Yesterday I shared a short summary of some big questions I’ve been wrestling with over the last two and a half years – and many others have been wrestling with for much longer – when it comes to considering a vibrant future for choirs, and how it’s possible for those choirs to partner in vibrant ministry with worship bands. This runs counter to the trends in the white protestant church, and is not something I ever thought I’d be called to be involved in, as someone who’s not classically trained, and for much of my life was the “contemporary music” guy at churches.
In late November, I traveled to Mount Paran Church of God in Atlanta, along with my colleague/friend/choir director Andrew Cote (actually Dr. Cote, but we don’t want that to get to his head). Andrew and I are working hard, praying a lot, and having a lot of fun putting our heads together with the great people at our church, about how we can continue to cultivate a worship ministry that is indeed a real community of worshippers and worship leaders, and is big enough for a choir, band, instrumentalists, classically trained musicians, self-taught musicians, young, old, and everyone in between. Mount Paran has been working at cultivating that kind of ministry for quite a long time now, and so it was incredibly encouraging to go there and see what’s possible.
I saw a choir that was a true microcosm of their community. Different races, ages, backgrounds, musical experiences, and level of giftedness, blended together into a vibrant worship leading engine of their church. Add a small (mostly volunteer) “orchestra” of strings, brass, and woodwinds. And then your typical “band” of drums, guitars, keys, loops, and vocalists. It’s a big church with a big budget and a big staff, but what struck me the most was something that money can’t buy, and even the most polished production can’t fake: an overwhelming atmosphere of partnership, of worship, of unity, and a humble pursuit of excellence. And their people SING. And the sweet presence of the Holy Spirit is powerfully tangible. It was something to celebrate.
I found myself amazed at how they organize things, how they memorize their music, how they color-code the lyric projection for the choir so they can follow their cues, how they do their planning, how they do auditions, how they’ve been faithful at planting and pruning this kind of ministry over decades, and much more. It was humbling to sit there and realize how much I have to learn. I realized that I was indeed a student, who didn’t know quite as much as I thought I knew. And it felt good.
And God was teaching me all these things – and moving me to tears – at (gasp!) a church that’s part of a different denomination, who does things in a totally different way from me, and yet who loves Jesus, cherishes His word, and longs to see Him exalted and central in their Sunday morning gatherings.
As is usual when anyone comes home from a conference or retreat, there is the inevitable slump when you come down from the mountain top experience. I certainly experienced that. But for my own sanity, I jotted down some observations, and so did Andrew. We had a long coffee to talk about what we thought God was saying to us. And this was a bit of what we wrote down together.
Caveat: I’m baring my soul here – unfiltered and mostly unedited – so you can get a sense of the real-world, down-to-earth stuff that I’m involved with these days. It’s exciting! And exhausting. The list below might not make much sense or be relevant to you, but this blog has always been intended to help worship leaders lead better, so I share these honest thoughts in the hopes that it helps someone, somewhere, in some way.
Reflections since Mount Paran visit
- It was like a trip to the future. I want that kind of community, commitment, vibrancy, diversity, youthfulness, vigor, worshipfulness, agility, and maturity in our worship ministry.
- I came back inspired, but personally (and honestly… because I’m a sinner…) deflated. I want that NOW. I want the result without having to do all the work 🙂
- I needed to be reminded that nothing grows without first being planted, tended, watered, pruned, and constantly maintained/nurtured.
- Mount Paran isn’t perfect (!), but it has the kind of “fruit” I’d like to strive for. They’ve worked long and hard for that fruit. It didn’t look like that even 15 years ago.
- If we plant, tend, water, prune, and maintain/nurture the worship ministry here, then by God’s grace we will continue to see growth, albeit something unique to Truro, but something organically healthy and life-giving
- We’re not starting from scratch.
- Our choir loves to sing, is committed, wants to sing lots of different genres, and our church has a rich history of vibrant worship. Hard to find another place quite like it in the Protestant/Anglican/Liturgical world.
- So there’s a lot of good there.
- Let’s continue pruning.
- What can we do now?
- In general: A continued focus on consistency, prayer, and loving our people.
So we’re aiming to double the choir to 80 voices. Big recruitment efforts.
Make rehearsals great again. I like the weekly newsletter idea.
Work on anthems at least four weeks out to assist in memorization
January – June: 6 solid months of continued consistency
Install section leaders/choir ministry team
Install confidence monitors on stage to assist with getting off the page
Mixing in all the previous anthems from Fall ‘16
Choosing solid anthems (all 10s!)
Aim to memorize 1 or 2 pieces
Focus on the congregational stuff. Especially choruses in parts, and learning new songs a few weeks out
Possibly a Friday night/Saturday workshop
Jamie and Andrew visit Mt. Paran again, and possibly bring a few key leaders along for a mini-retreat
Summer 2017: Another huge recruitment effort.
Have a great choir retreat
Maybe bring Mark Blankenship (from Mt Paran) in for a weekend?
Continue to prune, be consistent, pray, and push hard.
Tomorrow I’ll share some details on a small day-long intensive I’m going to be hosting at Mount Paran in March on the subject of cultivating vibrant choirs, and partnering with worship bands, and how you can explore being a part of it, if anything I’m saying over these last two posts resonates with you.