So those are some of the reasons God commands us to sing.
We have our own reasons, you know, some people think that music helps us express God's creativity and beauty, and it does. Christian faith is unlike many other faiths that don't have songs of celebration and jubilation as they meet. You know, Christian meetings resound with praises. I was just reading Psalm 111 this morning, where it says, “I will praise you in the midst of the congregation with a whole heart and will praise you.” That's what Christians do. We are called to do that. And some would see that as an expression of God's beauty and creativity. It's mutually edifying. Ephesians 5 says that we're to address one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. It gives glory to God. Psalm 47 says that we're to “Sing praises to God, sing praises to our King.” Four times in verse one, we're told to sing praises. Why? Because it glorifies Him. It is more than simply saying his praise. We don't get together just to say things, we get together to sing as well. It stirs our affections for God.
Now, one word that's rarely mentioned when we talk about reasons why we sing, is the word “shepherding” or “pastoring.” Why do we sing? Because we want to pastor people. So, I think that a number of you are pastors in your church. Others of you lead the music. Perhaps you're someone who actually plans or leads singing in your church or someone who is overseeing it. The Pastoral impact or the pastoral aspect of singing can make a significant difference in your church. And this is true whether your church has 15, 150, 1500, or 15,000 people. These principles will apply. They are still true. So don't think, “Well because my church has only 20-30 people. I can't really do what he's talking about.” Oh no – yes you can!
Every church has the same tools by which to magnify the greatness of God in Jesus Christ. We have the word of God, his unchanging, inerrant, eternally sufficient word to us. We have the gospel, which is the power of God, the good news that Jesus Christ has come to live and die and rise from the dead for us. And we have the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit doesn't make decisions on who to fill based on the size of your congregation. He comes because people have gathered in Jesus' name. He is there because we have gathered in His name, so this applies to your church.
This article is an excerpt of a transcript of a talk by Bob Kauflin called “Pastoring Through Song,” which he gave in June 2022. You can watch the whole talk here.