Pointers about Repetition

It is the opinion of this writer that there is meaningful repetition and meaningless repetition.

Repetition can be used to reinforce a point that the song is trying to make. By repeating a line in a song, or a stanza or even a whole song, the worshiper is given the opportunity to reflect more carefully on the words he/she is singing.

We all have experienced times where we were singing a song without thinking. We simply sang because that is what everybody else was doing, and perhaps our mind was on other things. In such a situation repetition can lead the mind of the worshiper back to the song. We are brought back mentally to the thing we are presently doing, namely worshiping God, and suddenly our mind reengages with the song and the music. So repetition can be meaningful because it calls the worshiper to concentrate on what he is doing and saying in his song.

Another value of repetition is that it allows for the worshiper to ponder the words he/she is singing more deeply. Good worship songs have words that are meaningful. They express certain truths about God and the Christian life. Sometimes it takes a while to understand the meaning of the words and the intent of the songwriter. Repetition allows for reflection on the content of the words and their meaning. And when the meaning becomes more clear to the worshiper, he is able to sing and worship with greater understanding and meaning. It would seem unnecessary to say that greater worship takes place in the heart of the worshiper when he understands what he is singing that when he does not understand what he is singing.

Another positive reason for repetition is that it provides the opportunity to repeat a certain truth back to God a number of times. When this truth is centered on a certain attribute of God, such as his holiness, or his love, it may be rewarding to the worshiper to repeat his adoration of this aspect of God’s character or work to him a number of times, because of the depth of feeling he has toward God concerning these truths. So in these ways, repetition can be meaningful.

Is there such a thing as meaningless repetition? I believe so.

There seems to be a belief “out there” that repetition is useful for its own sake. In other words, worship singing becomes better when there is lots of repetition. But is this so? I do not think so.

Lets ask first of all: What is meaningless repetition?

Meaningless repetition happens when the purpose for repetition has been accomplished, but the repetition is still ongoing.

For example, when repetition of a line or stanza or song has successfully focused the attention of most of the worshipers in the room on a line in the song or a stanza or the whole song, it is no longer necessary to continue with the repetition.

Or, when the repetition has led most worshipers to enter into greater understanding of the content and the meaning of what they are singing, it is no longer necessary to continue with the repetition. If a song’s meaning is reasonably clear, most people (believers) will “get it” after a couple of repetitions.

Also, when the depth of a believer’s feeling for a certain truth has had the opportunity to be expressed multiple times by means of repetition, it may be time to move on to another truth, or another aspect of God’s great work for us in Christ. However, I would not make this a hard and fast rule. There are times that a congregation of worshipers can actually be overcome with the awareness of a particular truth, so that there is actually a desire in the congregation to keep expressing this truth over and over again. But this is different than repetition for repetition’s sake.

When repetition continues for its own sake, because it is seen as something good “in itself”, it may actually lead to less worship happening, rather than more. Why? Because after a certain amount of repetition, the minds of most worshipers will say “I get this”, and go into a “state of rest”. In other words the mind will become inactive. This does not necessarily mean that the emotions of the worshipers will become inactive. But it does mean that now the emotions of the worshipers will no longer be grounded in the words, but in other things, such as the environment in which they find themselves, the sounds that they hear, the instruments or other things. When the mind “cancels out” worship does not become more, but rather less. And the mind cancels out when it finds repetition to be without purpose.

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