An enthusiastic, in-tune, bad singer

  • Ian Carmichael
  • 22 October 2015

Then Sings My SoulIan Carmichael, our publications director, continues his introductions to Matthias Media’s latest new books and resources…

Confession time. When it comes to church, I’m a poor singer.

I don’t mean that I am unenthusiastic. No, I enjoy singing a lot, and (although I haven’t asked around) I suspect my brothers and sisters at Castle Cove Anglican Church would say that my volume is, if nothing else, suggestive of enthusiasm. I am a “turn it up to 11” kind of a singer.

Nor do I mean that I am particularly out of tune. I’m not going to win The Voice any time soon (even the blind auditions), but I think I’d beat my dog hands down (paws down?) in a game of SingStar. I am not completely tone deaf.

But I think I am a poor singer in church for another reason: I tend not to pay much attention to the words. Ask me at the end of a song or hymn what it was about, and there’s a pretty high chance that I won’t be able to tell you. 

Given what Philip Percival’s new book has just taught me—God’s purposes for singing in church—I’ve decided I really need to work on this.

Now the reason I make this confession to you is simply to highlight that Then Sings My Soul is an important read for everyone involved in music ministry in a church—and that means you (if you are a Christian and you go to church).

I am not a church musician. I don’t play an instrument; I don’t lead the singing; I don’t plan the song choices for church; I don’t even run the sound desk. I have only one role in the music ministry at my church: I sing from the pews. And because of what the Bible says about the importance of my role, I should take it seriously, understand why I sing in church, and learn how to do it in a God-honouring way (i.e. according to his purposes for it).

Being in church is something we spend a significant amount of time doing each week.  Tony Payne produced a book recently to help us think biblically about what we are doing when we walk into church (How to Walk into Church). Now Philip Percival takes it a step further (pardon the pun) by looking at one of our most intentionally corporate and unifying activities in church—singing.

Philip clears away many confusing and unhelpful ways of thinking about singing, and provides plenty of encouragement and practical suggestions to get us back in alignment with God’s purposes.

If you want to be a better singer in church—if you want to contribute better to the music ministry of your church—I highly recommend you give this book a read. As indeed do these other brothers:

The topic of singing in the church has been the source of confusion and conflict for centuries. How refreshing to read a book that addresses the topic head on, without fanfare or emotional reaction, applying biblical principles to our practice of congregational song. If you thought worship was just about singing, this book will give you a more robust, multi-faceted, and, dare I say, biblical perspective. While most helpful for musicians, Then Sings My Soul will benefit any Christian who wants to sing God’s praises in a more Christ-exalting, Scripturally driven, church-strengthening way.

Bob Kauflin
Director, Sovereign Grace Music, Louisville

We have had the privilege and joy of having Philip Percival on our staff team at St Ebbe’s in Oxford for nearly ten years. All the reasons why he is such an outstanding Director of Music are combined in this book to produce an excellent resource for church musicians, pastors and the whole people of God. Here is deep biblical reflection on the theology of worship and singing, clearly expressed and practically applied to congregational life. May God use it to help his church engage more deeply with him, through the word in song, in heart and mind, for our spiritual good and his glory.

Vaughan Roberts
Rector of St Ebbe’s, Oxford, and Director of the Proclamation Trust 

For years Christians have enjoyed singing songs written by Philip Percival. It is great to read his understanding of the ministry of music. His keen theological understanding of the gospel and his years of experience in conducting the music ministry of churches make him a great guide through what is often a troubling topic. Music should unite us in expressing our joy in the Lord and yet sadly causes division and unhappiness in church. Here is a book for pastors, musicians, and all who want to think through the place of music in the purposes of God.

Phillip Jensen
Bible teacher and evangelist at Two Ways Ministries, Sydney

Philip Percival has not only thought deeply about God’s purposes for singing in church, but is also an experienced practitioner of church music and a highly accomplished congregational songwriter. Consequently, Then Sings My Soul is brimming with both biblical insight and practical wisdom. Indeed, one need not agree with every detail of Philip’s analysis to be convinced of his overall thesis that “God’s goals for our singing... are all about the word of Christ dwelling in his church, about us exercising our gifts in service of others, and about us responding to him with gratitude in our hearts”. Readers will benefit immensely from his understanding of both the dangers and possibilities of church music, as well as his personal familiarity with the necessary attitudes and skills required to ensure that it accomplishes God’s goals for it. There are great treasures to be found here. Read, mark, learn and enjoy!

Rob Smith
Lecturer in theology and music ministry at Sydney Missionary & Bible College, Sydney

Order Then Sings My Soul online: Matthias Media (AU), Matthias Media (US), or 10ofThose (UK).