Realizing you can’t sing.

The church I attend has recently moved to a new building. Or rather the outpost of the mother church I attend has moved to a new building. (I prefer outpost instead of church plant because it sounds more like we’re trying to tame the frontier. Don’t judge me, you don’t know my life.)

Yesterday, during the worship, I realized something for the first time in 38 years of church attendance.

I suck at singing.

I knew I wasn’t good. I’ve always known that, but for years, I hid safely under the blanket of loud music and large audiences. The church we attended in Atlanta had 42,000 people, in each row. It was massive. I could have screamed and not actually heard the horribleness that came out of my mouth yesterday. But because my current church is small and new, people aren’t singing yet. (You have to coax an audience to sing like teaching a small bird to fly.) During the first song the combined sound of Jenny and I singing hit me like a large round object used to demolish buildings. (I’ve already hit my quota for wrecking ball jokes this year.)

I started looking around for the poor cat that was being tortured and realized it was us! The Acuffs were the source!

I guess I always thought that angels liked my voice, that in the whole “the rocks will cry out” my voice was part of a heavenly melody. Now I know the truth, my voice is just one more part of my life that requires grace.

Are you horrible at singing too? Or is it just me?

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  1. says

    It’s so true! The church I attended while I was in grad school was huge. I never had to worry about what I sounded like. Smaller churches + no crazy loud worship band = self-conscious singing syndrome.

    • Stacy Z says

      I like the term “self-conscious singing syndrome.”
      Not a bad singer myself, but some Sundays the singing is so quiet and mine seems so loud that I come down with that syndrome.

    • says

      As an introvert, I love medium sized churches (like 300) because it’s small enough you can know most of the people if that is what you are into, but if you are quieter, more shy, you can blend in with the crowd, and usually churches like that have louder music, so you can sing as loud as you want, and don’t have to worry about people hearing you. (I run the AV team for our church, we usually aim for 95dB in volume

  2. Angelia says

    What’s worse is being married to a worship leader and not being able to sing. I was kicked out of glee club in 9th grade I was so bad. I wouldn’t sing in front of my husband for the first 12 years of our marriage. He’d gently coax it out of me over the years and once he got a full load of it, he’d say things I didn’t quite understand such as, ‘Honey? Are you familiar with a term called pitch? Can you find a note that’s actually ON the scale?’
    Over time and prayer with God I believe that it’s the thorn in my side to stop me from being onstage and being one of those obnoxious over the top singers who would potentially whip my head around after each set kind of like Ashley Wagner did after her Olympic figure skating event looking around like, ‘oh yeahhh, I ROCK!’

    • Tandy says

      Haha. That’s the problem we have except I’m the worship leader and my husband not only can’t sing, but flat out refuses to even appear interested during worship. I know he does worship, I know he likes the songs, but he is thrilled, during worship, to just hide out in the sound booth (and no he doesn’t actually work the sound, just hangs out in the booth).

      • says

        I run the AV team for my church, I’ll let people hide in the booth, but after a week or two of that, I put them to work running slides or something. You can hide here if you want, but you gotta earn your keep :)

    • LJ says

      Better get a head start on practicing for that heavenly choir now. #jesusjuke

      (my apologies, I had to do it, even though I hate feeling guilted into or guilting people into singing)

    • Janette says

      Its not important whether you are a good singer or not are you dumb if not God has put a song in your heart and a sound to worship Him with. I believe you chase the devil away when you praise God with everything. I also believe that when we worship God in singing we are standing before Him and our positioning within the congregation is not important. Also it is a truth that most people hate the sound of their singing voice, a singing teacher explained to me that is because we are too close to it and others who by chance can hear it hear it differently and if that is the case how is God hearing it. We don’t now but as he loves us it I imagine sounds amazingly beautiful. All rather simplistic but we are in church to serve God and not mammon. Finally, sometimes there are too many words when just sound will do this you can imitate.

  3. LJ says

    I also suck at singing. That’s why I became the sound guy (j/k, there’s way more to it than that, but sound guys aren’t expected to sing, so…).

  4. Derek says

    Jon Acuff, I’d love to give you voice lessons. I mean, if you lived in Chicago. I teach voice at a nearby university.

