The Unfortunate Decline of the Choir

When I was researching choirs in intergenerational churches several years ago, I used a statistic from the National Congregations Study conducted by Chavez to make the point that choirs were still in a majority of our churches in the southern US.

See data here: https://www.thearda.com/Archive/Files/Analysis/NCSIV/NCSIV_Var341_1.asp

The original study, conducted in 1998, researched many aspects of congregational life, one of which was music in worship. In 1998 choirs were present in over half of all US congregations. In subsequent research “waves,” the percentage of choirs in worship has decreased 12% in twenty years to just over 40% of congregations. If the trends continue their downward trajectory, this number that is likely to continue to fall. Here is a snapshot of the date trends in the study:

  1. Churches with choirs are more likely found in churches in the southern US.
  2. Theologically moderate churches are more likely to have choirs than liberal or conservative churches.
  3. Politically, the churches more conservative have the lowest percentages of choirs, although right in step with the overall percentage of churches when considered collectively.
  4. Black Protestant churches are the most likely to still have church choirs, followed closely by Roman Catholic churches.
  5. White liberal congregations are more likely (47%) to have a choir than white conservative/evangelical/fundamentalist churches (34.3%), but both are at least a third behind Black Protestant and Roman Catholic churches.

Here’s what I see:

  1. It doesn’t surprise me that the southern US has more church choirs. Most of my own contacts in music ministry are fellow southerners. The study simply reports, but does not give reasons, why this is the case. However, because this is the case, I suggest we pro-choir southern worship pastors continue to bear the responsibility of using all of our folks with some musical talent in the ministry of the choir.
  2. It doesn’t surprise me that our Black Protestant churches have a great deal of choir singing. Many of our Black churches haven’t tried to bend to pop culture, but have kept church a sacred space- valuing the whole rather than simply a few, even as they are solo-dominated in their choir singing. Choir-led worship IS the hallmark of the Black church expression of worship. They have figured out the secret to keeping the choir alive. We who value the choir need to take notes from them on how to utilize the choir in creative ways.
  3. Our white, conservative, evangelical churches have clearly moved from choir-led worship in favor of band-led, praise team only worship services. I think anybody who’s been to these types of churches has seen the shift happen over the last few decades. The percentages are evidence that this trend will continue. I believe before too long, there will only be a handful of white, evangelical churches still using the choir if a change in philosophy doesn’t occur.

The trends, especially among our white, conservative, evangelical churches, concerns me. I see no greater way to involve many people in worship leadership outside the choir. Sure, an overly polished, slick sound is perhaps better achieved with a few of your best musicians, but the Lord called me to equip all who feel the call to worship ministry. It is essential for the skilled to sit alongside the weaker singers to encourage, inspire, and help so all may work together for the glory of God. We must work together to push for authentic worship leadership which is modeled for the congregation.

Fellow pro-choir worship pastors—let’s continue to promote the biblical merits of utilizing the choir in worship. Let’s promote the merits of unity it brings in order to build the Kingdom. Selah

Jonah: The Drama King

It’s hard for me to read the book of Jonah because I find myself written all through the pages. You remember the story…God sent Jonah to call the wicked people of Nineveh to repentance. Jonah did not heed the voice of the Lord and ran to Tarshish where he fled from the presence of the Lord by hiding away on a boat. The Lord caused a huge storm and the sailors soon realized Jonah’s disobedience was causing the storm. As if Jonah wasn’t already dramatic enough trying to hide from God, he tells the sailors the only way to calm the sea is to throw him overboard. How dramatic!

Then we read that after Jonah (a.k.a Mr. Drama King) was hurled into the sea, the Lord chose a great fish to swallow him up for 3 days where Jonah repented and re-affirmed the call God placed on his life to bring the news of salvation to the people of Nineveh. Once Jonah arrives in Nineveh, he offers the world’s briefest “sermon” as he declares that in forty days Nineveh would be destroyed (3:4). That was the extent of his exhortation; there was no call to repentance, yet the people repented anyway! All seemed like a total win for Jonah the prophet, but while Jonah was obedient to tell the Ninevites what he was commanded to proclaim, his heart wasn’t in it. In fact he was actually angry at the Lord for not destroying them—so angry he asked the Lord to take his life.

