October 31, 2021 at Coats Baptist Church (CBC) is Homecoming Sunday, and it’s a “big deal” for several reasons. We’re gathering together for ONE service, sharing a lunch together, having a fall festival of sorts with games and activities for families, and putting a bow on our October series about the purpose, mission, vision, and strategy of the church. Personally, there’s something else that makes this Sunday a “big deal”: the return of the choir!
Due to the pandemic, it’s been over a year and seven months since the choir has led worship during a worship service at CBC. That was eighty-six weeks ago. Eighty-six! It’s time. The choir resumed Wednesday evening rehearsals in September to begin preparing for Christmas at Coats, in addition to singing in a few Sunday morning worship services along the way. We’re very excited about Christmas at Coats 2021. I encourage you to mark your calendars for December 12 and 13. Then look forward to more Sundays with the choir in 2022.
I believe this is a good time to discuss vision for the Worship Ministry and hopefully answer a few questions along the way. I’ve heard questions about the involvement of the choir in worship and the songs we sing. So let me address where we’ve been, where we are, and where we may be headed. In addition, and of greater importance, I’ll address what has not and will not change about our worship.
Where we’ve been
While I certainly can’t speak to the worship services and styles at CBC from a historical perspective as well as some members with greater longevity, I can share a few tidbits about where we’ve been. I know there is a rich history of choral singing in conjunction with piano and organ accompaniment. The Joyful Ringers Handbell Choir and Children’s Choirs have been well led. Various praise team and other instrumental ensembles have paved the way to introduce a greater variety of worship styles. Former Ministers of Music have led from a posture of humility and excellence. We’ve had multiple Sunday services for quite some time.
I was called to Coats Baptist Church in late 2015 and began serving as your Worship Pastor on January 1, 2016. Sunday mornings consisted of a “traditional” service at 8:30am and a “praise” service at 11:00am. I quickly began referring to both of the services as “worship services” because I sure hoped people would be praising the Lord during the first service. I’m aware that some people think it’s beneficial to have the option of attending a worship service based upon the style of worship and their personal preferences. I’m not one of those people. More on that later…
Over the course of the last five years, I’ve worked alongside the choir, praise team, and instrumentalists to serve CBC through music and worship together. The whole Worship Ministry began leading together at special events such as Easter, Christmas, and Homecoming services. Does anyone remember Together Sundays? We would gather together in one service whenever there was fifth Sunday in a month. In the year leading up to the start of the pandemic, we were having identical service Sundays once per month. Then COVID hit.
The pandemic caused churches across the world to pivot. And pivot quickly. In March 2020, I led worship from behind the keyboard to viewers at home watching our livestream only services. Obviously, there was no choir, organ, band, or praise team. In June 2020, we re-opened and began holding identical worship services led by a praise team and band. This band includes piano and organ. This is essentially where we’ve been for the past year.
Where we are
It’s now October 2021. We’ve successfully remained open and have become accustomed to a revised Sunday morning schedule. The services are identical and are led by a praise team and band as aforementioned. And this Sunday, we reintroduce the choir! So now what?
Where we’re headed
In case my joint efforts with the Worship Ministry team over the past five years haven’t provided you with enough clarity, here’s the plan in writing: I believe that God called me to Coats Baptist Church for a variety of reasons and in His perfect timing. One of those reasons was to encourage unity in the church through worship and music. CBC has been through a lot in the past. I won’t linger there, but I know that music in worship has unfortunately been a cause of division. My goal has been to bring us to a place of unity and one means of accomplishing that was to bring all musicians and singers together as worship leaders. We’re there!
As we do move forward, and hopefully begin to see the pandemic in our rear view, you’ll be led by our Worship Ministry team that includes the choir. In many churches around the world, the choir is making a comeback with purpose: worship over performance. While you can anticipate moments where the congregation is seated to listen to a “choir special”, you’ll experience more occasions of the choir modeling participatory worship from the platform alongside the band and praise team. I believe this maximizes their purpose.
You’ll also continue to see and hear the Joyful Ringers Handbell Choir and Children’s Choir. You’ll actually hear the handbells next Sunday, November 7, during both morning worship services! Here’s another chance to mark your calendars: December 5 is the Joyful Ringers Christmas Concert. The children will be leading during Christmas at Coats. Multigenerational worship is also important to me. I thank the Lord that CBC is a multigenerational church. That said, there is great value in having generations lead worship together. That’s why you’ve seen (and will continue to see) the children and adults sing together on occasion.
Identical services also mean identical song sets at each service. For some, this may seem like a big change. Let’s discuss that more below.
Here’s what has not and WILL NOT change:
1. The worship of God
The purpose of the Church is to worship, glorify, exalt, and make much of God. Not ourselves. Not a style of music. Not a song. GOD. I believe that to be true at Coats Baptist Church. Sure, there have been and will be moments of being human (sinful) along the way. But I believe that God has rightly been worshiped by His people for over a century at CBC, and my prayer is that He will be for many years to come. We often say, “it’s all about Him”. I challenge you to make that true in all areas of your life of worship, both personally and as a part of the body of Christ during corporate worship services at CBC.
2. The singing of truth
Here’s where I address the songs we sing. I love hymns written hundreds of years ago as well as hymns that are being written today. I love modern worship songs. I love the Psalms that were written thousands of years ago that we set to music today. But what we sing isn’t (largely) about what I love. My primary responsibility is to choose singable, well-written, theologically accurate songs that magnify Christ, feed our souls, and teach what we believe. The mode (style and instrumentation) is secondary. So we’ll sing hymns, old and new, alongside modern worship songs that help us accomplish our purpose as a church.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:15-17
3. The stewardship of His people
While I believe the mode of worship is secondary, it is still important. What am I talking about? Do we sing with choir, piano, and organ? Do we sing with a band? Do we sing a cappella? Yes, yes, and yes. I am very blessed to lead a Worship Ministry that is chock full of creative and musical talent. I believe one of my other primary responsibilities as Worship Pastor is to steward the gifts and passions within the Worship Ministry. At CBC, there are singers who are comfortable singing in a choral setting and others who are not. There are “classically trained” singers and musicians who read sheet music and others who are not. There are organists and pianists, drummers and guitarists, and handbell ringers. What do I do with all of these people? Bring them together for God’s glory and their personal edification. While the gifts, talents, passions, and desires of individuals are different, it’s a beautiful thing when they all come together to make much of Christ and less of themselves.
As an aside (that I hope isn’t even necessary), I believe every voice and every instrument can be used to praise the Lord. Read Psalm 150.
Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens!
2 Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his excellent greatness!
3 Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
4 Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
5 Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
I’m really not sure how to end this blog post besides encouraging you to be encouraged. God has always had His hand on the music and worship at Coats Baptist Church. I hope you can agree that there’s nothing wrong with where we we’ve been, where we are, or where we’re headed. God is good at using flawed people to perfectly exalt Himself. I’m thankful for the faithful leaders and servants who have gone before me. I am thankful for a worshiping church. Pray for me as I continue to aid CBC in the right worship of God through the singing of truth and the stewardship of His people.