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The Radical Witness of Congregational Singing

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Singing is an immensely powerful tool. 

What we sing about carries a massive influence over what we think about and thus what we do.  You can likely recall dozens of songs you learned before the age of ten, all of which have informed how you think, how you live, how you view God, and even how you pray.  Songs are unique in the way they are able to deeply plant ideas and concepts in our hearts, stirring our affections and ultimately shaping our actions. 

Throughout history, songs have been a primary way in which God’s people have learned their faith and expressed their worship.  In the Scriptures, God uses singing as a way to teach truths about who He is and what He has done, to comfort his children in times of distress, to warn His people of the dangers of idolatry, and to propel His people to be engaged in the brokenness of the world.

It’s Not Just for You

Today there are more songs available to the church than at any point in history, yet the church seems more disengaged and disinterested in missions than ever before.  While there are many contributing factors, one possible reason is that so much of what we sing points us towards individualism and self rather than the “one another” sense that we are given in Ephesians 5:19.  Singing has become an exercise in personal catharsis rather than a call to a radical faith and witness. 

With so few songs written about the mission of the church to reach the lost, why would we be at all surprised that the church is seeing such a low point in missions engagement?  The hymns of the past written with missionary zeal and fervor to rescue the perishing are sometimes seen as taboo to our modern sensibilities and thus we are more likely to turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the lostness that plagues our world.  

Some Diagnostic Questions

If you want to stoke the fires of missional zeal in the hearts of the people at your church, I would suggest as a good starting place a careful cultivation of the songs you sing. Ask yourself these questions…

  • If someone only had the songs of your church to examine, would they sense a passion for the glory of Christ to be displayed to the nations?
  • Would they see a desperate weeping and praying over the lost?
  • Would they perceive a desire to see Christ worshiped where He is not now known?
  • Is the picture of the gospel that is present in your singing so big and deep and rich that it compels people to share this good news to the ends of the earth?

Friends, there is no point in saying that we are radical about missions if the songs we sing aren’t. It is now more imperative than ever that we speak, pray, and, yes, sing that Christ might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.  

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Editors’​ note: Facing a Task Unfinished is the latest album from modern hymn writers Keith and Kristyn Getty (best known for “In Christ Alone”). The album, which champions congregational singing and mission, follows the example of the missionary hymn, “Facing a Task Unfinished.” Rewritten from its original 1931 version, the song’s urgent call propelled individuals, families, and churches to global witness. This studio album features the Getty’s band, live congregational singing, and fresh global sounds as well as guest appearances by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Fernando Ortega, John Patitucci, Chris Tomlin, and artists from around the world. For more information visit www.GettyMusic.com.   

Keith and Kristyn Getty occupy a unique space in the world of music today as preeminent modern hymn writers. In re-inventing the traditional hymn form, they are creating and cultivating a catalogue of songs teaching Christian doctrine and crossing the genres of traditional, classical, folk and contemporary composition which are sung the world over. In 2017, Keith Getty was made an “Officer of the Order of the British Empire” (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II for his contribution to "music and modern hymn writing," marking the first time the award had been given to an individual involved in the world of contemporary church music. For more information on Getty Music and the Sing! initiative, visit www.gettymusic.com.
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