RWC Part II: Backup Singer


(This post will make more sense if you’ve read the first post in this series.)

Let’s start by talking about women’s ability to minister in our churches. We’re not going to talk about anything controversial, like a woman ministering as a pastor or an elder. We’re going to talk about music ministry.

I have been singing in church since I was 12 years old (not including the children’s choirs I loved from the time I was 5), and I’ve always been called a “backup singer.” Though I have had, with very few exceptions, more vocal (and in some cases general musical) training than the male “lead singer,” and though in many cases I have sung with equal participation (melody, volume, etc), I am always called a backup singer. MANY times, it is just assumed that I will take harmony because I am a woman and therefore backup. When the lead is out sick or vacationing, etc, I have seen, many times, a non-musician man called to fill in for him, rather than having had anyone ask me (or any of the other qualified female “back up singers”).

I must be clear: This has never bothered me. I have not even batted an eye lash. Being a backup singer is not “below me.” I am happy to serve where needed, and I always sing with joy. It’s only recently that I have even started to notice these symptoms. Even more recently have I identified it as a problem.

What man would attend a church, willing and able to sing and frequently doing so, with 10 years of professional vocal training (including a college degree in it), and be perpetually relegated to “backup singer”? Even in churches where I have frequently been asked to sing solos (or even direct choirs for special music), I am a backup singer on Sunday mornings. I have never once been asked to say anything, pray, or select a passage of Scripture to share as part of the main music team, even though I am openly willing to do whatever is needed to help people worship through a time of music. Is it really likely that a man who has regularly sung in worship services for nearly 20 years would be able to say the same thing?

I am coming to realize that if I keep going to churches that believe in dividing church roles by gender, I will likely never be able to serve in music ministries as anything other than a largely unnecessary ornamentation* in a music team (unnecessary meaning that if I’m not there, no one would have to replace me for the service to proceed as usual).

Am I OK with this? I have no aspirations to be a worship leader. So should this even bother me? Should only women who are called and gifted as worship leaders experience being necessary in music ministries?

I submit that all women who participate in a ministry should be able to participate fully, just as men do. Hopefully, each person who is ministering is doing so in the strength of the Spirit. Let’s trust Him to lead us all to what He wants for our churches.




*Don’t even get me started on the propensity of “sound guys” to lower the mics of the women singing so that they have no chance of even being heard, as if we are literally on the stage to decorate it.

Published by Nikki Holland

I am a Quaker wife, mother, pastor, and writer. I work as the country branch director of a fabulous NGO in Belize City and I recently graduated with an MDiv from Earlham School of Religion. I love my family, and I love my community.

9 thoughts on “RWC Part II: Backup Singer

  1. I hadn’t thought about this issue before. In a lot of churches I’ve attendedin the States, the lead singer plays the guitar while singing and I’ve tended to think of the guitar as the lead instrument. If the lead is out, they bring in a substitute guitarist/singer (I think it has always been a man). I just play the piano but when Paul at GPBC would break a string (frequent event), I would suddenly be the lead (sort of) with the singers sort of looking to me to keep the rhythm moving. Here in Arnhem Land, worship is more informal and anyone can get up and start a song. It’s a small church with mainly Aboriginal Australians.


    1. Yes! This is true in many cases and an excellent point! Most of the churches I’ve been to have a separate guitarist and/or pianist, though. And even if they didn’t – many women (including me) play guitar. I like the idea of informal! That sounds wonderful!


  2. See, this just shows you need to become an Anglican 😉
    No, seriously, I was the interim worship LEADER for the past year and the LEAD singer. I’ve never been called or considered a back up singer although I have seen what you are talking about. I have temporarily taken a hiatus since they hired a “real” music director and I have the pastor and his wife begging me to come back to sing and lead some music (in due time…). I have no desire or calling or other inclination to be part of the choir. I barely do harmonies when Jim and I play together and thus when I happen to be singing with the choir for something I have them lower the key so I can sing the melody.
    At my old Catholic church the music director was also a woman and there were many more female lead singers/cantors than male.
    My current church is definitely geared toward allowing people do what they are gifted to rather than by gender roles. Our new treasurer is a woman. I am on the Vestry.
    I know you are not a wallflower who willingly steps aside when you are perfectly capable of something so I know that you would be welcomed in our church into any leadership position you were gifted for (well, except for “head” pastor and I don’t think we are eligible for Senior Warden positions but I’ve seen what they do, I don’t want it!). And we definitely need more “lead” singers! Well, except for, you know, BINGHAMTON…aka “soul killer” lol


    1. Liz… I am basically looking for your church. Ha! If we had been going to stay there any longer, yours was one of the churches in our top two to switch to. ❤


  3. My church has had women lead worship, but when they do, everyone tends to complain that women sing too high and it’s difficult for the congregation to sing along. No one has a problem with the gender of who leads worship; just the key the leader chooses to lead the singing in. I think my church would be happy if a woman was the leader if she were an alto, but not a soprano. ;-P

    Women have been asked to lead in prayer and share from Scripture at my church. And two of our elders are women. I know there are still quite a few people at our church who would have issue with a woman being an ordained pastor, but I don’t think anyone has a problem with a woman “preaching” or “teaching” to fill in (though most would probably choose to call it “teaching”).


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