    I firmly believe that everyone can sing if taught to use their voice properly. No one falls outside of that. Keep at it, man.

    • says

      Derek, may you never meet my father. We had a dear, enthusiastic man come to our church who also firmly believed anyone could be taught to sing. He worked and worked with my dad in groups and one-on-one, hoping and believing that something musical would eventually penetrate. He tried everything he could think of until finally, in deep despair, he said, “I firmly believe anyone can be taught to sing… except you, Steve. You’re the one exception. You just can’t. And I give up.” The poor man left our church, broken. I prayerfully hope he recovered.

  5. lee says

    I am the worst singer. So over the years I’ve become very good at lip syncing – or is it lip service? – at church. In small group settings, I try to pass off my singing as harmonizing; even though I’m not trying to harmonize.

  6. JWB says

    Don’t fret over singing you can always fall back on Psalm 150:5 (NIV) 5 praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals.

    I am sure that will cover up your other inadequacies…

  7. Garrett says

    Ha — “outpost.” I love that. Now I can just imagine some hipster church named “Vertical Outpost” or something like that.

  8. says

    I not only sing poorly…I also:

    Clap out of rhythm.

    Sing “sloppy wet kiss” when the church inserts another lyric. Loudly and defiantly. I’m working on the psychoses behind this in counseling.

    Give high fives to hand raisers.

    Keep my notes on my iPad, which in an older church means I am the annoying guy from whom the bright light is emanating during the “turn the lights down low, let us pray” time.

    Yea, I’m that guy.

    • Jacque says

      Yay for the “sloppy wet kisses”. Drives me crazy when I hear “unforseen kiss”!!!!!! When I mentioned it to someone on our worship team, they didn’t realize there was another (ORIGINAL) version of the song! Sigh.

      • singergirl says

        I sing in a small acoustic worship team and we sing “sloppy wet kiss” and I secretly giggle that it may make some “old fashion” people uncomfortable. Hey – that’s the true lyrics! ;)

      • Joel says

        Haha love it!! I’ve always led that song “Sloppy Wet Kiss,” and the church I started leading worship at a few months ago always sang “Unforseen” before I got there. So I’d pull off the mic during that line and a little bit of me would die inside. Then last week when I pulled off the mic, and the church sang “Sloppy Wet Kiss!” Hooray for stubornness paying off!

        • Nicole says

          I, apparently, am the only person here NOT a fan of the “sloppy wet kiss”. To me it creates images that ruin the beauty of that song. I love “unforseen kiss” though because it creates the images of a perfect, unexpected kiss. To me nothing good comes out of something described as “sloppy” and “wet”.

  9. says

    I can’t sing and I feel guilty during the service because I feel like I am being selfish instead of worshiping God. It doesn’t help that my dad was a music director at one of our churches. However, I could be actually fulfilling the greatest command to “love my neighbor.” By this I mean not subjecting anyone within earshot to my voice which sticks out like “a turd in a punch bowl.”

  10. says

    I can’t sing either and have absolutely no sense of rhythm, so I always try to sit near “gifted” worshippers. I believe this is biblical; we’re the Body of Christ and one hand washes the other, so. :P

  11. Lauri says

    I always did choir because I love singing but yeah without someone singing the right note next to me I have no ability.

  12. says

    Would you believe, I get self-conscious because my voice is good? Five years of voice lessons, plenty of solos earned and compliments received means I’m pretty sure I have a good voice. When you’re in a very small group, like our Saturday night service, I’m like, “I hope no one thinks I’m trying to show off.” Which shouldn’t be an issue, but that’s what my brain does!

    It’s okay if you don’t sing well. If you’d like to sing well, there are teachers out there who could help you learn tuning (which is the biggest reason people “sound bad”). If you don’t have the time or inclination, if you have more important things to do, don’t sweat it! Sing anyway.

    • Stormy says

      Andrea, I get this! I too get self conscious about singing in the congregation, because I am generally loud and people notice when I sing. I try to tone it down. I sing harmonies, sometimes because I can hear it and I think it needs to be there, sometimes because it’s all that is in my range. But being a good singer can make you very self-conscious. I also agree, almost anyone can learn to sing with good ear and voice training. It’s very rare someone is actually tone deaf, it’s usually a matter of hearing and differentiating notes. :)

    • Koko says

      Me, too! My mom is a music teacher & had me matching pitch before I could talk. I also studied classical voice, and I’m a lyric soprano.

