The role of the church choir and orchestra

This is the first of probably many posts concerning the role of the church choir and orchestra.  Many of my references will be choral, but most apply to the orchestra as well.    I don’t  know how many choirs I have led over the past fifty years, but I have served as staff minister of music in thirteen churches and directed  probably a couple of  hundred choirs over my “road” years and in other special programs.  I don’t know that I am an “authority,” but I think I have grasp some dynamics of the church choir.

There are countless silly insignificant and sometimes humorous stories about church choirs, but this discussion is the substantive role.  This monologue  barely scratches the surface of all the magnificant dynamics and ministry of church choirs, but it is at least a start.

I have no beef with  Praise Team worship leadership. I understand its role and  have seen it extremely effective; however, my calling and skills are more directed to the choir.  The church choir offers an avenue for great and even average singers to use their gifts to worship that is not afforded them in a Praise Team led church.  My daughter, obviously raised in the home of a minister of music, as an adult was once a member of a 17,000 member church and there was no place for her to sing and use her musical gifts.   (There is a separate discussion , even argument,  here whether the ability to sing or play an instrument is a spiritual gift, but for certain, it is a way to exercise spiritual gifts.)

I have seen first time singers of all ages blossom not only musically, but spiritually through the choir and orchestra. I have seen many people come to know Christ by singing and playing.  I understand the argument that only believers and even sometime only church members should sing or play, but I approach the music ministry as an “entry point” for seekers as well as a place for mature believers.

The following is the first of several discussions about the specifics of choirs and orchestras.

Perfection is not reality, but EXCELLENCE is.  Every choir can be “excellent” in their own context.  I get so irritated when I hear,  “This musical style is good while another is bad.”   GOOD MUSIC IS IN THE EAR OF THE LISTENER!!!!!   I certainly learned this while on the road.  I’ve experience glorious spiritual encounters in churches singing and play the classics and I’ve had equally powerful experiences when the style was Southern Gospel.  I’ve led choirs in spirituals where “God got all over us,” and I have lead choirs in oratorio where “the glory so filled the place…”

There are multiple verbal languages.  There is nothing inherently WRONG with any language.  Our missionaries study new language, not a new gospel, so they can communicate the love Christ.   When they return home to share at home, they speak English because we prefer our native tongue, but there is nothing wrong with Spanish, French, German, etc.  We simply “prefer” what we understand best.

The same is true with musical languages.  Of course, I have my preferences, but there is nothing “wrong” with Traditional Hymnody, Praise and Worship, Country, Southern Gospel, Classical, Metro, etc.  Each musical language/style/genre communicates and  can be done excellent within its own context.

Before I leave this discussion, a few  years back  I read from a prominent contemporary author of whom I have great respect, that a church “must decide who you are” and the musical style should be singular.  I understand what he was saying and that has proven true in some settings, HOWEVER, in the churches I have served through the years have been multi-generational and generally multi-cultural, multi-economic, and multi-educational, and multi-racial.  For me, I have never felt led to focus on one, as the Southern Baptists like to call, “people group.”  I want want to be able to communicate with my music to everyone who I encounter.  It takes work, study, constantly stretching, and learning, but it can be done.  Locking in to one style would be fairly easy and to be honest, there are times I want to retreat to that world.  I’m not that great a musician and it really takes work, but I know this is what God has called me to do.  (By the way, I have no beef with those who lock in to one style, if that is how God has led them.  Some of my closest friends are Southern Gospel Singers and other close friends are classical musicians.

THEREFORE, heart has been for my choirs, orchestras, and overall music ministries use a wide variety of music languages and my singers and players have reflected great diversity.  My last choir had eighteen year olds as well as folks in the eighties.  My approach really stretches my choirs, but I ask them to respect the musical languages and become “multi-lingual.” I don’t ever remember losing a choir member over the issue, though I did lose a trumpet player one time because he said it was too much work.

Our primary role as church musicians and church choirs is to “lift up Jesus,” to “exalt Almighty God,” to lead God’s people in worship and be a witness to unbelievers.   However, in the process of doing the above, we must strive to do our best, sing and play well, to blend, to balance, sing and play in tune;  my dear friend Jim Woodward so often would say, “God likes right notes.”

to be continued….




The day after the first…

Today is the day after my first Sunday at Level Grove.  We had a wonderful time and the folks were very gracious.  Now I find myself sitting in the office seeking the Lord’s leadership in planning the worship services for the remaining Sundays in July and into August.  Fifty years ago my role was to simply “fill in the blanks.”  Today, however, as I have grown in my understanding of my faith and ministry, it is a totally different thing.  I certainly don’t criticize the way we did it back then.  I may have not had the understanding of the focus and flow of a worship service, but  I did love Jesus and my heart was to encourage others to love Him too.  Yet, “in my old age,” I have learned there is so much more that can be done for services to be engaging and effective.

Taking the time to pray and seek what the Lord wants us to do when we gather is the key to it all.  Studying the scripture focus of the service followed by considering the fast amount of music available, determining who is available to sing and play,  and considering the crowd and the setting is vital.   Leading people in worship is a serious and often an awesome responsibility that I take quite seriously.  With the pressure to sing the “latest and greatest,” I never apologize for singing a great old hymn or gospel song that has a proven record of ministry.

Well, I’d better get back at it.

New Ministry at Level Grove

After a couple of months “off,” tomorrow morning, July 6, I will begin as interim music ministry at Level Grove Baptist Church in Cornelia, Georgia.  Level Grove is just about fifteen minutes from our new home in North Georgia.  This is a strong church with a great Christ-centered music ministry and a long musical heritage.

I have kept my  ears open the past month or so, ever since I knew I was going to Level Grove, and this church has a great reputation.  I am honored to partner with Pastor Brian James and the Level Grove family we “lift up Jesus” in this great community and as they seek their next full-time minister of music.

My heart is not to “maintain” the ministry during this interim time and it is obvious this is the same heart as the music leadership.  Our goal for the months ahead is to grow the ministry, reach out to gifted people, encouraging them to join with us, use their gifts, and sharpen their skills.  To seek out people who have a long history of music ministry as well as people who may have never been part of a church choir or orchestra.  Our desire is to encourage and engage the church in worship and be a witness of faith to unchurched and unbelievers.