Tag Archives: #Church Music

Missing Mother

11 Aug

On the Porch

Onisha Ellis

We attend an old-fashioned country church. You know the kind, where the preacher gets excited and everyone stands to sing the Doxology. When our daughter visited she said there was so much standing and sitting, she felt like she was in a Catholic service.

I wonder what the pastor and the people in the choir think when they see my face and body language during congregational singing. Do they wonder why my stance appears poised to chase some invisible being and why my face has an attentive listening expression?

I would gladly chase the invisible being if she was indeed there. Yet, while death can take away her physical body, it can not take away the memories of my mother’s voice. She sang with the prettiest alto voice I have ever heard and she was not a timid singer, whispering the words to the hymns. She belted them out joyfully.

 When the older hymns are sung, it’s like amidst the voices of those around me,  I can hear her voice.  I tilt my head and close my eyes, trying to capture it. That is when my singing gets really funky. Have you ever tried to sing with someone who isn’t there?

I always wanted an alto voice like my mother, but was born with a low soprano. I may have been able to develop an alto voice but our family of five, needed a soprano. I think my voice became confused because when our family would sing together, my patient dad would frequently shake his head over my lack of ability to stay on key. I can carry a tune, I just carry it in many ways!

I don’t think mother approves of using the over head screens to display the song lyrics without the notes because lately, when we sing hymns  like Standing on the Promises, her voice fills in the alto part in the chorus while the sopranos hold the note.  I decided to do it too, but I do it softly…..standing on the promises, standing on the promises. I felt awkward the first few times so I decided to stop singing and listen. Sure enough, there was a faint echo of other folks singing it the old-fashioned way.

Standing on the Promises

Photo from Church Hymnal 1979

Maybe one day I will be brave enough to ask the pastor if he notices my odd expressions during the singing.  Or maybe I won’t. I will keep sitting in the back of the church and hope he can’t see that far!

Is Congregational Singing Doomed

21 Jan

On the Porch 

Onisha Ellis

I'm a winner

It seems we have moved past the age-old church music choice controversy and are now smack dab in the middle of are we singing at all? Lately, when I attend church, I am not sure if I am supposed to be singing. The music leader invites me to stand but instead of singing, I find myself thoroughly disengaged while the Praise group does their thing. It is not their song choice that is the issue, I can go with traditional or contemporary and enjoy it best when it is mixed together. It is the way they lead and sing.

For instance, let’s say the chosen song is one I am familiar with, great! BUT the praise group has decided to change the cadence and melody. That is fine if the praise group is the only ones singing. It is not fine when the congregation is supposed to be singing too. I actually find it to be rude and excluding.

As we have modernized our sanctuaries, we rely on song lyrics displayed on large screens. Those screens do not also display the musical notes and the congregation has no idea which way the melody will go.

Painting by DiVoran Lites

Painting by DiVoran Lites

I try to sing it in the way I know and I am either too fast, slow, too high or low. Since I can’t sing, I stand silent and listen to the voices around me. I like to do this, anyway as I love the sweet sound of voices singing unto God. To my surprise, I couldn’t hear any voices. I saw a few lips moving, but for the most part, all I heard was the music leader and the band. Does he not realize people are not singing? I ask myself?

Photo via Visual hunt

Since I find this trend of singing at the congregation rather than singing with them to be distressing, I decided to do some research. I found this article The Slow Death of Congregational Singing written in 2008 by Michael Raiter. In his article he says

 “I travel around a great deal. In fact, I’m in a different church on most Sundays, and it’s true of virtually everywhere I go. I can’t remember ever coming home to my wife after church on a Sunday and saying, “Now, honey, that church really knows how to sing”.

Isn’t that sad? I grew up in a church that knew how to sing. They sang with their hearts.  Raiter goes on to say:

“I liken the ministry of song leaders to that of John the Baptist. They must decrease as the people of God increase (John 3:30). When the song begins, we may hear the voices of the leaders and the sounds of the instruments, but by the end of the song, it is the voices of the people of God that should dominate.”

 Church Leaders online magazine has an article entitled

Congregational Singing Dysfunction: 4 Ways to Fix It

The author states

 “If your church doesn’t sing it’s probably because of one of two things: either they haven’t been invited to sing or the obstacles to their singing have not been removed.”

Theologian, John Calvin says, “singing subdues the fallen heart and retrains wayward affections. St. Augustine says, “Singing is praying. When one sings one prays twice. While singing in the front of the Lord, we are in touch with the deepest center of our heart.”

I love going to a Christian music concert and being caught up in the music and worship. When I am in church, I like to be able to sing. ( I sing poorly by the way)



Praise for the Lord’s Goodness.

A Psalm, a Song for the Sabbath day.

Psalms 92:1-4

It is good to give thanks to the Lord
And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;
To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning
And Your faithfulness by night,
With the ten-stringed lute and with the harp,
With resounding music upon the lyre.
For You, O Lord, have made me glad by what You have done,
I will sing for joy at the works of Your hands.

