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….




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