With my limited experience I am able to lead a full band on Sunday mornings but it stops there. Our church has many capable individuals that would be involved in a choir but my limitations keep me from taking the plunge and just going for it with some simple choir pieces. Do have any suggestions, for someone with my limited experience, how to go about leading a choir? Should I hold off and wait until I have proper training in leading a choir? I know a choir would serve our worship time so it is something I would like to see on occasion on Sunday mornings.
In the same comments section Kyle wrote:
My pastor, choir leaders, and I have been asking ourselves how to incorporate a choir ministry into a modern context in a way that makes sense, and doesn’t feel disconnected from the rest of the meeting – and, hopefully, in a way that will encourage more people to become involved with the ministry.
The Good and Bad of Choirs
These two questions highlight the ambiguity of Scripture regarding who should lead worship. There’s nothing in Scripture that says choirs are mandatory nor should be excluded when we meet to worship God. It all depends on how we use them and for what purpose. Choirs can become monsters that drain a church’s resources, energies, and time, and accomplish little for the advance of the gospel. They can be breeding grounds for gossip, slander, immorality, and envy. On the other hand, choirs can be a powerful means of encouraging Christ-exalting, Spirit-empowered worship of God, made up of with people who want to praise God not only with their song, but with their lives. I’ve seen both, and definitely want to do everything I can to discourage the former and promote the latter.
Choirs, like every worship leader, are meant to make Jesus look good and great, not themselves. That means that while musical skill is valuable and important, it should never overshadow or determine the focus. The goal is not musical excellence and proficiency by itself, but an “undistracting excellence” (John Piper’s phrase) that draws attention to the One we’re worshiping. Here’s what a choir can add to a meeting:
- a model of responsiveness to and engagement with the words we’re singing
- musical variety
- harmonies that display another aspect of God’s beauty
- opportunities for people to use their musical gifts to serve others
I’m sure there are other good reasons.
Kinds of Choirs
Here are a few ways I think about choirs.
Melody ensemble: This is a group of expressive but not necessarily experienced vocalists. A group like this is generally a good place to start if you have limited time but a number of vocalists who are available. Their primary purpose is to reinforce the melody, and if you know the tune you can lead them.
Parts choir: This is a step above a melody ensemble. People are actually singing harmonies. If you have some vocalists that are gifted musically, they can work out parts for the choruses, or in the case of hymns, on later verses. Anyone who knows how to work out parts and has something of a leadership gift can lead this choir. Groups like the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir have taken this idea to a new level of excellence.
Trained choir: This is a group of people who know how to read music and can prepare special songs to sing for the church. The advantage of a choir like this is the amount of repertoire that’s available to sing. The disadvantage is that sometimes choirs like this can become confused about the difference between producing excellent music and worshiping God. That certainly doesn’t have to be the case, but often is. Another drawback is that you need a trained individual to lead it.
Ideas for Getting Started
If I were starting a choir from scratch, I’d start with auditions. It’s always good to know what you’re working with. I’d evaluate the gifts I had, and then make decisions. If we had a lot of wiling people who weren’t musically trained, but sounded good, I’d have them sing about once a month. It’s certainly going to help to have training in leading a choir, but it’s not crucial for starting out. God has a surprising way of bringing in people to do what’s required. I’m especially going to be looking for someone who might be able to lead the choir instead of me!
When I first arrived at Covenant Life we only used choirs on special occasions for special numbers. Over time we began to see the value of involving more people, but couldn’t get the participation level up to a degree where it made sense. Now, we have about 20+ people singing once a month. The quality is improving along with what we’re requiring of the members. We’ve also seen the importance of starting choral training early, so we’ve been running three kids choirs for a number of years now (elementary, middle school, high school). We’re trying to prepare for the future.
Hope this is helpful. If you have thoughts, experiences to share, or questions, please feel free to leave a comment.