How To Worship Without Singing

We are currently in phase 3 of Covid-19 guidelines. I see the worship leaders singing and preacher speaking without masks but with social distancing strictly adhered to. The congregation participates in worship but without singing. How do you worship without singing? I suggest a few ways to do it.

Firstly, get it clear. Worship may include singing but singing is not worship. Worship is essentially surrender of our whole selves as a living sacrifice to God, for him to use or lay aside or dispose of as he pleases (Rom 12:1,2) . Without this essential heart posture whatever you do, and whatever use of bodily expressions, including singing, is not worship. So first things first: begin with a prayer of surrender, for example, “Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” or “Lord, here I am, your servant is listening” or “Lord let it be done to me according to your word” or “Father, not my will but your will be done” or “Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.” I think you get the idea.

Use all your senses. With your eyes look at the lyrics and scriptures and notice the words, phrase or image that strike you. With your ears listen to what is being sung, said, or played and notice what it stirs in you. Mouth the lyrics or scripture under your breath, under your mask, or even quietly speak or sing in your prayer language. Let your feet move and body sway as the worship leaders sing, and use your uplifted arms as an expression of surrender and praise to God. Take out your wallet or mobile when its time to give of your finances to the Lord.

As the preacher speaks, take note of what desires, ideas, memories or feeling are stirred in you and respond to them in appropriate ways, whether to repent, commit yourself, resolve to trust, or take a certain action, to follow an inspiring example or to give thanks and pray for yourself or others.

Follow all the instructions and precautionary guidelines diligently. This is part of worship. Smile. They cannot see your mouth under the mask, but your eyes does smile, and give eye contact because eyes communicate warmth too.

Top all these with a meal together with others, and share about the ups and downs of the past week, and what God has done for you and in you. This too is part of worship for in our sharing we praise God and others who hear our thanksgiving, join us in their amens.

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Worship without singing aloud

The thought of being in a worship service with a pre-recorded video showing a worship leader singing did not seem appealing to me. That was until I had to guest preach at the Anglican Church of True Light. Strangely I felt connected with God as I followed the lyrics and tune in my heart. My soul was sweetly lifted to God in prayer and song. How could I explain it?

Perhaps I have been singing in a perfunctory way all along, being caught up with the external stimuli of sight and sound and stage, instead of singing out of simple pure adoration. Yet a stripped down version somehow brought me back to “the heart of worship”, of sincere and simple reverential love for God.

One of the few reasons people give for socially distanced worship physical gatherings is that you are not permitted to sing. And I for one felt that way. I should be surprised at myself for feeling this way, since I am so familiar with contemplative prayer, that thrives in silence, in waiting on God’s movement in my heart. So it was good to have experienced this way of expressing our love for God in silent worship – just listening and feeling but not being able to sing aloud. It’s good. It is worship. A fresh way though unfamiliar way to worship. And its usually for two songs at most, so it is not monotonous.

Have you attended a physical gathering of Sunday worship recently? What was it like? Out of the maximum of fifty attendance how many seats were taken up?

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Church response to Circuit Breaker re-opening

What we were doing during the Circuit Breaker stay-home period

Since the beginning of the circuit breaker (CB) the pastoral staff and worship teams have taken turns to record our songs, announcements and sermons from home and sent them to a strong media and editing team who then uploaded the pre-recorded, stitched-together online worship service. We have received good reviews and comments about our online presence, and are proud of the production standard, and have become quite used to doing it. Even though it was stressful and tiring. Stressful because we had to learn the skills of recording and that of preaching to an empty room. Stressful because the recording of songs and music and putting them all together was tedious and difficult. Stressful because putting together one service required thorough and long hours of editing. Not to speak of the meeting of deadlines.

What phase 2 circuit breaker re-opening allows

In terms of recording and broadcast of religious services and prayers, the MCCY allows:

“Religious organizations (RO) are encouraged to continue supporting the religious needs of their communities via remote means such as recording and broadcast of religious services and prayers. In Phase Two, we will allow up to 10 persons on-location for these productions, of which up to 5 persons can temporarily remove their masks when speaking or singing. Those who are unmasked for speaking / singing are strongly encouraged to maintain at least a 2 metres separation from other persons. All other persons present must remain masked and maintain a 1 metre separation. The time spent on-location for this activity should be kept as short as possible. The production team must also put in place safe management measures, including no-cross deployment between locations (where practicable), no socialisation during breaks and thorough cleaning of technical equipment”.

When it came to worship services: “Places of worship may resume congregational and other worship services, starting with up to 50 persons at a time(excluding religious and supporting workers, which should be kept to a minimum), subject to safe management measure. “ 

And in a key stipulation:

“Singing and other live performances are not permitted during the worship service. Singing is considered a higher risk activity as it could potentially release a larger amount of droplets. Places of worship may consider alternatives to singing and other live performance components in their worship services.

How churches are responding and why

I think churches are generally happy that there is communication between the MCCY and that they are sympathetic with the needs of mosques, temples, and churches. Churches appreciate the feedback and clarification sessions that had been taking place. Churches share the same concerns as MCCY and want to co-operate and keep Covid 19 in check in our country. After all religious gatherings have been a hotbed for the spread of the virus.

While it is good that up to 50 can now attend worship services, most churches have not jumped in to begin gathering physically. There are many reasons for this inertia. Different churches would have different reasons for being hesitant and remaining unchanged. 

Most churches have, through quite a struggle, found a rhythm of doing church online, and have even been doing it well beyond their expectations. Their congregations have also gotten used to tuning in to meetings online. Even the older generation have learned to tune in. Many like the commute-free and shorter services. In a way they are in their comfort zone. 

