Last summer, during our family’s annual beach vacation, my oldest son and I decided to visit a church. Visiting churches is one of my favorite things to do. As a pastor, I don’t often get to see things from a visitor’s perspective, and that perspective helps me lead our church to better welcome visitors when I return home. We found a medium-sized Baptist church online and showed up in time for the worship service.
Our experience was largely positive. The church was welcoming, and the signage helped us park and find the location for the service. The pastor preached the Word of God with theological faithfulness. However, one bothersome thing really stood out to me: the men didn’t sing.
I like to sing loudly. The problem is that I don’t have the best voice. When your voice is as bad as mine, you notice when yours’s is the loudest male voice in the room. Everyone notices. When I looked around, most of the men were just standing around with their hands in their pockets, not singing. It’s not the first time I’ve witnessed the disproportion of female to male voices in the church.
Why don’t men sing in churches? Some may be tempted to say something about the reluctance of men to express emotion, but I’m not buying that. I’ve been to dozens of sporting events and concerts, and I’ve seen men screaming at the top of their lungs in celebration and singing along with the masses. If you doubt that singing can be masculine, I challenge you to revisit that scene in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, where the dwarves sing, “Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold.”
More valid is the perspective that much of the church’s music is not written to appeal to men. While this may hold true for some contemporary songs, the history of the church contains a large selection of hymns that celebrate the truths of the gospel in diverse ways that ought to appeal to anyone with the Holy Spirit and a pulse.
For many, the reason is simple. Jesus taught us that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). Many men do not sing because they do not worship Christ. For whatever reason, the truths of the songs do not match the emotions in the heart. Whether it’s due to distraction, lack of understanding, pride, or unbelief, the heart is simply not attuned to the reality of the song.
But you can’t be a Christian without singing. That’s not a theological statement. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Singing has never saved a single person. But singing is one of the primary Spirit-produced responses of God’s redeemed people.
Songs are all over the Bible. We have a 150-track inspired song book right in the middle of the Bible. Paul exhorts the church in two different letters to address one another with “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19). In the book of Revelation, the Bible describes the future day when all God’s people will assemble around our victorious King. On that day we will be singing!
In Exodus 15, right after God delivered Israel from Egypt and drowned his people’s enemies in the Red Sea, the congregation gathers to sing. Human beings sing because there are certain deep emotions that spoken words are insufficient to express. The Israelites had just been delivered from hopeless oppression that had spanned generations. They were now, for the very first time, liberated as God’s treasured people. Can you imagine some of them standing there with their hands in their pockets, bored and unengaged?
We have been delivered from an even worse kind of slavery. Through Christ’s life, crucifixion, and resurrection, we have been freed from bondage to sin and delivered into God’s very own family where he plans to bless us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places for all eternity. We gather on Sundays to sing songs of celebration and praise. We gather to express hearts of gratitude and joy. We gather to worship. How can you not sing?
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautify they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.” Do you want more joy? Next time the song leader invites you to stand and sing, stand to sing with all your heart.