I’ve discovered that there are two types of singing: Lead Singing and Follow Singing. When you are simply following others, it’s follow singing. Generally it’s not very loud, you don’t need to know the words or even the melody; you simply try to blend in with what’s going on around you.
Lead Singing, however, is very different.
Lead Singing means you know the words, the melody and the syncopation and can sing out loudly. It means that even if there were no one around you-you could still sing boldly and confidently.
When I was in college, in choir (this was THE choir, the main choir for the advanced singers. The JBU Cathedral Choir) the conductor, the late Dr. William Scofield would often make us, individually, sing our parts as a solo to instill in us the idea that we should be singing with the same strength and confidence we would be if it were a solo.
Anyone who’s ever led people knows that the best followers are those who have the initiative of leadership. We all follow someone, but eventually we almost always, at some time in our lives, lead someone, too. The ability to lead requires confidence, strength, initiative and faith in yourself and what you’re doing.
But in most churches today, the new type of worship service demands Follow Singing. Most songs are brand new some few people know them. Even when they do hymns, they change the syncopation (add measures here; pause some there) so you either do Follow Singing or don’t sing at all (I generally don’t sing because Follow Singing makes my throat tighten up. I’ve been a Lead Singer too long)
Hymns on the other hand always had consistent words, melody and syncopation, because you had it right in front of you in the hymnal. Any modifications (like slowing down a phrase for emphasis) were repeated consistently every time the hymns were sung, so you eventually expected it. That dependability allowed as many of the congregation that wanted to-to be Lead Singers, which increased the volume and made the song even more powerful for the Follow Singers.
But more importantly, Christianity itself demands that we have initiative and follow the faith, not as mindless cogs, but as free-thinking, decisive Leaders and individuals. Yes, the Bible refers to Christians as sheep, but only in the context of how God cares for us. As individuals we are told to be as wise as serpents, gentle as doves. We are expected to show individual initiative and go forth boldly into a hostile world. But first we have to have a mindset that is conducive to Initiative and Leadership.
The vast majority of people naturally gravitate toward having a Follower mindset. We tend to do more Following than Leading, so we conform to that world view and behavior. But as Christians, our job is not just to be sheep, but to lead sheep as well. By abandoning hymns we have removed a valuable tool in the psychological conditioning of Christians to instill a mindset of Individualism and Leadership. We have removed Initiative and replaced it with mindlessness. There’s a reason that the original meaning of Church was “The Called Out” we are the ones who stood up and left the crowd. We defied the flow of society and made an individual choice to follow Christ. We sang loudly and ignored what others were doing.