Imagine that it’s Christmas Eve. You and your family have just finished watching your favorite Christmas movie, donned your festive pj’s, hung your stockings, and shaken all of your presents one last time to venture a guess as to what’s inside. And now, before the children go to sleep, it’s time to read the Christmas story from the book of Luke. You read these familiar passages as your family listens intently. You begin to recall all those childlike images you’ve painted in your head since your Sunday School days. And now it’s the part of the story where the shepherds are keeping watch over their flocks by night…
“And lo, there appeared in the night sky a bearded man in his late twenties with a guitar and thick-rim glasses, and he said unto them, ‘Hey guys, this is a new one – sing along if you know it!’”
And suddenly with him was a man playing a djembe, a bass player, and his wife, who is a pretty good singer.
They sang songs of praise for about 20 minutes, and the younger shepherds really enjoyed it because of how fresh it sounded, and the older shepherds were very confused.”
As you already know, this is not what Luke actually wrote. The real events were much more special, much more otherworldly, and much more impactful on these lowly shepherds. These men were moved by the words of a heavenly choir – a message delivered with the power of a “multitude” of angelic voices, and they quickly went to Bethlehem to see the newborn king.
Now let me pause for a moment and assure you that I am not against the modern worship movement nor am I against praise teams, guitars, or guys with beards. I actually identify very closely with the man I described above (minus the thick rimmmed glasses – God decided to give me great eyesight). Music is a beautiful medium of worship, and we should always be thankful for the people who put the time and energy into preparing and leading our times of corporate worship.
However, it is important to notice the cultural shift that is occurring in many churches today. The scenery is changing, and many traditions that have been held by Christians for hundreds of years have all but disappeared. Our sanctuaries look less like sacred spaces set aside for encounters with God and more like black box theaters or the set of American Idol. Metal scaffolding has replaced the arched columns, simple music stands have replaced lecterns, and the guitar-driven praise team has replaced the choir.
All across the country, schools are cutting music programs entirely, and the modern church is following suit by watering down its music and worship programs because the “choir thing” isn’t relevant anymore. However, for those of us who are crusading to recover, maintain, or restore the time-honored traditions of the Church, the choir is an essential part of the service.
Among the many reasons the choir is vital to the life of any church, consider these three:
- The choir is an opportunity for involvement. A church’s ministry is only as effective as the people in its congregation who choose to get involved. Small groups, outreach teams, and the arts have provided great opportunities for congregants to sow into the life of their church’s ministry, and the choir falls under all three of those categories. I’ve often heard the choir referred to as “the church within the church.” When you join a choir, you’re not just singing notes together, you’re doing life and ministry together.
- The choir is an extension of the pulpit. There are so many fantastic songs that have been written for the Church and many that have yet to be written. But not all songs are necessarily suitable for corporate worship. There are songs that teach, encourage, compel, and call to action, and the choir is a marvelous mouthpiece for such things. By presenting these kinds of songs, the choir takes on a pastoral role, and it brings a rich dynamic to the theme or message of that particular service. This is especially effective in services with a missional focus or special services like those during Holy Week or the Christmas season.
- The choir is a reflection of heaven. The prophet Isaiah gives us a glimpse into God’s throne room with angels singing together, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). John paints a similar picture in the book of Revelation. There is a heavenly choir that sings God’s praises for all eternity. When we see our friends and family in the choir loft singing in harmony of voice and spirit, I believe we are momentarily transported (even if only in our minds) to the throne room of heaven. Furthermore, we often see a wide array of ages, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds on display in the choir. This, too, is a reflection of heaven – God’s people, of every age and every race, worshipping together as one body.
We must not discount the richness the choir brings to the church’s worship experience. I think many would be surprised by the long-lasting effect a choir program can have on their local church. If your church is anything like mine, the choir is a long-held tradition, and traditions enrich the life of the Church. Just because something is thought of as “traditional” doesn’t mean it’s not relevant for the body of Christ today. Let’s strive to keep these traditions alive while moving forward together into a richer and fuller life with Christ!
About the author:
Phil Nitz serves as Staff Arranger and Worship Leader at Christ Church Nashville. Upon earning his Master’s Degree in Church Music from Lee University, Phil began his career in Nashville in 2013 and is quickly becoming a sought-after arranger, orchestrator, and vocalist. Though he is well-acquainted with many varying styles, both vocal and instrumental, Phil feels most at home leading worship with his guitar in hand or directing the Christ Church Choir. Be sure and check out Phil’s recent release The Hymns Project here!