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Monday, August 29, 2011

Using the Choir in Worship

In a day when it seems like worship leaders and praise teams take a prominent position in worship services, is there any room for choirs? I would say, "Yes!" Let me share some things that may be being overlooked as we consider the utilization of choirs as an effective part of worship.

(1) The central focus of worship is not the "leader," but God. I realize that this seems obvious, but sometimes so much emphasis is placed on the person leading that the people leading become the "stars of the show." I am not saying that the individual leading is portraying such an attitude, but many times those in the congregation perceive themselves more as an audience than the Body of Christ. Having a choir to help lead can help diminish the perception.

(2) The use of a choir is biblical.
David organized worship to utilize choirs, and they were a common part of worship in the Temple. Nehemiah used a double choir in the dedication of the rebuilding of the wall. Since the early church grew more out of the synagogue style of worship than the Temple, choral participation was not as common. In addition, the early church was dealing with severe persecution, so making “a joyful noise” wasn’t the safest worship practice of the day if you were celebrating worship hiding in the catacombs. Choirs came back into use after the persecution stopped.

(3) The use of a group obviously utilizes more people.
Worship is our obedient response to God’s revealed nature and character. Working with a group to help lead in worship means we get the opportunity to teach what biblical worship is and mentor this group in carrying those truths into the corporate worship service. Of course it take more planning, more work to find the appropriate pieces, extra time to rehearse the music, and a tremendous amount of effort to enlist those that can sing. It is much easier to find a song and sing a solo. Frankly, since choirs are generally consist of volunteers, the “sound” may not be as professional as a soloist. However, when done correctly, the director is multiplying his or her ministry on a scale not possible as a soloist alone. God has called us to make disciples and one aspect that we need to include in that definition is worship discipleship, or teaching and mentoring what worship is and how to do it.

(4) Choirs give opportunity for those who will never be soloists to aid in worship leadership. Worship leadership that is only left to the “professionals” bypasses many who have sincere hearts, but only average talent. Choirs give those people an opportunity to do something together with others that they would never be able to do alone. For some, singing in a group may be the only ministry they have. Having a choir that is active in worship leadership helps those who might only have “one talent” participate with those who were given “ten talents.”

(5) There is a powerful dynamic when a group comes together to worship.
I have also heard notorious stories of choral singers who look as if they are half-asleep while they sing. [I fault their own personal preparation and the director for such things.] What I am talking about is a spiritual dynamic that reflects the unity of the Body of Christ: many members, different parts, but all working in coordination under the same leadership. I remember vividly the first time the “Coro Unido” [United Choir] came together to sing when we were missionaries in Panama. Seventy-five brothers and sisters in Christ from all over the country [most of whom could not read music, but memorized their part by rote] came together to proclaim the gospel in song. The air was full of excitement, and anticipation; their sound was powerful. Never before had anyone seen an evangelical choral group so large. It was an unforgettable moment for us all.

(6) Age group choirs become the seed bed to raise up new worship leaders.
One of the concerns I have is the lack of emphasis on teaching children and youth what worship is and how to sing. Worship leaders just don’t fall from the sky. Choirs can give an opportunity to have an active participation in worship leadership, and at the same time begin training for greater worship leadership in the future. The church that only emphasizes its praise band is neglecting the training and ministry of its children and youth for service.

(7) Singing together helps grow community among believers. Some of the richest relationships I have shared in my life have come as a result of sitting next to someone in a choir. Rehearsal time of the choir I now direct is one of the highlights of my week. We laugh, we sing, we pray, and we have even cried together. We learn to bear each others’ burdens.

I know there are many more reasons and considerations, like the impact of choirs in mission trips and sharing the gospel, but here are a few to ponder and I trust to encourage you to get in a choir if you aren’t already or form one if you don’t already have one. Choirs shouldn’t be the only consideration, but certainly needs to be considered.

In using a choir, here are some quick helps:
A. Rehearse the music, don’t talk.
Some directors waste more time talking than rehearsing the notes. Say what you have to say, then get back to work. Don’t beat a song to death; work on the most difficult parts and easier sections, then go on. Each rehearsal the members need to sense that they have accomplished something. Be free with sincere compliments, not just flattery. When they get it right, let them know!

B. Have a plan. In our congregation, the choir will sing at least 45 of the 52 Sundays, not including special programs for Easter and Christmas. – That takes a lot of music. So, how is it done? Here’s one way:
• Select the music you want to use for at least 3 months at a time
• List them out as 1-12, then rehearse 1-5 for a few weeks [at first], investing more time in the song to be sung on a given Sunday.
• The following rehearsal, focus on 2-6, singing # 2 the following Sunday.
• Keep up the system of rotation and your choir will have several weeks on each song and a new song entering into the rotation.
• When you begin to rehearse # 12, select the next 3 months of music.
• Repeat at least 50% of what you do during a given year.
This system not only helps plan your rehearsal time, but allows for some of the choir members to be out and still be able to sing, since they would have had several weeks to learn the music. I have used this system for years and it has been both simple and effective. Repeating a song allows you to build on what you have already learned.

C. Plan on using the choir on a regular basis. Choir members want to sing, that’s why they come. When they feel like they are not useful, they will stop coming.

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