No doubt, if you grew up in the Black church, you’ve heard the saying “You can sing a lie just as well as you can tell a lie”. It’s a saying that’s been around probably as long as the church has been around. And while it comes from a place of good intent and well meaning, I think it bears taking a look at in a less literal way.
As Gospel and Christian singers, we sing music that goes far beyond entertainment. Inspirational music has the power to up-lift, encourage, heal and restore. In order to have effective ministry, Gospel singers must be able to reach people through the ministry of music whose story may not be their own. Imagine for a moment if you could only sing songs with lyrics that describe something you’ve been through personally. Only songs that are your personal experience.
It would be nearly impossible, wouldn’t it? Even in a song that does describe some personal experience of yours there is bound to be some parts that in fact don’t speak to a personal experience of yours. Jesus used parables almost exclusively in His ministry. Yet none of them were actual stories based on His own life or personal experience. They were simply stories He used to illustrate a point. In much the same way, Gospel singers often need to sing a song about something that may not be their own personal experience in order to bless someone in the audience that God has placed there to hear it.
Though I haven’t spoken to her personally, I think it’s safe to say that there’s no such person as “shouting John” in Shirly Ceasar’s famous “Hold My Mule”. I could give several such examples, but the point is that often the message in a song isn’t for us, but for people in the audience. To tell a story about, for example, over-coming something that we ourselves may not have been through, is not “singing a lie”. It’s singing a message about something someone else has been through. The fact that I personally may not have gone through it doesn’t make it any less true for someone.
So how do you handle singing a song that isn’t your personal testimony? Simple. You have to first understand that as Gospel singers God uses us to bless others. The song we sing is seldom for us, but for someone else. You must find your own truth in every song. Your own personal spiritual connection. The beauty of Gospel music is that there is truth for every believer in every Gospel song that has it’s focus centered in Christ. So even when it’s not your personal story, you can connect with it spiritually and sing it with the conviction of truth, knowing that even if it’s not your story, to tell that story in song for someone else that they may be blessed, is not “singing a lie” any more than the parables told by Jesus was a lie for Him.