Editor’s Note: Colin Smothers and Matt Damico recently sat down on the CBMW Podcast to discuss “Songs for the Sojourn,” a new worship album released by Matt and Kenwood Music. You can listen to that conversation here, and you can access the album here.
There I was, trying to sing along with songs I didn’t know in a church that wasn’t my own. I let my mind wander as my stamina for learning new music waned. What I noticed was many of the women singing heartily — praise the Lord! But I also noticed many of the men either moving their mouths imperceptibly or not at all. They weren’t singing.
It’s merely an anecdote, but it’s one many seem to share. And those anecdotes dovetail a little too nicely with broader concerns of masculinity to be a coincidence. I do not pretend to have vast empirical data, and I have no interest in leveling a bunch of accusations at “the church.” But perhaps a few questions are worth asking:
Not surprisingly, I believe the answer to each of the above questions is “yes.”
So I would humbly like to offer a few theses on men and church music, and perhaps they will resonate with things you’ve seen or be a help to you in your church.
1. We’re commanded to sing.
Everyone has musical preferences, but no preference — assuming we’re not singing heretical lyrics — excuses us from the command to sing to the Lord (Eph. 5:18–20; Col. 3:16; the Psalter). That’s a command for all God’s people, and as with all of God’s commands, the only faithful response is to obey it with joy.
2. Christian men need to sing.
For some reason, music does not have the masculine purchase it should. King David — that lion-slaying military commander — is the most influential songwriter in all of history. The Lord Jesus sang with his disciples in the Upper Room (Matt. 26:30). The Apostle Paul sang with Silas in prison (Acts 16:25). God himself sings over his people (Zeph. 3:17).
So if men think they’re too manly to sing, then they’re too manly for all those listed above. And once you’ve left the company of David, Paul, and the Lord Jesus, you’ve put yourself in a bad place.
3. Churches have an opportunity to minister to their men.
The evidence for the crisis of masculinity is everywhere. Widespread fatherlessness and lack of good masculine examples have led to young men who are aimless, jobless, and wifeless. Then there are sectors of our society that seem to know full well what it means to be a man, and they don’t like it one bit. Hence Nancy Pearcey’s latest book The Toxic War on Masculinity.
Men young and old are ready to listen to strong, clear voices that affirm that it’s good to be a man and teach them what it means to be one. This hunger is reflected in the way so many young men have responded — for better and worse — to figures like Jordan Peterson, Andrew Tate, and others.
What would be tragic is if the men around us who are feeling unwelcome and aimless in society visit our churches and receive the same message.
What does this have to do with music? Quite a bit, in fact. Check out the YouTube videos of some of the largest contemporary Christian music groups out there and note how many men over the age of 40 you see in the crowd. You’ll see young men, and that’s good. But what about the men — old and young — who are less inclined toward emotionalism and exuberance? You won’t see many.
Recent research has revealed how some of these contemporary groups have become a dominant force in evangelical churches. Given that older men are called to be self-controlled, sober-minded, and dignified (Titus 2:2), it would be no wonder if overly emotional and exuberant music places such men on the sidelines. Wherever that’s happening, it is a tragically missed opportunity.
If a church wants men who are dignified and self-controlled — and wants them to sing — it would do well to avoid music and service elements that undermine those very qualities.
4. There are ways to encourage the participation of men in our churches.
A couple easy ones: turn up the lights and turn down the volume. That has nothing to do with men specifically, but it will encourage participation overall. Our singing is to the Lord, but there’s also a horizontal element, as Paul calls us to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to one another (Eph. 5:18–20). If we can’t see or hear each other, we’re inhibiting that from happening. And the more our services resemble a concert, the more likely people will view themselves as spectators and less as participants. The band/worship team/song leaders are simply there to encourage and support congregational singing, not to perform.
What about songs? Are there kinds of songs that men will be more inclined to sing than others? I think so. To reiterate what I said above: men are commanded to sing, and they need to be willing to sing the whole counsel of God. But a couple things that might help:
I genuinely believe that if churches prioritize songs that have stood the test of time, with a good mixture of psalm settings and new songs that are biblically clear and theologically rich, the men will sing. And when the men sing, the others will follow. And we’ll communicate to the men that, regardless of what messages they’re getting from the world, we want and need them to be men. And to sing like it.
You, too, can help support the ministry of CBMW. We are a non-profit organization that is fully-funded by individual gifts and ministry partnerships. Your contribution will go directly toward the production of more gospel-centered, church-equipping resources.