As a local church music minister I was sufficiently astute to realize on Choir High Attendance Sunday I needed to be sure to plan a featured anthem or performative ministry opportunity for the choir. On my long list of stupid things I tried during my days as a staff minister was a congregational singing emphasis where I decided the choir would focus solely on helping the congregation’s singing. Week by week I watched the choir attendance go down despite my impassioned pleas of ever increasing spiritual ferver. I never really decided whether the problem was a kind of immaturity, a poor process for orienting the choir to its mission and ministry in the first place, or just a simple fact of life that I would just have to live with. Regardless of the cause, I did get a bit more response when we began using choir to dress up the congregational arrangements, adding descants, counter melodies, and that sort of thing. During the emphasis I called a couple of choir members whose response to my call, like their lack of participation in choir during the emphasis, surprised me. One just said flat out, “I don’t feel like it is that important if we are just leading congregational singing.” She went on in a scolding voice to explain how many years the choir had done a “special” (one of my favorite liturgical terms). While I did and do understand what she was saying, I was and am disturbed by the attitude reflected in the response and even more disturbed by the misunderstanding of “just leading congregational singing.” I have decided the word “just” should be banned from worship discussions. I have heard it used before other worship acts like baptism, the sermon, offertory, and even Lord’s Supper. Something wrong about saying “just the Lord’s Supper,” etc.
Well, in this same light, let’s reflect upon this year’s TBC SUMMIT. Tuesday morning, bright and early, and there we were in the choir loft (those of us who were present). Not a lot of bodies in the congregation at 8:15am, although many more than the 75 in the room when the TMC started singing at 1:15pm Tuesday afternoon. We had about 100 of us in the loft Tuesday morning to “just lead congregational singing” behind Keith & Kristyn Getty and the band. Keith’s comment to me following the Tuesday morning session, “the choir makes all the difference.” I agree! One of our singers said to me, “it sure helps to have a whole choir loft full of worship leaders singing the songs.” Well, frankly, yes it does. And that brings me back to the point I want to make. Leading congregational singing should always be an understood central aspect of a choir’s ministry in worship. It is not “just leading.” It is LEADING! A solo voice on a microphone is not the same as a group leading a group. And when there is a solo voice on microphone, for good congregational singing that voice cannot completely dominate the room. Kristyn’s pure tones and humble spirit is a great example. A good example of group leading was on display by those of you who ministered at the Nashville Rescue Mission Monday night, or at Forest Hills Sunday night. The singing was full-throated praise. There were tears as well as other open expressions of passionate engagement in the congregation as in the loft.
The choir leads in congregational singing by model, by setting the tone in demeanor and of course by projecting the melody as well as harmonizing as appropriate. As the brand new Getty hymn, My Worth Is Not in What I Own, was sung last Tuesday morning, the strains from the choir first began to waft across that huge sanctuary. The simplicity and timbre of the acoustic accompaniment allowed the sound of voices to float, and I sensed a growing confidence in singing the hymn, especially as we arrived at the refrain each time. A great example of choir leading congregation. Though I have had other opportunities to experience this new hymn, the result of Tuesday for me was that this song continued to linger in my mind and spirit. In the midst of personal struggle with challenges of family health and well-being issues coupled with other pressures, I found renewal in that repeating theme,
I rejoice in my Redeemer,
Greatest Treasure, Wellspring of my soul.
I will trust in Him, no other
My soul is satisfied in Him alone.
–K&K Getty and Graham Kendrick
Worship ministers, be sure and teach your choir to lead congregational singing – and perhaps keep on doing “specials” along the way as well when appropriate.