Thursday, December 5, 2013

Preaching to the Choir

Church choirs have notoriously been a hotbed of controversy and aggravation in recent ecclesiological history. Whether your church has completely removed choirs altogether or continues to have a vocal ensemble that leads worship, pastors and other church leaders often view the musical component of church services as an angry bear that need not be poked or prodded unless absolutely necessary. When awoken or shaken in any way, disaster follows closely behind.  I know one such leader that has even said 90% of all of the problems he has encountered over his long tenure of ministry find their root in the choir. But why?

Why would one small representation of the church suffer from such a stigma? Why would such a minority have the potential of creating such a problem? Why have many churches decided to not even fool with this group in the first place?

I believe that the answers to these questions might, in part, be theological.

Choirs are found throughout Scripture and deserve at least some attention. In the Old Testament, choirs were used as special vessels of praise to God. Accompanied with instruments, these groups of singers led in the worship of the Almighty, focusing everyone’s attention on Yahweh (2 Chron. 5:12-14; Neh. 12:31ff). In the New Testament, men, women, and even angelic beings are said to have participated in the phenomenon of choir. Choirs of angels helped celebrate the coming of the baby Jesus (Lk. 2:13-14). Even a diverse group of elders, angels, and creatures stands forever singing in the throne-room of heaven (Rev. 5:11-12)! Choirs of all shapes and sizes and members are represented throughout Scripture. However, what choirs represent is far more important than the entity itself.

Several fundamental characteristics of choirs can be delineated from the Scriptures mentioned above. First, choirs are made up of unique individuals. Not only are the people distinct from one another, today, a variety of parts (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) exist as well.  Second, though made up of individual members, choirs exist as one body. You cannot have a choir of one and any one member is not greater than the collective whole. Third, it would appear, at least from Scripture, that church choirs exist for one purpose and one purpose only—glorifying God through the gift of music as presented through words sung in discreet melodies, harmonies. In the Bible, glory to God may have been given to commemorate a special event, military victory, creative work, or special revelation. Regardless of the motive, glory to God always resulted from these music groups.

Therefore a rough definition of a church choir, as defined by these fundamentals might read as follows:

A church choir is one musical body made up of individual believers who have come together to glorify God through participating in the phenomenon of music.

When juxtaposed against a definition of the church, the similarities are striking

The church is one body made up of individual believers who are committed to the glory of God through the phenomenon of Christianity.

When placed alongside each other, the only distinct difference between the choir and the church is the means by which each seeks to glorify God!

In so many ways, the choir is a representative microcosm of the church. Just as a choir is supposed to cooperate within itself to produce a harmonious sound, the church is to cooperate within itself to produce harmony among believers. Just as a choir is made up of individuals singing different parts, the church is made up of different members equipped with different talents. Just as a choir continues to refine and improve its craft through rigorous rehearsal, a church is sanctified through experience and grace in the ministry. Just as a choir gives a musical performance designed to draw the attention of the congregation to the person of God, 
the church shines the light of God before men, directing attention to Jesus Christ.

But how does this begin to answer why choirs are often such a source of turmoil?

What more efficient way would there be for the enemy to create division, dissention, or disillusionment in the church than to attack an institution that reflects the body of Christ so nearly? What easier way would there be to grieve a pastor or discourage a congregation than for Satan to corrupt those leading that congregation in a worship experience?

As is the case elsewhere, the institution of choir is not inherently wicked, irrelevant, or cumbersome; it is the enemy that turns the beautiful harmonies into meaningless noise.  

Whether your choir suffers from the poison of pre-madonnas, the subtle slip into self-promotion, the demon of divisiveness over styles and song choices, or the glow of glamorization, understand that the battle is very real and the enemy would love nothing more than to use your group for discord instead of worship.

With great grace comes great responsibility. If your church has been graced with a choir, understand that it has an extraordinary opportunity to help people encounter the person of God in wonderful ways. However, don’t forget that they are also uniquely at risk of the enemy’s very real attack to taint the image of the church that the choir is intended to emulate and the harmony that it is supposed to create as it leads the congregation in worship.

But what am I saying? You already know this and I’m just preaching to the choir. J

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