“Sing unto him a new song; play skilfully with a loud noise.” (Psa 33:3 KJV)
A big part of being creatures made in the image of God is that we are called to be in dominion- dominion over the creation, our bodies, our minds. Being in dominion means understanding what is put under our stewardship and using it according to its nature, as effectively as we can, to God’s glory. The Scriptures call us to do with our might whatever is given to us to do- that is, with effort, to do a good job. We should not be content with mediocrity in our lives. The carpenter expresses the image of God by excelling in his craft.
Clearly this principle should carry into our worship- perhaps especially our worship. We should not be content to do anything badly- the teaching, music, and everything else should be well done. As the Psalm above says, our desire should be that we are skilful in our worship music, to play instruments effectively and to sing well. This will differ obviously across different congregations and people, depending on the resources available. Some are naturally better singers than others, and some congregations have more experience and resources for worship than others. But with whatever skill, ability and resources we have, we should strive to do as good and beautiful job as we can. Our worship is an offering to God, and the offerings were always to be without blemish or spot of the firstborn of the flock.
We have to keep in mind however what the purpose of worship is. Some churches in their drive for musical excellence unfortunately lose track of the purpose of worship music, turning it into something more resembling a concert. The music in the church is not intended to be a performance, but rather a participatory congregational activity- we are to “teach and exhort one another in the singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Within that framework we should strive to do as good a job as we can.
As a church, we strive to choose music which is pleasing, singable and enduring in quality, music with broad and lasting appeal over the generations. In addition to being doctrinally sound, the words should be poetically effective. The church has a tremendous wealth of hymnody at its disposal and it should make use of it, but songs should be sung often enough that they become familiar. Accompaniment should be done skillfully and with instruments appropriate to the use. The Scriptures give us no guidelines as to which instruments to use or which musical styles to employ; these should be chosen in a manner appropriate for the purpose, to accompany congregational singing and to reflect a right view of who God is and what we are doing in worship. Styles appropriate for a child’s birthday party would not be appropriate for a funeral; the church should strive to reflect the truth of its theology in the music it selects.
As individuals, we should work to learn the hymns so as to sing them effectively. Ability is not the question here, but doing the best we can with what God has given us. Remember that in worship we are all encouraging and exhorting one another; when someone looks at you during singing, what impression will they get about your view of worshiping God? Is it a cause for joy and awe to you, or a chore to endure? Those with some level of ability can make use of the musical notation to sing in harmonies which greatly beautify the singing.
God invented musical structures and gave them to us as a great gift to beautify our lives. It is only right that we use these gifts that He has given us as effectively as we can to His praise and glory, and never be content with mediocrity in anything we do.