Since I was a minister in traditional churches for many years I have lots of friends, who I love and respect, who are music ministers. Many of these music minister friends have recently linked on social media to a post by a guy named Mark Condon titled “Do We Still Need Choirs?” I’m not sure why the post seems to be making the rounds through my newsfeed right now because it is from 2012, but I have seen it at least 4 times in the past two days. The interesting thing to me is that Condon asks a really good question, “do we still need choirs,” and then, in my opinion, doesn’t answer it. A “need” is something you can’t live without and I’m sorry for anyone who disagrees, but churches can survive, and more importantly worship God, without a choir.
During the Magisterial Protestant Reformation Martin Luther struggled with what defined a church. Afterall, he was convinced that in order to follow God he had to split from the Roman Catholic church and thereby form a new church that was still an extension of the church universal. So he struggled with what made a church a church. He came up with what are called the 7 Marks of the Church. He used these marks to recognize a church that is part of the one, holy, universal, and apostolic church. These marks are that a real church has…
- the holy word of God
- the holy sacrament of baptism
- the holy sacrament of the altar
- the office of keys exercised publicly
- it consecrates or calls ministers, or has offices that is to administer, bishops, pastors, preachers, but not women.
- prayer, public praise, and thanksgiving to God, the liturgy
- holy possession of the sacred cross, suffering and carrying the cross as followers of Christ.
Really, it’s a pretty good list and I don’t see choirs mentioned anywhere. You could argue that “public praise” hints at choirs, but I think that is only true if no one else in your church sings but the choir. I think we need to be very picky about what a need is for the church. One thing being a church planter has taught me is that aside from Jesus the church doesn’t have a lot of needs. We seem to have lots of wants that we mistakenly think are needs.
So in answer to Condon’s question of “do we still need choirs” I am fairly sure the answer is “Nope, never did because it isn’t a need.”
I think the question Condon actually tries to offer an answer for should be phrased more like, “are choirs still useful in a church anymore?” He basically asks this when he asks ” Is choir still relevant?” “Useful”/”relevant” is very different from need. “Need” is about necessity, while “useful” deals with effectiveness. I think we should question the effectiveness of various things we do as the church. Every now and then we need to consider if what we are doing is the best use of the resources God’s has given us. I was a Youth Minister for almost 20 years and while I believe a good Youth Ministry is amazingly effective for spreading the good news of the kingdom of God it isn’t a need, and therefore we should judge its effectiveness every now and then. You don’t question the effectiveness of a need … well because you have to have it. You should question the effectiveness of non-needs … well because it isn’t a need.
Aside from Jesus the church doesn’t have a lot of needs.
So are choirs still useful in the modern church? A good question, I’m glad you asked. Condon offers some answers to whether or not choirs are still useful to the church. I agree with some and others not so much. His point about fellowship is spot on in my opinion. A choir can be a really effective way of connecting people. Unfortunately a choir can also be destructive and merely focused on performance. I’ve been a part of some churches that had amazing choirs that really helped people connect with God and I’ve seen choirs that used a tremendous amount of a church’s resources and didn’t really connect people with the kingdom of God. Effective choirs are great things that help people to glorify God and point others to Him. Ineffective choirs are a draw on the resources of a church that don’t help the kingdom of God much, if at all. If the choir isn’t effective then I don’t see any reason for a church to continue having one because it definitely isn’t a need.