This week, Pastor John hands over the TAGD keyboard to Geoff Grant, Northpoint’s Worship Director.
Last fall, the Northpoint elders made the decision to apply some philosophical changes to the Northpoint Choir (for a summary of those changes, click here). Since then, the Northpoint Choir has been gathering and working to apply this philosophy. In leading the choir last season, I experienced a joyful community of singers who exude a vibrancy in worship and a zeal for remembering and celebrating the gospel as we spent time tuning our hearts and tuning our voices to serve the congregation in corporate worship.
Well, amidst these changes, I have had several thought-provoking and encouraging conversations. Often coming from people who have noticed the change in choir philosophy, these conversations could often be summed up with the question: “What then, is the purpose of the choir?” Before I answer, I have to say that I personally love choir. I love the sound of voices in harmony, dissonance, unity. Given that, I want to try to be objective in painting a vision for choir, as I am tempted to mix in my own love.
I am reminded of a passage in Nehemiah after the Israelites finish building the wall. Ezra and Nehemiah build up two choirs to lead the people of Jerusalem in singing God’s praise. The Hebrew phrase here that translates to choir is also often also translated as the company of them that gave great thanks. Ezra and Nehemiah each follow a different group of singers to different sections of the wall to “offer great sacrifices and rejoice, for God had made them rejoice with great joy… and the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.”
I love the phrase, the company of them that gave great thanks, (as clunky as that is), and I love what that presses on our philosophy of choir. See, when we gather every week to study God’s Word together, we sing songs and hymns, pray together, collect the offering, fellowship, etc., we, the whole church, are this company of them that give great thanks. We gather to rejoice and to celebrate the ultimate sacrifice that has been made on our behalf: Christ. God has made us to rejoice; he has restored us! In a sense, the entire church body is the choir. We gather week after week to proclaim and celebrate our gracious God. We gather to feast on Christ, to place his selfless love before us, and to embrace his righteousness and acceptance as our true identity.
But what does this have to do with the Northpoint Choir? Okay, I’m getting there. But first some clarifying points.
The Special Song
Hebrews 10 tells us that the only pleasing offering to God is Christ. No works we do, no ritual we frequent, no beautiful song we sing is a worthy offering to God. The ultimate purpose of the choir is not to, in some way, contribute a fragrant offering of music to the Lord. When the choir sings a song for the congregation’s listening, that practice, in and of itself, is not what is glorifying to God. What is glorifying to God in this scenario? The hearts of those both singing and listening, contemplating the sacrifice of Christ, confessing their need for Christ, opening themselves to Christ, surrendering their priorities, desires, preferences, schedules, and relationships, etc., all to the lordship of Christ, is glorifying to God. This is the highest value of a special song.
It is important to remember that God is not interested in how beautiful our music worship sounds. In fact, he is explicit to say, “Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters. And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” God is interested in our hearts, not our beautiful music. One could make an argument that God values beauty, which is demonstrated in his creative character (Genesis 1) and his attention to aesthetic detail (Exodus 25-30). But in the economy of new covenant, Christ-purchased, corporate worship, the values are different. It isn’t the beauty of our praise, but rather the brokenness of our praise that is a delight to God. So we can rule out that the purpose is to make our worship more beautiful or better for God.
“Well That Was Lovely”
Further, when the choir does something outside of leading corporate singing, like a reflective or devotional song, its end is not met in merely filling a time gap, or offering a moment of pleasant listening. What does the song point to? Our hope is that it will merely stir our affection for God. If it is beautiful, let us rejoice in God’s beauty. If it is difficult and dissonant, let us reflect on the fallenness of the world and give voice to our need for God. If it is thought-provoking, let our thoughts dwell on the ineffably gracious mind of Christ.
The Northpoint Choir does not exist merely to maintain a tradition. Rather, we remember, cherish, and honor the past, embrace and celebrate what the Holy Spirit is doing in the present, and eagerly anticipate what the Spirit will do in the future. I have been so encouraged by our corporate worship and the choir’s faithfulness in leading us. I am excited and ardently anticipating what the Spirit has in store as we continue forward in this new season.
To best understand the purpose of our Northpoint Choir, it is helpful to call to mind the purpose of our corporate gathering. In brevity, we gather corporately to:
- Dwell in the proclamation of God’s Word
- Confess our need for Christ
- Remind each other of the gospel
- Express our thanksgiving for Christ
- Unify our hearts, in Christ
- Encourage one another, in Christ
- Celebrate our union with Christ
Another way it could be said is this: “We sing corporately to form our love for God and to be formed by our love for God.” – Isaac Wardell
At it’s finest, the Northpoint Choir will simply lead us into this celebration. It will aid in pointing the gathered congregation to Christ. The choir is a set group of brothers and sisters who sing with us on Sundays, whilst embracing this understanding of corporate worship. The choir will hunger and thirst for Christ and encourage the gathered body to do the same. Everything the choir does will ideally conform to these ends. Now, we will fail at this, as our flesh loves to impose its own will. I will fail at leading in this, as I can scarcely go minutes without sinning; my need for Christ is equally present on the table as everyone else—and THAT is the point! My hope and prayer for the choir is that God will build a community of singers and Christ-lovers who will be quick to praise, quick to confess, quick to repent, and quick to give thanks.
YOU have the opportunity to be a part of this community! Would you consider joining the Northpoint Choir?
Perhaps, you’re reading this saying, “I don’t think I’m quite there; I might be too proud or too opinionated to lead in this kind of gathering.” Well, if you are actually thinking something like that, you’re probably the perfect person to sing in the choir. Why? Because you’re proud and opinionated? No, everyone is proud and opinionated. What we desire are brothers and sisters who see their sin, recognize their need for Christ, and who want to invite others to do the same.
This season, the choir will rehearse for four Wednesdays (6:30 p.m.-8:15 p.m.), will lead corporate singing for three Sundays, and will lead the congregation in the Good Friday service. If you are interested in joining the Northpoint Choir, please send an email to me (Geoff Grant) at firstname.lastname@example.org.