      I stick out worse than the tone-deaf people. The church I’m currently attending is the *only* one where no one has *ever* turned around & said, “You have a great voice!” nor sent someone to ask me to sing solos.

  13. Rochelle says

    Similar to athletics, just because some are more coordinated than others doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise. It’s good for everyone! Singing is also good t

    • Rochelle says

      for everyone! It lightens our hearts and lifts our spirits. I wish a hierarchy didn’t exist and we could all sing to our hearts content.

  14. says

    As a worship leader, I am very thankful to those who “know they can’t sing” but choose to do so anyway. I’d rather see (and hear) 10 bad singers earnestly seeking God than 1,000 people who won’t sing for fear of what others may think.I know that it’s not about the quality of your voice, but the condition of your heart. Whether you can sing or you’re tone deaf, I know that God delights in our worship to Him.

  15. Mary says

    If churches had fewer loud rock concert bands which is more about performance with lots of people just listening, not singing, you could have found this out earlier. Not sure whether that would be a good thing or a bad thing!!! :)

  16. Michelle says

    I believe this is the main reason I prefer loud praise and worship to beautiful hymns. Because when I sing the beautiful hymns they are not so beautiful. I love music. I love to sing. I also prefer not to torture the people who choose to sit near me at church. Look it is all beautiful to God’s ears and all that. I believe that is true. But it isn’t a joyful noise to the poor soul right in front of me. Trust me.

  17. Stormy says

    Hi Jon and all you other self-professed bad singers,

    I don’t know if I’m the norm, or not, but I just wanted to share this. I can sing, (not boasting, it’s just true; my husband and I do music gigs as side work), and I LOVE it when people who think they “can’t sing,” don’t care and sing loud anyway. Even though the dissonance can sometimes make a tuned ear cringe a little, it’s not as important as the spirit. It IS a joyful noise, an abandonment of self consciousness (that I don’t get to experience often when I sing), and a true act of worship, like David dancing.

    For what it’s worth…

    Keep singing.

    • Charlotte F says

      I will remind myself of this each service as my husband jubilantly sings his joyful noise to God! Great outlook!

      • Stormy says

        Thanks, Charlotte! Let the Jubilation, begin! :)

        I think this stems from an experience I had in a deaf service, as a young preteen. They all had hand instruments and they all sang, off key, off rhythm…. Cacophony would be an accurate description… And it was absolutely beautiful and filled with spirit and truth.

  18. kathy says

    Hello. Horrible singer here. I went to a church once and the Pastor said everyone should sing. As in horrible voice to awesome voice. Make a …er…joyful noise, and all. He said something like “just cast it out there”. I feel sort of like we could start a support group with all of us here, though. ;)

  19. says

    Jon, as a music educator, I can only say that I am never surprised to hear that folks can’t carry a tune in contemporary church worship. The human voices that record popular music these days are in the 1% of extraordinary voices. So, when the 99% of the population find that they can’t match pitch and sing along, they think “something is wrong with them.”

    There is NOTHING wrong with you. There are few modern hymns that are written to fall within comfortable voice ranges for both men and women. If they do have the requisite 9 or 10-note range, it frequently is not in the correct key for 90% of the singers–sopranos and basses. Tenors and Altos are rare creations. Check out Keith and Krysten Getty for correctly written, singable modern hymns. They follow hymn-writing rules for voice ranges 90% of the time when they write.

    Any music major or minor who paid attention in music theory class can tell you the ranges that are expected in music for old-school hymn writing. If interested, here is a link to a page that links to an article that addresses the technicalities of leading worship (versus performing a tune for the congregation):

  20. Rebecca C says

    My dad is a retired chaplain, and he was once told by the music minister to turn his mic completely off during the singing. He was apparently so offkey that he was throwing off the choir…

    I don’t have the worst voice, but I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. And my range is tiny.