Now, if you’re keeping score here, this is twice in a few chapters where Jonah (a.k.a. Mr. Drama King) has asked the Lord to end his life. He was actually angry that his God was “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” Have you ever been angry that the Lord did something you didn’t think was fair? Continue the story with me…

My favorite part of the story comes next. The Lord provides shade for Jonah as he waits outside the city and Jonah is pleased with how the Lord has provided for him, even gives thanks to Him for the shade. But then God sent a worm to eat the plant that was providing shade for him and AGAIN for the THIRD time in this book, Jonah (a.k.a. Mr. Drama King) decides he cannot live and wants to die. Geesh! So, here’s where it gets me every time—the Lord asks Jonah, “do you have a good reason to be angry about the plant?” To which Jonah basically says—“yeah, I do, so much anger that I’d rather die than burn in this sun.” Here’s the zinger: God says, you didn’t work to cultivate this plant which provided you such shade—yet you had compassion (and were thankful) for that plant, weren’t you? The Lord’s point was—I should show compassion on the city of Nineveh just as I’ve shown to you—YOU JUST THINK YOU DESERVE IT and they don’t. Just like Job, “the Lord gives and takes away.” God’s perspective cannot be understood with a finite mind.

My name is Will and I’m a “drama king” like Jonah! While I’ve never officially asked the Lord to take my life, I’ve wallowed in self-doubt and self-pity wanting to give up the calling God has called me to because I’ve been angry with God because I haven’t gotten my own way or thought I knew better than God what His will is for my life (ouch!). Yes, I admit it. My benchmark of “fair” is not always Kingdom focused. I often think I deserve XYZ because I worked hard for it—or earned it in some way. God’s perspective is always so contrary to my human nature. As Paul reminds us in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

He wants faithfulness from me.
Holiness from me.
Obedience from me.
He wants me to DELIGHT in Him and not the world.

Friends, we don’t deserve the compassion and mercy of God. Not one of us deserves it and none of us can earn it. Yet Jonah’s behavior and responses are often indicative of our own reactions. Yet the Lord’s question to Jonah will haunt us…”do you have a good reason to be angry?” Well…do you?
No we don’t. Not when we have a God that is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Ps 103:8 ESV)

The Lackluster Hall Tree

Over the years, we’ve inherited several pieces of antique furniture, which are proudly displayed in various places in our home. These pieces of furniture are not only beautiful, but also quite sentimental. One piece in particular is a hand-carved hall tree from the 19th century that came from my great grandmother’s house in Enterprise. When she passed away in 1996, she willed the piece to me because every time I’d visit her, I’d comment on how beautiful and practical the hall tree was—especially the umbrella stand! Once my wife and I got married, the hall tree made its way to our first home and has been a part of every home we’ve owned since. Unfortunately, over the years the mirror has lost MUCH of its luster. Many days I’ve passed by it to check out my hair or adjust my clothes in the hall tree mirror only to discover later than I missed several pieces of lint on my shirt. Obviously that mirror didn’t provide a clear image for me!

Four years ago I had a similar experience when I went for lasik eye surgery. I’d worn contacts and/or glasses since I was 10 and I was finally going to “see” again clearly. Without corrective lenses I couldn’t read a book unless it was about level with my nose—Yeah, I was that blind. Right after the surgery I noticed that even though I couldn’t see perfectly immediately, I could see better—and day after day during the healing process, I developed better vision than I had before. I really noticed a difference when driving at night; I had no idea how bad my astigmatism had gotten until after the surgery. I had gotten to where the halos on headlight made me not want to drive at night—but finally things were clear.

As I’ve thought about how blind I was, I became keenly aware that before I trusted Christ as my Savior, I was just as blind. Just like my view through the lackluster mirror or haloed headlights, I had a blurry, myopic understanding of who I was and what Christ has done for me. What I needed was to place my faith in Christ (lasik for the soul!). Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “the assurance of what we hope for and the certainty of what we do not see.”

This being Holy Week, believers everywhere recall and celebrate the hope we have in Christ through His death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus reminded his followers of His purpose as Messiah, but their perspective/sight was blurry. They kept missing the point that Jesus’ death was not the end even though Christ was clear about what would happen next. Even though we have the Bible that clearly outlines what’s to come, believers today still struggle with “blurry” faith. Thanks be to God this will not be the case forever. In 1 Cor. 13:12 Paul writes, “now we see but a dim reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” Then in 2 Corinthians 5:7 Paul writes, “while we are limited in our perspective here on earth, God has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight.” Our faith requires that we believe even when we have a myopic perspective.

So this week as we remember and celebrate: TAKE HEART! Even though we see blurry today, one day we will live forever face to face with our Savior with clarity of sight!

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