The Role of a Lutheran Choir in the Divine Service
What a blessing it has been to have a choir and special music! First, I want to say thank you to the choir, our directors, and organist. You all do a wonderful job! We are blessed with wonderful music and singing at St. John! And, if you aren’t in the choir, please consider joining, as there is always room for one more voice or instrument to make a joyful noise to the Lord.
But, what is the role of a Lutheran choir in the Divine Service? When you have a congregation of members with many different backgrounds—non-Lutheran, liberal-Lutheran, conservative- Lutheran, Iowa- Lutheran, and Texas-Lutheran—often there are many different ideas of what the role of a church choir should be. Allow me to hopefully shed some light on the question so that we all continue to sing on the same key. Before I answer the above question, let me briefly explain the role of the liturgy and hymnody in the Divine Service; in short—they serve the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The words of the liturgy flow from Law-and-Gospel-Scripture and give us Jesus. Our hymns should also do the same—proclaim Jesus, which means the words are not dominated by the music. Music serves the words and not the other way around.
Now, not all hymns are created equal and some have more depth in words and music than others. As a pastor, I am always trying to lead us into more meaty hymns over time so that we continue to grow and mature in the Christian faith. This means sometimes singing hymns that we aren’t familiar with. Of course, we all have our few favorite hymns and we might all be content to sing those same few every week. However, we should always be willing to grow into a deeper knowledge and expand our repertoire. And, I’ll admit, I sometimes drop the ball in my hymn selections! Sometimes I choose one that we aren’t prepared to sing yet and we choke on it. Please continue to be charitable to me, as I can never choose hymns that please us all at all times, which really is not my goal anyway. My goal, as your shepherd, is to continually strive to go from Biblical milk to meat, so that we feast on the full and rich Lutheran hymnody available to us.
This brings me to answer the original question. The primary role of a Lutheran choir is to help lead the liturgy and hymnody. The choir helps lead and sing parts of the liturgy, like the Introit and Gradual. The choir leads the singing of new hymns to teach these to the congregation. Now, I understand that singing the liturgy and hymns isn’t always as fun as singing anthems that are more common in non-church performance choirs. Yet, a church choir is different than performance choirs. While I hope singing in the church choir is enjoyable too, it really is meant to ‘work’ and be of service to the congregation, primarily by teaching the liturgy and hymnody.
Really, the church choir is very unlike other choirs. Other choirs perform and entertain. The church choir is never to be showy or provide entertainment. That makes the choir about the choir. If after a church choir, even if it is our cute kids, sing, you feel like clapping—that might be a sign that entertainment just occurred. The church choir, like the liturgy and sermon, is focused on proclaiming Jesus in liturgy and hymnody. Does this mean that the choir can’t occasionally also sing anthems? Of course not. Lutheran Anthems that proclaim Christ in a reverent and not flashy way can also add to the worship service—they just aren’t the primary reason for having a church choir.
Our church choirs (kids and adult) have done a wonderful job of leading the liturgy and teaching new hymns to us, while also adding beauty by singing Christ-centered anthems. While many church choirs, like their liturgy or lack of liturgy, have gone the way of entertainment, our choirs continue to be wonderful examples to the church at large at what a church choir should be. Thank you, again.
May the Lord continue to bless us with His Word preached and in song in His Divine Service to us!
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