Why We Sing Gospel Songs

Why We Sing Gospel Songs

by Charlie King

The following post was written by Charlie King, Mercy’s Worship Director from 2015-2019. We sent him to plant a church in the city of Charlotte.

Why I’m Grateful

This Sunday we will be learning a new gospel song, which is becoming a much more common practice for our church. In fact, 4 of the last 10 songs we have introduced at Mercy have been gospel songs (plus 4 originals and 2 contemporary worship songs). In light of this growing trend I thought it may be time to talk about why we sing gospel songs, and why we will continue to introduce new ones.

Before I get into the “why” behind the “what,” I want to share a couple things – one personal and one musical. First, the personal.

I want to start by saying that I am grateful for Mercy Church – for a church family who is willing to step into joyful practices of worship, a church that is willing to lay aside preference for the glory of Christ. I am grateful for sisters and brothers who have regularly died to themselves to love and serve. These are the hands of the gospel!

How To Identify Gospel Music

Musically speaking, I want to help you identify the songs I am referring to when I say “gospel songs.” The truth is, you may not always hear one of these songs at Mercy Church and think “that’s a gospel song” because most of our musicians (including myself) have virtually no background in playing gospel tunes, so many of them may fly under the radar for you. Instead your thought may simply be, “that song felt different.” There are a lot of musical technicalities that make a gospel song distinct, but I’ll just point you to a few basics. At Mercy there are a few distinctive traits of gospel music:

Vocal cues. You may notice in some songs that the vocalist leading the song isn’t really singing what everybody else is singing. Instead they’re singing the line that you are about to sing in advance – probably even singing it in a way that is different from the typical melody. This is actually for the sake of the church, to give you a cue as to what you are about to sing before you sing it.

Repetition. Many of the gospel songs we sing will repeat a section more times than most of the other worship songs we sing. The goal is to allow what is in the head to move to the heart. And I don’t know about you, but it usually takes me several times hearing a truth before I begin to internalize it.

Vocal heavy. Most of these songs major on vocals, which means a vocalist who plays an instrument may put their instrument down to focus on singing. The goal is to turn the entire church into a choir, so we want to make vocals stand out and make voice parts easier to hear and follow.

The gospel songs that are currently in our regular rotation are:

Victory Belongs to Jesus | Glorify Your Name | Not About Us | You Deserve It | Every Praise | Psalm 23 (I Am Not Alone) | Father Jesus Spirit (as of April 28th)

I believe that Christ calls us to do something with our preferences. Sacrifice them. He calls us to recognize our preference, and then joyfully sacrifice that preference for the sake of others and for the glory of his name.

Why We Need To Sing Gospel Songs

There are a number of reasons why I think we need to sing gospel songs – reasons why I think it is good and healthy for our church to sing songs that do not sound like what most of us grew up with. An important note here: Mercy Church is currently a predominately white church, which means that I am writing most specifically to other white people in this matter. For my sisters and brothers of color, you have lead us well in much of what will be written below. We ask for your encouragement as we continue to seek Jesus in this. There are many more reasons than what’s written below (which I’d be happy to share whenever you have an hour or two to talk after service!), but for now I’d like to share just four reasons why we sing gospel songs.

To Practice Humility

In Philippians 2, Christ followers are given an important command: “in humility consider others as more important than yourselves” (v. 3). And that call to humility comes directly out of the humility shown in Christ. The Apostle Paul says that we should:

“Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death — even to death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).

Two years ago my desire to sing gospel songs and my preference for them was weak at best. I liked what I liked, and saw no real issue with what I liked. I had grown up in predominately white churches singing songs written by predominately white songwriters that sounded like the music of, well, white people. There should be no surprise that my preference was for songs that sounded like what I had learned to love. The truth is, I still don’t think there is anything wrong with liking what we like and calling our preference what it is – preference. But I believe that Christ calls us to do something with our preferences. Sacrifice them. He calls us to recognize our preference, and then joyfully sacrifice that preference for the sake of others and for the glory of his name.

Side note: I’ve actually found over these last couple years that my preferences themselves have been changing. I actually love singing gospel songs now! And through them, God has been drawing me into a practice of worship that I have been uncomfortable with for a long time: all-out celebration. That practice is good, right, and biblical. “Let the whole earth shout to the Lord; be jubilant, shout for joy, and sing” (Psalm 98:4).

To Practice Unity

Unity among people groups, races and cultures is at the very heart of God. Ephesians 2:14 speaks of Christ and his impact on Jews and Gentiles, heavily divided people. It says that, “he is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility.” I believe the same is true for a racially divided nation and, even more specifically, the racially divided city of Charlotte. What may seem like the very simple practice of singing gospel songs is much more! When done with a humble and joyful sacrifice of preference, we are proclaiming to a divided world that we are bound by something much stronger than preference – we are bound by the Savior of the world. So whether we sing songs that we love or songs that we don’t love, we will seek to glorify Christ and to glorify him together.

Another side note: Unity is a corporate practice, and it is active. This means that standing quietly and disinterested during songs that aren’t your style, and then piping up for the ones you really love, actually communicates a great deal. It will never be enough for a few people on a stage to dive into this; we all have to be willing to get uncomfortable. Which leads me to my next reason…

To Sacrifice Comfort

I don’t know what your experience of walking with Jesus has been like, but comfortable is not exactly the word that I would use for my experience with him. However, I have seen how deeply I love my comfort and how much I will do to hold tightly to it. And I’ve seen that the sacrifice of comfort is hard to compartmentalize. When I sacrifice my comfort in one area of life, I often see that comfort being more joyfully sacrificed in other areas, too. So no, I have not been terribly comfortable singing songs that my voice is not really cut out for or dancing around while singing about the joy of the Lord. But I think it is important to sacrifice that comfort. And I think it is too beautiful of an experience for you to not join me in it! So sing loud and with joy, clap those hands, move those feet, maybe even those hips… woah! Let’s praise our God in jubilance!

To Make a Church a Home

We must recognize that there is great comfort that comes from a group of people engaging your language. The first time Pastor Rashard heard us sing Glorify Your Name, he came up to me after service and said, “That felt like home.” Mercy already feels like home to so many of us as white people, though we are often unable to recognize how deeply our culture makes this true. And simple sacrifices of preference can create a space that feels like home to our brothers and sisters of color, too!

Thank You

Thank you, church. Thank you for allowing me to lead you in worship for these last few years, and for pressing into the Christ-exalting practice of sacrificing your preference for the sake of the gospel, even through music. I love you and am grateful for you.