By Allen Palmeri
JEFFERSON CITY—The Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Worship Choir Retreat held Sept. 11-12 at Concord Baptist Church gave the state’s worship leaders encouragement on how sick choirs can be healed.
Dave Williamson, a Brentwood, Tenn., clinician who taught truths out of his Worship Leading Choir model, said the American church has been taking the wrong approach to choir for at least 50 years. MBC Worship Specialist John Francis said the slide has been more pronounced in the last 25-30 years. Both men agreed that putting on a show—the performance choir—is now being elevated.
“We’ve been treating choir as though our responsibility was to impress people into the kingdom of God,” Williamson said. “Our role is not to impress people but to inspire their hearts to worship.”
Williamson, who has produced or arranged music for several leading contemporary Christian artists and written or arranged musicals for virtually every major Christian music publisher, said a man or woman singing in a choir is a worship leader who must “open the door so that the congregation can walk through into the manifest presence of God.”
After decades of disobedience, all of the physical acts of worship that are found in the Bible are either rarely practiced or routinely ignored.
“Some churches are really good at standing in awe,” Williamson said. “Some churches are really good at kneeling—they have the benches built into the backs of the pews. Some churches are good at lifting their hands. Some churches are good at dancing. Very few churches do all of them because our traditions mitigate against that.”
The good news is that a small step of obedience can go a long way.
“I had a guy who was one of my tenor section leaders in the last church I was in,” Williamson said. “I told him it’s not up to us to take some giant leap to arrive at some ideal of worship. And so one thing that he decided, that he had never done before but was willing to try, was to just see his hands as an extension of his heart to God, because the Bible does call for that.”
During rehearsal in the choir room, he decided to take one hand off his songbook and rest it on his knee as he sang.
“He said God almost literally lifted him out of his chair, just in response to that teeny, little act of obedience that God calls for but sometimes, because of our traditions, we don’t think of ourselves as doing,” Williamson said.
A good worship leader, Williamson said, is known for “loving people into the presence of God.” He saw this in a 75-year-old man from Turlock, Calif., who used one uplifted hand opposite an open, uplifted Bible in the other hand, plus a huge smile, to do this. His function was to be an usher.
Chris Tomlin is another example of someone who does this well.
“More than anybody else, I think, Chris represents the movement that’s happened in the last 10 years in worship,” Williamson said. “He has more songs that people in churches worldwide are singing congregationally than probably any other artist. He has a great heart for God.”
Francis said the 53 leaders who registered for the retreat in Jefferson City represent a yearning to regain what has been lost in worship choirs. They and some of their choir members would like to take steps toward leading their congregations in worship, as opposed to “simply being on the platform.” Having been formed into a 30-man choir themselves over the course of two days, they came away with a picture of how God uses the fullness of a worship choir for His glory.
“Most of the time a praise team is by audition, or hand selected, whereas a choir can embrace so many more people,” Francis said.
Williamson shared the clinician segments with Jim Faull of Kennesaw, Ga., who taught seven habits of successful choir builders. Faull is founder and CEO of Worship Ministry Solutions.
The Worship Choir Retreat was formerly known as the Worship Leadership Conference.