Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Bible Singing Groups for 2013?

Bible study groups are a central part of most gospel loving churches these days. They are a great way to increase our knowledge and understanding of the Word, and they give everyone a chance to speak the gospel to one another. But reading Colossians 3:16 has made me wonder if bible singing groups are what we really need.

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col 3:16 NASB)

The aim is for the word of Christ to dwell richly within us. Richly. Not superficially. And it is to dwell, live, within us. The word should be in our ears and in our minds and in our hearts and in our hands and on our lips. We should walk it, speak it, do it, feel it. It should be treasured by each of us individually, but also passed around between us. Given as a gift. And received. The Word is the glue which binds us together. It's our family heirloom. Our best possession.

So how do we do that? How do we have the Word of Christ dwell richly within us?

We do it by teaching and admonishing one another.

The Word becomes our community curriculum and hospital. It's what we are taught from our earliest hour. It's what we are reminded of at our end. It's the thermometer to assess our health. And if it turns out that we're lacking, the Word is the balm that we apply.

But what does that look like in practice? How do we teach the word to one another? How do we administer the medicine of the word to admonish our brothers and sisters?

Easy. We sing.

The word of Christ is to dwell richly within us. We teach it to one another and admonish each other by singing the Word. Psalm, hymns and spiritual songs.

Bible study groups are good and worthwhile, but bible singing groups are what Paul recommends in this verse.

And it makes sense. The songs that we sing (if they are any good!) stick with us. We find ourselves humming them. Meditating on the words. Thinking them through. In song, the Word becomes part of us in a way that questions and answers in a bible study never will.

In song, the Word of Christ dwells in us richly. We give thanks, we teach one another, we rebuke the wayward, we calm the anxious, we encourage the despairing. In song, the Word passes from my sister's lips to my ears. I feel it in my heart. My hands are equipped for acts of service. My mind is turned towards my Lord.

So. Who is up for it? Bible study groups are great, but perhaps we should sing for a change. What do you think?


  1. Or do both ;) I wonder if church music 'ministries' have neglected the facilitating of small groups to be able to sing together at their meetings?

  2. Great idea and lovely prose. I'm amazed when i take services with older folk in nursing homes how much the word in song endures as a tool of comfort for them long beyond many other things. It's made me wonder what our gen and younger will remember when we hit the twighlight years.

  3. I think that people often don't sing because they're not used to singing unaccompanied, and lack the resources (eg. an available piano or someone to play it). But often the best times of singing together are the simplest.

  4. Perhaps Paul's words - and your comments - also reflect the more central role that communal singing has played in many cultures previous to our own. Singing as an accompaniment to work, to family life, to most social activities, not just formal occasions. Though Christians may sing together more than most in our culture, I think we still often keep it for church. It would be nice if music teams in churches were more about promoting the use of music in all areas of our life together, rather than just Sundays. This is also relevant to your earlier question about what helps/hinders good singing - maybe supporting singing in other contexts would help with singing in church?

  5. The majority of the people Paul wrote to would have been iliterate - his letters would be read out by one of the members who could read. So bible study as we know it would have been really difficult. Having a tune would help them to remember given they couldn't look it up. Same for us - I struggle to remember bible verses but have hundreds of songs running around in my head, ready to come out if someone starts the tune. Learned by heart. Robert Graves says

    "You learned Lear's 'Nonsense Rhymes' by heart, not rote;
    You learned Pope's 'Iliad' by rote, not heart;
    These terms should be distinguished if you quote
    My verses, children - keep them poles apart..."

  6. I think you make a good argument for people singing other than in church services, but I think too that many people would find it a bit strange and awkward to sing in the context of a group Bible study, even if other church people were involved. I don't feel like our current society is as big on singing as perhaps previous generations (and other cultures...I'm thinking some of the Pacific Islanders here!) were/are. Except in pubs after a few drinks, and at football and cricket matches, obviously ;)

    And I think there are some people who just find it plain difficult to sing. I don't have a loud and strong singing voice, in a small crowd that would be very noticeable. And others, like my husband, don't have much idea about singing in tune. I know that shouldn't matter but if I'm honest, I do find it a scary thought.

    Sorry to be a killjoy. The idea is great, but not sure how it would work in practice for all the less confident and competent singers who can quietly enjoy singing in a large crowd, but might find it embarrassing with just a few...

    1. Could we encourage the hesitant in the same way we might carefully encourage those embarrassed to pray, or read out aloud in the same setting?

    2. Yes, interesting how our culture has moved in this direction - I understand it's quite recent and probably connected to our extensive access to recorded music, which sets a standard we feel we have to live up to when we sing. Earlier generations weren't burdened by this expectation so were happier to sing with whatever they had. Interestingly in our culture the standard goes out the window when it comes to karaoke. Maybe we need some of the carefree karaoke spirit in our gatherings:).

    3. Hmm...now I am picturing a Bible study group with a few drinks and a karaoke machine. Now that could be interesting.....

    4. @Jon - I was talking with someone about this, noting that I've never been in a small-group which hasn't sung, basically, because I can play guitar and lead it pretty effortlessly, and he pointed out that even though he too plays guitar (on CDs in fact) their small group is a capella. Perhaps it's worth that extra struggle of no instruments to make it more reproducible?

  7. This is just a sneaky way to let women "preach," whatever that means... right? Or to apply Les Mis to day to day life?

  8. We sing at our Bible study group. It's nice. I like it. It's not that hard to do. If you are thinking about doing it, just try it. We have a few people who play piano and guitar and we share the instruments around a bit. People suggest/bring songs they want to sing and we try out new songs too. After singing we pray and then have the Bible study.

  9. One of the things I have come to love most about Vanuatu is that every group (bible study/ prayer group/ study school class/ school classes/ sport teams) every group is also a choir. No one misses out. Singing is often done in ordinary meetings and your group will often be called upon to perform as a choir. If you are part of the group, you are also part of the choir. If you've missed every practise, well just stand at the back and sing along anyway.

    It is great. And its a great way to learn. It's terrific in oral societies but I think it has a place in more text driven societies like ours because nothing gets words into the heart like a good song and nothing sticks in your head better than a good chorus.