As a follow up to the excellent blog post by Steve Brown dealing with the role of the choir member, this post will focus on why we should have choirs in the first place.
Sitting in the pew next to my father is a memory that will always be cherished. After noticing my “lack of involvement” one Sunday, he told me to sing. I asked “why?” That’s when I got “the look.” I knew well what “the look” meant. He then put the hymnal in front of me and held it while we both sang. Although my participation was not as it needed to be, I did learn (later) that sometimes the best answer to “why” is simply to “do.” I doubt many Sundays have passed without my voice being added to the congregation in the singing of hymns. Little did I know then what God had in store for me.
Across the nation, adult participation in choir has been in decline. Even in the downturn a vast majority our churches still have choirs. Many are growing and vibrant while others are struggling. The reasons for the downturn are many. Demographics and environmental issues impact our ministries. Many choirs are trending older rather than younger. The “boomers” that filled youth choirs in the 60s and 70s have moved or are moving into retirement status.
If we don’t reach out to millennials we will see this trend continue. Many millennials (for whatever reason) have not grown up in church, much less an environment that engaged them musically. Your worship choir or adult choir may be the first musical experience they encounter. For these millennials we must address the “why” as much as the “what.” A choir without a full-orbed purpose will struggle to attract this next generation. Don’t get me wrong—the “what” and “how” are both important issues to address. These will be the focus on future posts. The “why” is a good starting point. For many millennials, all they need is a good “why” to be answered for them to consider joining your choir.
1. Why Sing in a Choir? Singing in a choir is supported in Scripture.
Now, some might be thinking that the use of choir is merely Old Testament and lacks substantial merit since there is little evidence of support in the New Testament. I would disagree. Some of this is due to exegetical approaches to Scripture. There is agreement that we are liberated into the new covenant and delivered from the law as a result of Christ’s atonement. The concern among some relates to the use of choirs not specifically endorsed in the New Testament. More fundamental views would then restrict the use of choirs (and/or instruments). Taking this “hyper” regulative position, proves problematic as it actually becomes another form of “law.” To be fair, few Reformers I know take this “hard line” approach.
It is also important to remember that the requirements of the Levitical worship practice should not carry over as a mandate for the new covenant era. This means the church has biblical freedom to NOT use choirs. The other side of the coin would speak for the biblically
substantiated freedom to use choirs! The early Reformers had (and have) ground to stand on when choirs are used improperly. Choirs or any other musical group must not be used to entertain or replace the voice of the congregation. If Scripture is going to be used to substantiate the presence of a choir, then the biblical purpose of the choir should drive our practice—proclamation of the Word. When David separated the choirs and instrumentalists in 1 Chronicles 25, they were separated for “prophecy.” The Hebrew word is “naba.” This denominal verb simply means proclaim God’s messages. Here are a few thoughts to consider:
• Choirs are most effective when they foster robust congregational singing rather than replace it. (Most of the music used in worship should directly involve the congregation.)
• Choirs should embrace the diverse “DNA” of the congregation they serve. This means the musical styles should be flexible.
• Choirs should be committed to fulfilling biblical values of excellence, purity, and truth of God’s Word (Phil. 4:8).
• Choirs should be dedicated to an artistic expression that elevates and clearly articulates the Gospel while bringing glory to Almighty God.
• Choir members should magnify Christ first and foremost—not themselves.
• Choir participation should build up members through discipleship.
• Choir rehearsals should set the example as an environment of acceptance, love, and fellowship.
• Choir rehearsal should be a place where hard work and effective practice is coupled with joy and unity.
• Choir involvement should embrace outward ministry and evangelism.
• Choirs should sing the right notes. ☺
2. Why Sing in a Choir? It has historical significance that carries forward today.
According to letters from Pliny (the Younger) and Philos of Alexandria we see two first century figures that were separated by distance, culture, race, religion, and occupation. The former was a Roman prosecutor in modern Turkey who wrote a letter to the Emperor Trajon regarding the Christian community in Bithynia. In his letter he shares that Christians “sang in alternation a hymn to Christ as a god.” Singing in alternation goes back to the Davidic court when choirs were used to sing a phrase of a psalm which would be followed by the worshiping community and/or instruments. It is hardly a stretch to assume that this practice would not carry over in the Christian church. Whether led by one or a few, the use of a choir to facilitate the singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs was certainly taking place.
The case of Philos is also interesting. Philo describes the worship pattern among the Jewish communities in Alexandria to include choirs singing in “alternation.” Antiphonal singing was a part of early church worship as the Jewish believers worshiped. Some settings may not have included a choir but perhaps a “cantor” or “Hazzan” (Jewish leader). Even the Coptics in the region to this day utilize choir for their liturgy which has fourth century origins. Through the years the functions and roles of choirs have obviously changed. From the first century church
through the great reforms and technological advancements, choirs have been and can continue to be a significant contributor to biblical worship, discipleship, and evangelism.
3. Why Sing in a Choir? You might just live–and serve–longer!
A long life can also mean long service to Christ. The world of science is not as far apart from God’s Word as many may think. Personally, I am not surprised how often natural science supports God’s Word rather than contradicts it. According to clinical psychological research, participation in choirs produces the highest levels of “well-being” among those studied. The research compared those who sang alone, those involved in sports teams, and those who sing in choirs. In terms of “well-being” those involved in choir (by far) experienced the best results.
Additional studies prove that singing enhances cognitive abilities, short-term memory, planning, and an overall general sense of wellness. All of these are amplified through choir participation over singing alone. Perhaps this is why music plays such an important role in dealing with mental disorders including the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. These studies dealt with all forms of music which is not exclusive to involvement in choirs. The reports, however, concluded that when singing in a group, the effect of music was profound (see sources below).
When singing within the ministry of a “choir,” the impact of singing has heightened value in mental, physical, sociological, and emotional health. The carry-over effect is obvious. If singing in a choir pays such rich dividends to our overall health, then so it would be in our spiritual health.
The role of music in the life of God’s people is emphasized in Colossians 3:16, 17. The choir only serves to enhance this mandate by fostering an environment for rich, robust, and purposeful congregational singing, bringing glory to Christ, enhancing discipleship, and carrying out the Great Commission. “Is any among you of good cheer? Let him sing psalms” (James 5.13).
4. Why Sing in a Choir? To advance the Gospel.
One characteristic of the millennials is their desire to be a part of something that has impact on a global scale. Churches with growing choir ministries are active outside the walls of the church. Even though it can be a challenge to find secular venues for the choir to sing and minister, there are many opportunities if we refuse to give up! Needs are everywhere! Opportunities abound for service in Jesus’ name. Find a place where your choir can be used. Future articles will deal with outward ministries where your choir can engage. The Worship and Music staff can help connect you with many of these opportunities. Do you want to draw millennials to your choir?
Get outside the walls! Today’s students and young adults want to make a difference in their world. The choir should be at the forefront of serving Christ in the world.
Why sing in a choir? Just like Dad said: “Do it!”
Schuster, M. The Letters of Pliny the Consul, 2nd Edition, 1952.
Stewart, Nick. “Why Singing in a Choir is Good for You,” British Psychological Society (BPS), December 4, 2013.
Gonzalez, Justo. The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. 2010.
D. G. Hart. The Reformation of Worship, Ligonier Ministries (www.ligonier.org) from Tabletalk Magazine: January 1, 2005.
Witvliet, John D. “The Anaphora of St. James,” in Essays in Early Eastern Eucharistic Prayers, edited by Paul F. Bradshaw (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN: 1997).