I can’t remember these words without mentally humming “Fiddler on the Roof.” We sang it this way in our small family life group, accompanied by the guitar and sometimes a tambourine!


I would enjoy reading your thoughts on this. Do you think congregational singing is doomed?

The Trouble with Church Music

6 Aug

On the Porch

Onisha Ellis

I'm a winner

Just mention church music in a group and you will see a variety of responses ranging from a shrug to a terrified shiver. Our enemy is having the time of his life ripping churches apart using this beautiful gift from God. If this were a game show, on the one side you have those who love hymns pitted against those who insist on a praise band with contemporary music. In the end, Satan is the only winner.

I have been mulling this for some time and decided to add my thoughts to the conversation.

Everyone in a congregation is a not singer. I once loved to sing, but my vocal cords no longer make a pleasant sound. A long singing session bores me. There I said it. Feel free to label me shallow.

Singing the same chorus over and over does not make me feel more spiritual. Do you remember the Beatles hit song, Hey Jude? It has three minutes of interesting material and the rest is just repetition.

Older persons in the church may be wearing hearing aides to better understand the pastor’s message and the feedback from praise bands going full blast creates misery for them. (I don’t wear one….yet. But my time is coming.)

Younger members live in a fast-paced world and find the slower tempo of hymns b-o-r-i-n-g.

So what can be done to use music in the church the way it should be, to unify the body of Christ in praise of their Savior?

Consider shortening the song portion or breaking it up throughout the service. Experiment until you find the amount of time that fits your congregation.

Become more creative in how we sing. I love Chris Tomlin’s Amazing Grace/My Chains Are Gone. By mixing the beauty of a hymn with a more contemporary sound, he created a moving and inspiring piece of music. I love it when the song director flows the music from one song to another telling the story of what Christ did for you and I  

Sometimes the praise band at our church would begin a song, but then the instruments were silenced and the incredible sound of voices praising God was so beautiful, I would stop attempting to sing and listen to the pure sounds of the congregation’s voices. I think if those with hearing devices knew they could expect something like this each week, it would give them a time to look forward to, rather than dreading the whole singing portion.

One of our larger local churches tried to solve the dilemma by having two services based on music choice. The obstacle to this was who has to get up early? The young people like to sleep in and the older folks take awhile to get moving in the mornings. My husband and I had to declare Saturday a day of rest and refrain from any heavy physical labor so that we could get our achy bodies to cooperate on Sunday morning!

This past weekend, I heard of a creative solution to the music issue. A largish church in Georgia holds two services simultaneously in separate buildings. One service begins with hymns and the other contemporary. The pastor preaches one sermon in “the flesh” (couldn’t resist that) and he is viewed on a screen in the other building. He rotates each week so that a group has him up close and personal twice per month.

It seems like months of thinking on this would have generated more ideas .My grandfather belonged to the Primitive Baptist and they don’t use any instruments at all. Maybe they are on to something. I’m sure you have some thoughts. How about sharing what your church has successfully done or ideas you have?


I’m Putting My Foot or Feet in It

24 Apr

feet in socks copy

On the Porch

Onisha Ellis

I’m going to put my foot in it big time, but it is a subject that has been puzzling me for a long time. I would like to talk about…. Church music. Gasp!

The ongoing controversy in the 21st century church that is tearing them apart is not gay marriage, abortion or sexual sin, it is church music

I typed “what does the bible say about music “into my browser and came up with a whole page of scripture on the subject. If you would like to see them all, click HERE

Here is one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament:

Psalm 95:2

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

Colossians 3:16

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

And then there is this:

Proverbs 25:20

Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda.

So, it would seem that controversy about music is not new. Ecclesiastes 1:9 says: What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

Mulling on this subject I ran various scenarios through my mind, trying to find an answer and this is what I came up with.

Many denominations routinely rotate ministers from church to church. Others keep the same one until the Lord tells them to move or their congregation asks them to leave. I believe that just as the church body learns from their pastor, the pastor learns from the church and sometimes they need to move to share what they learned or they have something else to learn.

So I came up with the idea that if your church is not providing the kind of music you enjoy maybe you should be willing to move on. I envisioned happy vibrant congregations filled with people who agreed on the same music and would be ready to move forward in serving God.

I shared this theory with a group of senior ladies I meet for breakfast. Their responses were enlightening.

Barb has young adult children, raising families and she felt compromise was the answer, with each group sharing the music, hymns and contemporary Christian. I asked if she had seen this work in a church. No, was her answer.

Greta shared that when she was younger, she was opposed to having a trumpet or drum set being played in church, but now was fine with it. She also made the point that moving to another church defeats the goal of being an active member, serving the church and the community. You make close friends in church and know you can depend on them in a time of need.

Irene is a gifted pianist but grew up in a church that did not use any instruments, not even an organ. (I wonder if this denomination might have been on the right track after all)

Peggy is the senior member of our group and filled with wisdom. She sat quietly during the discussion. When it was her turn here is what she said, paraphrased because of course, I did not write it down.

The word of God and teaching it should be the priority in every church, nothing should come before it.

So simple and so correct. I welcome your thoughts.







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