A View from the Pew: Counting the Choir

Pew_smI have a confession: for reasons I’m about to explore, each week during worship, I silently count the members of the church choir.

Bizarre, I know.

I can’t remember when I started doing this, but I can distinctly remember the reason.

I’m a preacher’s kid. This identity exposes me to a lot of church. And preachers. And conversations preachers have with other preachers. At some point, I remember overhearing one of those conversations in which two preachers were extolling the virtues of another church’s choir, using the number of voices as one measuring stick.

I connected quantity with quality and have been counting “voices” in the choir ever since.

We have entered a season in which the contributions of the church choir take center stage. Every church I’ve ever been a member of offered some form of special musical presentation during the Advent and Christmas season. From Handel’s “Messiah” to wood-framed, hand-built “Living Christmas Tree” platforms, I’ve had the joy (and pain) of experiencing what non-professional musicians offer up to God as their Christmas musical offering for more than 40 years.

When anyone uses their talent, at whatever level that may be, to perform music in church, I view it as an offering to God, not a performance for the congregation. The church choir isn’t in some sort of “American Idol” competition and should not be judged in that way.

Nor should choirs be judged by the number of voices that comprise them. Rather, I think a church choir should be described in terms of its commitment. Rather than counting how many people stand in the choir loft each week, I would be better served in my appreciation of their worship by counting the hours they have practiced.

The choir is one of the most visible and essential roles a layperson can fulfill in a church. Even I sang in the church choir as a teenager because the need for volume was greater than the need for pitch. I excel at volume. I’ll let those who have the misfortune of standing near me each week testify to my fragile grasp of pitch.

Singing in the choir taught me to focus on conveying a message rather than the more technical elements of the music, which I didn’t understand anyway. I grew to understand our job was to give worshippers words and voice for praising God and extolling the virtues of the Giver of all good gifts.

I unscientifically predict that this year’s date for church choir Christmas performances will be Sunday, Dec. 14. There may be a few outliers who go a week earlier or later, but based on my experience, that will be the Sunday when most churches offer cantatas or dramas or live Nativity plays. With all the made-up holidays on the calendar this time of year (Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday) let me humbly submit that the second Sunday in December should become known as “Cantata Sunday.”

Whatever date and time your church choir leads the worship service with songs of the season this year, try to focus on three questions:

1.) What is the message this music is trying to convey? This is the point. Don’t miss it because you’re being too distracted by the number or quality of the voices. How do the words and notes connect to say something about and to God? These are the thoughts that promote true worship.

2.) How much time and effort went into this performance? It’s a shame that we tend to only show appreciation to our choir and our staff members leading worship by a round of applause or even a standing ovation once or twice a year. Write a personal note to the minister of music to share with the choir, or if you are so inclined, write each musician a “thank you” note.

3.) What is my contribution to the church’s music ministry? Maybe you should simply put forth more effort during congregational singing? Maybe you should contribute to the fund to purchase music, robes, or other supplies? Maybe you should commit to joining the choir or other music ensemble within the church? Be open to using your gifts.

If you take a few minutes to contemplate these questions, I think you not only will be better able to appreciate the performance, you’ll be more connected to the purpose of the performance. That’s where the real blessing is.

Thank you, choir members everywhere, for all your hard work. Our lives are enriched by your gifts.

Lance Wallace_for_webLance Wallace is a Baptist layperson who works as Director of Communications for the Georgia Tech Research Institute. He previously served as Director of Communications with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Lance blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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  1. Walt McCauley says


    I, too, am a counter. I am a “numbers” guy, as my wonderful wife so aptly puts it. I also am a member of the PTCUMC chancel choir. I count at all of our practice sessions and every Sunday. I want more to be there to help those of us with singing shortfalls. And, of course, more in Christ’s name is always better.

    It took my wife several years to convince me to join our choir. I had had vocal chord surgery many years before and my voice was simply lacking. I could carry a tune, but the quality was far less than I wanted. Eventually I joined despite my misgivings (and my wife’s perseverance). Then, a couple years in, I lost my voice and had to have surgery again. You can’t make this stuff up. The result was another seismic shift in my vocal presentation, not good. But I am still there, adjusting, and will be there for God’s greater glory.

    I’m a prime example of being in ministry for God with limited talent. Sometimes you have to step out. God appreciates and loves the least every bit as much as the best. God knows no bad notes, only honest effort in His name. He keeps me coming back! Thanks for your post!

    Walt McCauley