What About Vocal Solos on Sunday Mornings?

I appreciate those of you who have taken the time to send me a specific question related to what you’re going through. Scott wrote in to ask:

Is there a place for soloist/duets during the worship time?… If someone is gifted vocally, should I allow them to minister to the body (presuming that there are guidelines from the church leadership as to biblical content and appearance)? Does it cross the line leading to human-exaltation if there are those repeatedly clamoring for a certain person(s)?

Eph. 5:19 says we’re to be “addressing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” It’s normal to understand that as congregational singing. After all, the Psalms are filled with commands to sing God’s praise, and singing always seeks to invite the voices of others (Ps. 34:3). Throughout Scripture singing is something we do together. Singing helps us passionately proclaim who God is, what he’s done, and how we’ve been affected by both. It also helps us remember biblical truth.

But listening to someone else sing can affect us too, and is an application of Eph. 5:19. God isn’t specific here about whether we’re all singing at the same time or taking turns. It’s also not clear from the Old Testament that everyone sang the entire time at the Temple. If anything, the evidence leans towards the Levites leading the singing by themselves, with the congregation occasionally singing in response.

So Scripturally, there’s room for solos, duets, or different groups singing to the rest of the church. But I’m aware of at least one church that never uses vocal solos on Sunday mornings because it smacks of the world’s entertainment, star-crazed culture. That’s a valid concern. “Special music,” as we’ve called it, can be done poorly.

If someone sings simply to demonstrate their musical skill, to draw attention to themselves, or because they’re sincere (but have a terrible voice), they won’t be “teaching and admonishing” others “in all wisdom” as we’re commanded to do in Col. 3:16. If a singer moves in sensual or distracting ways, or seems completely unaffected as they sing, I’d cross them off the list as well.

The song matters, too. If the words are emotion-centered or theologically unclear, it won’t be helpful. In the past I’ve at times chosen special songs that were more designed to simply stir up emotions than communicate a clear truth that resulted in an emotional response. Thankfully, I have guys around me who help me see the difference. The desired response isn’t simply raised spirits, smiles, and/or applause, but a clearer understanding of why Jesus is so great and good.

If people are “clamoring for a certain person” to sing, I’d have to know why. Is it because they just enjoy hearing their voice? Is it because their gifts are impressive? Is it because they’re related to the singer? None of those qualify as good reasons. But if God has gifted certain people in your church to sing songs with passion, clarity, and beauty, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t use them occasionally, even regularly, to stir up Godward affections in people’s hearts with their gifts.

The best soloists are able to direct people’s attention to God rather than themselves. They do that through a combination of skill, humility, and natural expressiveness.

If you’re not used to having soloists, but want to use one, explain to the congregation what you’re doing and tell them that listening can be an act of worship as much as singing. An effective musical presentation can help us see God more clearly and encourage us to praise him more wholeheartedly after listening.

And if you really don’t have any soloists in your church, please don’t inflict a wanna-be soloist on your people. God won’t be any less glorified, and your church will be a lot happier.

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12 Responses to What About Vocal Solos on Sunday Mornings?

  1. daniel.wiginton September 14, 2007 at 10:24 AM #

    How do you deal with someone who asks to do a solo but really shouldn’t do one for whatever reason?

  2. Bob Kauflin September 14, 2007 at 12:19 PM #

    Daniel,

    You or a pastor should be gently honest about the “whatever reason.” I’ve had to tell certain individuals they don’t have a voice that’s good enough for a solo, but I’m happy to have them in a group. The purpose of gifts is to edify and encourage the church, not fulfill someone’s personal goals for ministry. There are other reasons someone shouldn’t sing a solo. We only have members of the church on the team because we want to maintain the integrity of the people we put in front of the church. That doesn’t mean they aren’t godly. It just means we don’t know them well enough. If someone’s example is questionable, then I’d talk to them about that as well. But I’d make sure I have my facts straight before saying something.

    Is that helpful?

  3. Matthew Westerholm September 14, 2007 at 3:12 PM #

    Hey Bob, this won’t fit as a comment to a specific post, but I think it might be a good idea to write a post to different churches who are making CDs. It seems with the increase in technology and the ease of recording, many churches are starting to work on their own projects.

    I know you guys have a lot of experience in doing this . . . maybe a post is in order? Share some lessons learned, and things to avoid from your expereince?

    Just an idea! As always, love the blog and the savior to whom it points me.

  4. dspaggiari September 17, 2007 at 5:28 PM #

    Bob
    I appreciate your insightfulness and biblical caution in advising the use of solos. The use of vocal and even instrumental solos can definitely be appropriately utilized in a corporate worship setting. With the proliferation of true corporate worship taking a back-seat to performance in so many churches today I want to reiterate your words of caution to those utilizing solos. The Lord is very clear throughout His Word that He does not appreciate or accept “bad worship”. It is critical that we diligently seek to make every element of our corporate worship time focused on glorifying the name of the Lord and drawing the individual members of our congregations into a state of worshiping Him as one; with one heart, one mind, and one spirit.

