Pastoring the Choir

~by Cliff Duren.

Wednesday nights are one of my favorite parts of being a worship pastor: Don’t get me wrong, Sunday mornings are way up on the list as well. But, I know that my best opportunity to pour into the choir and band is when we come together to rehearse each week. Here are some things I’ve learned about maximizing this time together.

Each member’s time is valuable

Some of the people sitting in your choir have been working all day by the time they get to your rehearsal. Some parents were getting their kids ready for school 12 or 13 hours ago and haven’t stopped since. Some college student has a huge test later this week but walked away from the books to be a part of your rehearsal. It’s so important to remember as we plan our rehearsals, almost everyone in the room is very busy yet stepped away from their busy lives to be a part of your rehearsal. This should challenge all of us to make sure we’re using this time wisely and showing immense respect for the wonderful people in our ministries.

When a choir member walks into my rehearsal, he or she walks up to a table that has a weekly newsletter and stacks of the music we will rehearse that day. The newsletter contains a list of all the songs we will sing in rehearsal order along with the estimated rehearsal times for each song listed next to each title. If someone comes in late for rehearsal, he or she knows what music to grab on the way in. We have several members who lead our children’s choir rehearsals and come to adult choir rehearsal a little late, so this small addition to the newsletter is a big help to them each week.

The rest of the newsletter contains a list of upcoming anthems, announcements, and important info on events that are beyond our normal routine. If I find myself running short on time during the rehearsal, having this newsletter gives me the opportunity to say something like, “There’s a lot of important info in your newsletter this week that we don’t have time to talk about tonight, so please take a chance to read it and mark your calendars accordingly.” Most people have already read the newsletter as they’re walking in. I’m intentional not to make it too busy so our people know that it’s worth reading. Even if I’ve talked about something on the newsletter, they also have it in writing. Finally, I may also include some devotional thoughts and scriptures on the newsletter that I want to make sure they remember.

Plan and execute well

I usually start planning my choir rehearsal on Monday morning each week. Practically, my first goal is to make sure we’re prepared for the following Sundays. In a perfect world, I begin the rehearsal with the anthem (or new congregational song) we’ll be singing in six weeks and work my way up to this Sunday’s entire worship set. Once I have all the info on the page, I think through the flow of the rehearsal. Do I have four huge ballads in a row listed? Do I have three up-tempo driving songs in a row? Ideally, I want the rehearsal to flow as smoothly as a worship service. Obviously, this is not always possible, but it’s worth a try for the sake of not wearing your people out during the rehearsal.

No matter the flow, I try to put this Sunday’s music towards the end of rehearsal to make sure everyone is in the room. Even if the congregational songs are familiar, I typically sing through everything we’re doing that Sunday. With a growing choir ministry, even familiar songs may not be familiar to new members. It’s worth your time to make sure that everyone feels prepared to lead with confidence on Sunday.

Beyond learning the presentational songs, I want to make sure the choir knows the new congregational songs equally well. I may not start teaching them six weeks out but usually no less than two (depending on the difficulty of the arrangement.) I like to think of it like this: If the choir is stumbling through a new congregational song, then what can I expect from the congregation? The more confidence the choir has in those teaching moments in the worship service, the better the learning process will be for the entire congregation.

Communicate the meaning behind the music

Finding additional ways to get your choir interested in the songs they’re singing is definitely worth your time and research. Now more than ever it’s really easy to find articles about specific songs and the stories behind them. Sometimes I’ll just look up a writer on Facebook and ask them! Also, sharing scripture that backs up the song you’re learning adds so much weight and meaning. Not only will you give your people some extra motivation, you’ll also be giving them a vocal break in between songs. Even sharing the testimony of the writer can be inspiring if there’s not a specific story.

Early in ministry, my tendency was to cram as much music as I could into every rehearsal. While I still have lofty musical goals for every rehearsal (sometimes too lofty!), I’ve noticed that the pastoral/teaching part of the rehearsal seems to have the greatest impact. I don’t have a methodical plan when thinking of devotion topics. I’m usually just sharing about what the Lord is teaching me in my own quiet times. I really can’t image a rehearsal without some kind of Bible-teaching time. It will connect you more closely with the people in your ministry. Most importantly, you’ll be breathing God’s Word into their hearts. And there’s nothing greater we can give them.

Brentwood Benson Arranger, Cliff Duren
Brentwood Benson Arranger, Cliff Duren
About the Author: Cliff Duren is the Music and Worship Minister at The Church at Station Hill, a regional campus of Brentwood Baptist Church. He is also an arranger, orchestrator, and producer focused on creating choral resources for the church. Cliff is married to his college sweetheart, April. They have four children, Mac, Sydney, Eiljah, and Emma Kate.

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