Faith Matters: Singing the Gospel

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Pastor Shawn Hannon

Have you seen the YouTube videos of singers taking advantage of the acoustics in old churches? If you have not, check them out. If you have, you know what I’m talking about. A singer stands in the middle of a medieval cathedral and begins to sing. It doesn’t appear to be belted out or labored, yet the sound bounces throughout the room creating a full bodied and beautiful sound. It’s a testament to the way those churches were designed and to their lasting effect.

Hundreds of years ago, before the creation of electricity let alone amplification, churches were designed to carry sound. In fact, the reason much of the liturgy in some churches is chanted is because sung words carried farther than spoken ones. It was about being heard. The faithful would gather and the gospel would be sung rather than read. That way all could hear; even the folks in the back.

Sometimes I wonder in what ways we are being called to “sing the gospel” today.

Let me explain what I mean. The gospel was sung because the conditions of the day. Without microphones, printed bulletins, or pew Bibles no one was able to hear or read the word for themselves. So the church designed its worship space so that the word could be heard. Pastors and worship leaders changed how they spoke when they were leading worship so that all in attendance could access the word. The churches were not simply designed to be beautiful, but to function.

Which brings me back to my wonder. We live in a world today where it is still difficult to hear the good news, but our issues are not acoustic. Our difficulty comes in the form of elentless news and newsfeeds that bombard us with messaging of division and hate. We are consumed by our consumerism. We’ve deceived ourselves into an expectation that being “too busy” is good and a sign of success. The gospel comes to us telling us that we are loved, that we already have enough (if not too much), that we messengers of reconciliation, and that we invited to love God above all else and our neighbor like ourselves, but we cannot hear it.

Too often we receive that reality with grief and dismissals that that is just the way it is, but what if God is actually inviting us not to accept it but to start singing the gospel. To start looking at the church—the messengers of this good news and supposed conduits of God’s love—and asking ourselves if we need a redesign and new approach.

We are God’s ambassadors. God is making his appeal through us (2 Cor. 5:20). Now, I was not a political science major and I do not know much about global politics, but I would guess that ambassadors cannot simply worry about what they represent, but who they are representing it to. Being an ambassador to Canada must look different than being an ambassador to Turkey. Context matters.

In church, context matters. If there are things in our context that make hearing the gospel difficult, than it is time to get creative. Time to start singing. Every church is at this crossroad today. The cultural noise has turned up and the gospel we preach is getting awfully hard to hear. The question for us is whether we care enough and are brave enough to try something new.