    There is relatively so little time we spend in corporate worship that I treasure every second and don’t want anything to pull me away from that mindset.

    When using solos, which is really more of a ministry to the body than actual corporate worship, I like to separate them from the corporate worship time itself, for example:

    Have a solo performance after corporate worship has concluded, maybe immediately following communion.

    Or, right before corporate worship begins as an exhortation to lead the congregation into worship.

    With the ease of having solos turn into performances, caution is the keyword.

    Blessings,

    David S. Spaggiari

  5. madelle October 10, 2007 at 8:43 PM #

    Hi Bob,
    I appreciate everything you have posted..i was a worship leader, now i gave the place to my bro in-law. I love singing with the group or the congregation .singing praise and worship to Him.
    some of our young people are used to sing solos or group at the stage. what can you advice about this.do you think they will not be offended if i tell them about this. We ourselves only knows about our motives when we sing at the stage…thank you..

  6. Bob Kauflin October 10, 2007 at 9:35 PM #

    Madelle,

    I’m not sure what you’re asking. Are you thinking about showing them this article? If so, I think that might be helpful, but it would be good to follow it up with a conversation.

  7. Co co February 26, 2010 at 10:22 AM #

    Should a solo have background vocals?

    • Bob Kauflin February 26, 2010 at 10:42 AM #

      Coco, I think the same rules would apply. If the back ground vocalists sing in a way that that encourages faith-filled congregational singing, they can be a real addition. If they’re singing strictly for “show,” they’re going to be contradicting their purpose for begin in front of the church.

  8. George February 11, 2012 at 5:22 PM #

    Bob,

    I serve at a reformed evangelical church to lead our worship teams. The order of our service is more formal, though not “stiff.” The lead pastor and I try to be thoughtful about each service, in pointing our people to Christ. Our typical flow: Call to Worship, Confession, Assurance, Song, Giving, Prayer, Sermon, Communion, 2 Songs in Response. I feel like our people are growing in their love for Jesus, not just for the tradition. And we pray and think through often if we need to “trim the fat” of our services, so people aren’t distracted, etc.

    The idea of solos have been asked to me a few times over the past few months by specific people. These are talented people and I can affirm their character as well. But I hesitate, here’s why…

    - Our preference. We feel like it would detract from the flow of our service.
    - Frankly, I have no desire or passion to do this. It would be more to appease than anything.
    - Their style doesn’t seem to fit our context (more operatic, classical)

    I honestly just don’t want to do it. Do you think it’s okay just to say no? I should make clear that I struggle with saying “no” to people in general. Leading is not something that comes natural. My personality would want to yes to solos, but my conscience (maybe too strong a word) wants to say no.

    Thanks for your help Bob.

    George

  9. roseann September 16, 2013 at 3:15 PM #

    Bob,

    I often times, am asked to sing a solo. But I struggle in being humble and not wanting to sound like I am drawing attention to myself. It is so hard. But I have been told after I sing, people are moved and touched by the song I just sang and it ministers to them and so on….

    But I still struggle because even though the song I sing fulfills the purpose of encouraging people in their walk inwardly I struggle against not wanting any attention…but when I am choosing a song, prayerfully and practicing…. I still have to work at sounding right and making sure the song is right for my voice and practice communicating the words and emotions…and as I am working through the song I get caught up in pride…my thoughts lead to dreaming about sounding really good and then I wake myself out of that and go back to feeling bad because its pride.

    Any advice for me? I have been asked to sing again and I am thinking of just saying no forever…..I am almost fifty years and I still can seem to get this right. Thanks so much.

    • Bob Kauflin September 16, 2013 at 5:51 PM #

      Roseann,

      Thanks for your humility in asking this question. I think you might be focusing too much on what you’re doing rather than on what Jesus has already done and continues to do! Our motives will never be perfect, but Jesus has taken all our sinful motives and received the punishment for them at the cross. That doesn’t mean our motives don’t matter. It just means that we don’t have to be paralyzed by the thought that we’re proud and self-focused. Work hard to be in tune and sing well! But do it so that people might see Jesus more clearly and know his love more deeply. If you find yourself thinking about how you might receive glory for your efforts, go straight to the gospel and remind yourself that your best efforts put Jesus on the cross. But because of his sacrifice, you can be assured that even your sin-stained works are perfected in God’s sight and used for his glory.

      Is that helpful? Let me know.

  10. roseann September 28, 2013 at 9:48 PM #

    Amen. Thank you so much for your advice. I said say yes to sing again and tomorrow is the day. I printed out your advice and will carry it with me to remind me before and after I sing.

    My husband also gave an “amen” too.

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