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.