  21. Ben Embry says

    Imagine you are a mom in the 1950’s. Little Johnny is out in the street riding his bike. Supper is almost ready. Imagine you lean out the door and call, “JOHHHN-NNNY, come in for SUPPPP-ERRR.”
    Can you hear it? You just sang! and you sang Sol-Mi. “SOL-MI, come in for SOL-MI”. That’s like singing G-E. Go around all week now singing “Johnny” and “Supper”. Just in your alone / moments. Now, switch to the tune “America, the Beautiful”. John/ John/ ny, Sup/sup/ (stop). Am/er/ica, the/beaut/(stop)

  22. Charlotte F says

    My husband’s voice is not his strong suit. For a man who can do anything, this is certainly his Achilles heel. I always wonder, “How can a man who can find perfect pitch on a number of instruments, not realize he’s so off with vocals?” We visited one of those up-and-coming mega-churches. He sang loud. He sang proud. Then, it happened! That’s when a lady asked him to join their choir because she had such joy hearing him “sing with enthusiasm and they always need more men for the choir.” He floated from the sanctuary to the parking lot with his head held even higher that day. He has been sure to sing loud every service. Some days, I scoot a few inches down the pew to hear the actual key the choir is singing.But, like a broken clock that is right if you catch it at the right time of the day, he actually hit all the right notes for most of an entire song last week!!

  23. Delphie says

    Absolutely!! I get embarrasses when the band stops playing and they want to hear “just voices”. It is an awesome moment, but everyone around me becomes aware of my (non)singing abilities. But, I figure, who am I to hold worship back from God…. so, sing your heart out!

  24. Staci says

    I am the worship leader at a small outpost. So small in fact there’s no band. Just me and the iSing Worship app. We have a couple that sit on the front row and I swear they are tone deaf. They have weekly competitions to see which one can sing louder whether or not they know the song. I. Love. It. It throws off visitors from the main campus but I warn them in advance. In a small setting, standing up front alone, it is often my voice and maybe two others that are mostly heard and I find it completely refreshing that this couple will praise
    God as loudly as they want. So what if you can’t sing well. You can sing. Don’t allow the world’s standard of good and bad interfere with your worship. Self-consciousness can be devestating if allowed to take root. Let it go. Praise God with the instrument He gave you. He hears your heart, not just your voice. He hears your love, praise, gratitude, and thankfulness. Besides, maybe when we are all worshipping on Sundays it sounds like a great big Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir concert to Him!

  25. Barb says

    My son sings off-key, but when I hear him sing, it is one of the MOST beautiful sounds I have ever heard. I love it because I know he is entering into worship (if it is at church or is that kind of music) or he is just enjoying the music he is listening to.

  26. Paige says

    I love the term “Outpost”…we are doing the exact same thing and truly feels like we are out in the wild frontier! And I too felt very loud for several months…I think we’ve finally found our groove. I will pray that your numbers climb quickly so that your singing can’t be over heard in the multitudes! ;-)

  27. says

    Jon, I sang the role of Jean Valjean in a production of Les Miserables this summer. So I can say with all certainty…and a massive dose of condescension…

    Yes. It is just you, Jon. Those rocks are not crying out, they are being thrown at you.

    Please, let the professionals like me do the singing from now on. After all, that’s what worship is all about, isn’t it? Not just any Joe Shmoe Christian singing, but just the really awesome folks!

    Now, go back to writing. You’re welcomed.

    Dave ;0)

  28. Misty says

    My singing is so bad that when we sing “When All of God’s Singers Get Home,” I replace the word singers with sinner. I’m certainly not one of God’s singers, but I am definitely one of his sinners.

    As others have said, my humiliation is compounded by the fact that my husband is the song leader.

  29. says

    I feel you there, Jon. I once joined the church choir because my father did (he was a good singer) and for one special anthem the pastor asked me to carry a banner instead of singing with the choir.

  30. says

    Jon I have good news for you. As long as you keep moving your lips you are still considered Saved. I wouldn’t recommend no lip movement though, that’s another story. I am a terrible singer also.

  31. Jessica Shaleigh says

    Most of the time, I apologize to any newer friends for the horribleness that is my singing. I do have one friend though that says she loves to sit next to me during worship because she can’t sing either and it encourages her to sing. Yaaay…

  32. says

    I can sing, teach music and play a variety of instruments proficiently but I’m not funny (at least not intentionally). Like you, I had a recent revelation. I went through life thinking I was a genuine wit, until my husband told me (very sweetly and gently) that I wasn’t funny enough to write a guest post for SCL. I, too, need God’s grace.

