What if I Don't like Singing During Online Church?

I have had this conversation over and over again the past few months with many friends and members of our church. The comment sounds something like this, "I have a really hard time engaging with the music online, so I just skip it and watch the sermon." 

At first I was surprised to hear people relay their difficulty. Each Sunday my wife and I anticipate singing together in our dingy little basement on our tiny TV with staticky speakers while chasing our toddler around. I love watching our daughter clap, dance, and raise her hands, even if it's in between her pulling ev-er-y-thing out of the drawers in her room. I love hearing my wife's voice minister to me by proclaiming glorious truths about God and the gospel. We never sang together until online church became part of our lives. It’s never been part of our family rhythms. It doesn't matter that both of us are completely tone-deaf, and NOBODY wants to hear our singing voice! Is it better than the gathered body of Christ singing in unison? Of course not. But it has been a balm to our scattered souls. It has been a way for us to receive God's word and to engage with his presence during an isolating two months. Moreover, our singing honors the sacrifice and work of the worship team and church leaders.


So I was surprised to hear several good friends of mine toss aside the worship time in our service like it was another new Netflix show someone recommended I watch (I just prefer movies, okay!). And then I heard the same comment from folks in my small group, from families in our church, and from friends at other churches. Many have just accepted that, "it's hard to engage, so we’ve just given up." It became evident to me that this is a common experience and an honest struggle many, if not most, Christians are dealing with right now.


In response, I could just shout some 'proper ecclesiology' over your head and let my personal opinions drive a frustrated diatribe. However, I think what we need is Biblical insight and exhortation. So, I’d like to turn to my favorite example in Scripture of singing. It's a story I believe fits our current predicament exceptionally well. Let’s look at Acts 16:19-34


Paul and Silas have stirred up commotion in the city of Philippi by setting a slave-girl-fortune-teller free from an evil spirit. As a result, they are attacked, stripped naked, beaten with rods, thrown into prison and fastened in the stocks (google ‘prison stocks’ if you want to see how awful it must have been). After this horrible ordeal, here’s the next thing we read in Acts 16:25, 


About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.


Luke, the writer of Acts, has given us plenty of details to form a vivid picture of this scene in our minds. Will you imagine it with me for a second? Picture a lonely dungeon with two men chained up, exhausted, and in excruciating physical pain. They can barely hold themselves up as they are bolted to the stocks. Their bare bodies are covered in bruises and blood soaks their broken faces. Now, hear their tired voices singing loud and unashamed. Do their voices sound angelic and beautiful? I can’t imagine after that beating they are able to harmonize particularly well or even sing in the proper key. They probably screamed and yelled so much during the arrest that their voices are hoarse and cracking. Maybe it sounded more like a cry for help than an actual song. I wonder if blood was getting in Paul’s mouth and making it hard for him to get the words out?


So, why did they sing? 


Look what happens next in v. 26, 

and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's bonds were unfastened.


They sang because when the people of God proclaim his name in song, regardless of our circumstances, it is powerful. God’s glory fills our environment. Our faith is strengthened. The church is built up. Even when you are alone and your church family is hundreds of miles away from a cramped jail cell in the middle of Greece. Even when you are stuck at home watching church in your pajamas and distracted by your crazy kids. Even when you are in your room with your headphones plugged into your laptop and your non-Christian roommate is right outside the door able to hear. Even when, -especially when- you are in the midst of isolation, pain, confusion, and burnout. Local churches need to keep singing together. 


I pray you feel my burden. I don't say this to make you feel guilty or to say, "Paul and Silas had it way worse, so you shouldn't have any problem!" Rather, I hope you receive this word as encouragement and a perspective shift. What I’d love to hear this week is, “before the service I (we) prayed for God to meet me (us) during online worship. I resolved I would sing louder than I’ve been willing to try, even if I wasn’t feeling it. And God met me with grace!” Or how about, "it was still difficult and awkward, but I'm going to keep leaning in." Hearing that would enliven my soul and make me want to sing louder and engage all the more!


We may not be able to hear each other’s voices, but we are still the corporate, united, body of Christ gathered together with the Spirit because the God of the universe invites us.