Having taken so much trouble to get to where they are, churches would be hesitant to go back to physical gatherings when there is no certainty if these liberties may soon be taken back if the infection numbers in the community rise up. Why not wait and see? Why switch back and forth? 

Anyway, many churches need time to get things ready for re-opening. The Roman Catholic churches want their members to stick to one church and not move around to other churches to prevent cross infection. But to round up volunteers and train them takes time, so each parish can decide when they will re-open.

We have to admit that the restrictions on singing does discourage the return to physical gatherings. Singing was a part of Christian worship from the beginning, but with the rise of clergy, congregational singing went off the grid until the Reformation, which brought it back to the churches that left Roman Catholicism. Today congregational singing plays an important part of Christian worship. Members learn theology, express their feelings and adoration through congregational singing, and though they may not know it, witness to God’s love and grace in song. So if there is no singing …. it’s not the full experience of worship they have been used to. I know this topic about how essential singing is to worship is debatable and you may want to comment on this. Feel free to do so below.

Another reason for hesitation is that there are churches that have to share space in one building, or have their own halls in the same building. There are many churches in this position in industrial buildings as well as in HDB sites like the ones in Yishun, Clementi and Jurong where two or more churches are housed in the same building. The MCST have to ensure that the different congregations in the building do not cross-infect each other via common areas like staircases, lifts, and common restrooms.  This also make churches in such situations think twice about meeting physically.

I would think a fuller experience of worship may be had at home where a small gathering of 5 church members joining a family at home, can tune in to online church service on Sundays and sing to their hearts content, and after that interact and share life authentically.

Watching worship team in church online

Our church has decided to gradually do all our recordings in church instead of from homes. We have begun with recording the sermons in church. This will be followed with all the worship songs being recorded in the church. In the meanwhile, we keep monitoring the situation, and prepare for the day when the church can re-gather physically. When that time comes, we will meet in church and have live streaming for those at home. We will also continue to leverage on technology to minister in prayer ministry and Christian education. It looks like Zoom meetings are here to stay. 

Pre-recording in church sanctuary (Photo: Wayne)

I still do not know what the new normal will look like but from the looks of it more churches will be better off after the pandemic, for they had been forced into learning to leverage on technology, something it feared to do in the past. I expect churches will not discontinue some of the things they have picked up during the Circuit Breaker. Most will keep a stronger presence online than they had before. This augurs well for the “new normal” church!

What about your church or denomination? How are they responding to the new phase 2 circuit breaker re-opening?

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Worship services that facilitates the Spirit’s transforming power

photo credit: YKThe presentations I had to do went well today and now I can pause to write before I continue working on my Sunday sermon and the post-campus assignment.

One of the interesting readings of this module is a  Christian Education Journal article (3.vol4, No.2) titled “Teaching Bible for Transformation” by Jackie L. Smallbones from Northwestern College.

Transformation inextricably linked to purpose of Bible

Smallbones’ big idea is that to teach in such a way that people’s lives are transformed we need to take seriously the primary purpose of the Bible. The Bible primary purpose is to reveal God, and only secondarily to show us how to live. The way the Bible is used popularly today,  both from the pulpit and in the small groups, the secondary purpose has supplanted the primary. Preachers and people move too swiftly into the applications that focus on what we should do and how we are to apply the truth in our life. Not sufficient time is given to let the text speak and reveal who God is and what He has done. The anthropocentric focus often deters a theocentric priority.

“Transformation is God’s business”

For Smallbones, transformation is a radical change that comes from deep within a person and is lasting. It  is growth in Christ-likeness. For her,  “Transformation is God’s business and not our own” (Smallbones, 2007) and it often takes place by grace, despite our efforts or teaching methodology. To Smallbones, the secret of transformation lies in having a dynamic, living, interactive relationship with God. No self-disclosure, no friendship; no friendship, no transformation. God’s desire to reveal Himself and have a transforming friendship with us is embedded in the purpose of the Bible. Therefore we need to teach it in such a way that it reveals who God is and what He has done, and elicit a response of gratitude, worship and faith. It makes you want to have a friendship with God, one that in the end would empower you with the grace to do all that a response of faith entails, and one that will transform you beyond surface behavioral cosmetics, and touch you at the roots of your personality.

Exploring a worship service that facilitates transformation

I like what I read in the article and there are many more stuff she has written that is thought provoking and resonant of what the Lord has been teaching me these several years. The question that begs to be answered then is what would a worship service look like that reveals God and invites us into experiential and living encounter and growing friendship with Him. Well for one, the lyrics of the songs we sing would be theocentric. They will exalt and reveal who God is and what He has done, and is doing.  Some time could be given for “testimony” where someone could share how God has been real to them.  The sermon should constantly have a theocentric focus that exalts God, and should lead people naturally and finally into deep trust, adoration of God, and experiential communion with Him. Instead of focusing on the faith of David, the cowardice of the Israelites, and the blasphemy of Goliath in the sermon, focus on the God who honors His covenant, and waits for someone to dare believe in Him, in order to deliver His people. See Christ defeat of Satan in David’s defeat of Goliath and how we are more like the people of Israel who rejoiced at the victory, than like David. We sat in fear, darkness and oppression until the One greater than David appeared and set us free (got this idea from Graame Goldsworthy).

Silence and holy communion

Another way to create space for the Lord to transform by friendship is the use of silence. Silence is the womb of communion. So have silence before the service begins; or a silent pause or two between or at the end of singing praises; at the offering time; silence for the gifts of the Spirit to manifest; at a pregnant moment in the sermon or a longer silence after the sermon; or during the Holy Communion; and hey, why not a long pause just before the benediction. And of course talking about Holy communion, that visible ritual that proclaims the Lord’s death until He returns, why not do it more often than the conventional once a month.

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