The purpose of a worship team or choir, is to help the entire congregation come into all they can be in expressing themselves to God.
As a teenager in the Reformed Church in America, I was greatly impacted by the congregation’s heartfelt singing of hymns. Anchored by the vocalists on the platform, the whole congregation became a choir. Many knew how to sing the parts: soprano, alto, tenor and bass. When I was in high school, I learned to sing bass. “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee.” There was power in these great classic hymns. We were “caught up”, blending in many voices, joining in one heart.
While at Wheaton College, Patty and I attended a charismatic congregation. Accompanied by a simple piano, the congregation of over 500 sang many of the new songs of that time that were addressed to God. We sang with all our hearts and as loudly as we could. The beauty of our collective voices was raised to a wonderful height. We sang, “Let all that is within me cry: Holy, holy is the Lamb that was slain!“
Later in the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, we also experienced for the first time a liturgy sung with power and fervor. It was all connected together, one whole piece like a symphony. Again, what was noteworthy was the quality of the singing of the congregation. We were bringing a sacrifice of praise before God.
When I was called to Jewish ministry and discovered Jewish liturgy (1972-1974) we sought to see hymns and Jewish liturgy offered up in a deep, corporate and connected way, without unnecessary interruption, with one element leading to the next and with all singing and chanting together. At Beth Messiah in Maryland, this came to a very high level of “entering into the Presence,” under the worship leadership of Paul Wilbur. The idea was to go from “outer court” worship into the worship of the inner court, and sometimes the worship would be at its deepest in singing quietly.
Since we now had drums, guitars and other instruments, a “law” was instituted: The worship leaders were to moderate their sound to a level whereby we could really hear the congregation singing. The center of our congregational gathering was the people singing and worshiping, not the performance of the worship group. “Turn down the volume!” was my exhortation – so that the worship band would not dominate over the voices of the congregation.
The Trends of the Day and the Loss of Real Corporate Worship
So where are we today? It saddens me that we have lost the emphasis on the congregation as the choir of God. The musicians and singers on the stage drown out the congregants. In some meetings earplugs are even available for those who cannot bear the high noise level. We are told that the young people, who have grown up going to rock concerts, really like it and that anything quieter will not draw them in. Yet I wonder, could we restore worship in which we can actually hear the congregation? Would God perhaps enjoy that more?
I often glance around during worship and sense that although people look at the words on the screen, they are not really participating at a deep level. They mouth the words but do not sing out heartily with their own ability. We need to appeal to the spirit within us and to the Holy Spirit. Attaining great worship sometimes necessitates silencing all the instruments and the sound system for the people just to sing in glorious harmony. I know of many times when such worship led to a sense of the presence of God in the deepest ways. We can do better. Let us do better.