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On preaching to the choir

I want to say some things to you about preaching to the choir.

I’ve heard that expression a lot the last few days. We all know what it stands in for. The choir is your core group of faithful. They show up every week. They know the message by heart. Preaching to the choir means that you’re not reaching anyone new, you’re not changing hearts and minds.

But sometimes.

You look through the choir and you will find some people who are exhausted. Some people who only made it because they gave their word they’d be there. They feel hopeless, lost. Some people are frazzled to a nubbin, and their choir robe is sticking to the syrup they spilled on their shirt at breakfast. Didn’t have time to change it and still get there. They got there. But they need what you have to say just as much as anyone who has never heard it before.

In our lives, we have very few conversion moments. Very few grand revelations. Today is probably not the day for yours, statistically, and there probably won’t be one tomorrow either. But there are a lot of moments when you shift a little. When you get a slightly different angle on something, and as it percolates through your mind, through your actions, you’ll get different angles on more. And one of the things this means is that we’re not lucky enough to help other people to epiphanies very often either. Demanding an epiphany out of everyone, every time is the path to disappointment. Quite a lot of time it’s the small things–the things that you and your choir might not line up on just exactly. Nobody agrees with any other person on everything. But sometimes you can show another person something smart and interesting and compassionate about one more thing.

A choir sings together. That’s a truism. But the most expensive recordings in the world, from the biggest recording conglomerates: if they want the sound of a choir, they don’t record a hundred people singing their parts separately and mix them. Not just because the tracks would be a nightmare. Because it wouldn’t sound the same. If you’ve ever sung with a choir, you know it’s not the same as singing along to a recording of a choir. You’re surrounded by people with the same aim as you, the same goal, and you’re working together to make it happen. Solo performances are powerful, and choirs are powerful, but we need both. And sometimes the choir needs to show up and listen together. Sometimes knowing that they’re hearing it together, surrounded by people with the same aims as they have in at least one area, makes all the difference in the world.

For most people, it’s easier to show up and sing in a choir than to sing a solo in the middle of a public place. And that’s okay. Not everybody has to have the chutzpah–or the talent–to belt out “O Holy Night” in the middle of the subway station. That’s not the shape of everyone’s contributions.

We have to remember, though: the choir is not there in this metaphor to listen. They will listen. But that’s not what makes them a choir. The choir is there to sing. I know this isn’t a home metaphor for all of you, but for those of us who have experienced preaching from the choir loft, we can all think of a time when it went on too long. When each of us–and every face in the congregation–yearned silently for the sweet release of the offertory.

So don’t castigate yourself for preaching to the choir. Just don’t mistake it for the only thing you could possibly do. Make sure you have something to say, bring them together, say it–and sit down, shut up, and give them the chance to sing.

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