  33. Craig says

    Our worship leader used to say he would take anyone in our holiday choir. Once he heard me sing, he never said that again.

  34. KJGuest says

    I am a horrible singer. When I was in 6th grade, we were assigned some sort of performance project in music class and I sang Amazing Grace onto a cassette tape (which I then had to turn in to our teacher). After I recorded the song at home, I replayed the tape and got as far as “Amaaaazing Graaa…” before I had to shut off the tape. I cried and cried. I don’t know what grade I got on that project, but it certainly cured me of ever wanting to sing again! Plus I HATE that song now. I’m sure there’s a rock crying out somewhere with my name on it, but I’ll let it sing in my stead. It’s got to sound better than I do!

  35. Rob Douglass says

    For me it was actually pointed out to me. I have worked as a youth pastor at two churches, and at the first one one kid was so gracious to point out that while I was leading from the guitar and singing, that I sing slightly off key. Not enough to be bad but just enough to notice. So I worked at it and got to a point where I thought I was doing better. Then the next youth group I worked at I was leading again and one of the teens that was leading with me, turned to me afterwards and said, “You probably shouldn’t sing anymore.”

  36. says

    God did not allow me to sing until I saved… true story! And when I got saved He opened door after door and even I was amazed. (I’m not the greatest by a long shot, but he uses me) Anyway… I still have to guard my volume level. I was born loud… it happens

  37. Alyssa says

    The saddest part is my heart’s desire is to sing like Kari Jobe but my vocal chords and ear drums haven’t learned tone or notes or pitch or melody or harmony or whatever it may be

  38. Brandon says

    It does not help that the talent that sings at Crosspoint every week is sick. I used to think I could sing until I came to Crosspoint.

  39. says

    The music director at our church is a personal friend of mine. He wanted me to join the worship team. I asked him, matter of factly, if he wanted the church to continue growing or to rapidly shrink in attendance.

  40. Joshua says

    I’m another one of those awful singers. The best compliment that sounds directly like an insult I’ve ever had came from an old small group worship leader. He told me he liked when I sang loud because it made others want to sing louder to drown me out.

    I’m definitely calling our church plant an outpost from now on.

  41. Tiffany says

    I do a REALLY good imitation of Lucy Ricardo, remember her Yodel?
    “Home, home on the range… yodel yodel yodel”….. Good stuff…

  42. H says

    Nah, it’s not just you. I’ve never felt more prone to lip sing than in a church which doesn’t use musical instruments, every note seemed so amplified.

  43. Jim Restle says

    How about when someone has the bright idea to sing a cappella in the living room during small group, and there aren’t enough people for the bad singers like me to lip sync?

    At a Super Bowl party this year, instead of prayer we sang the doxology in a space that was about 4×5 feet. I’m sure that will not become a tradition.

  44. Lois Pepple says

    I understand the feeling. However, we are instructed to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” That is what I do every week, as, with my (not so) little, sometimes wayward voice, I belt out the lyrics to a most heartfelt song. “Joyful noise” is sometimes synonymous with praise and worship.

  45. Elizabeth Drue says

    I’ve always wondered if in heaven we all will be in tune when we are singing or if we just won’t care whether or not we’re in tune. Personally, I hope it’s the former!

  46. Aaron says

    I’m the “worship leader” at the church I attend. I can’t sing to save my life, so I only do the talking portions [welcoming, anything between songs, closing stuff]. We have two people that can sing, so the lead the songs vocally. I do sing, I just don’t sing into the mic.

  47. Stace says

    regardless of vocal talents, remember that you are singing onto the Lord. My children once told me at church that I sounded terrible, I told them that I was not singing to them!
    I was browsing around for info: There is a VERY loud, off-key, painfully distracting person @church. I have been putting up with it for a few yrs. ( I dont want to inhibit her worship, however I cant concentrate on my worship to my lord and king(the voice is painfully piercing!). yes I have moved to the other side of the small church, no avail. I was thinking of putting a note in the bulletin: etiquette/considerations for CORPORATE worship. Suggestions?


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