Voices of Fire
Streaming on Netflix

I have often wondered, watching an episode of The Voice (and, in the past, Australian Idol), what it would be like to have a musical reality TV series where faith underpins everything that happens. This is the idea behind Voices of Fire.

The six-part Netflix series, which premiered late last month, follows the efforts of Bishop Ezekiel Williams of Faith World Ministries in the US to fulfil a long-held dream of creating “the world’s most diverse and inspirational choir”. 

Jesus wants his people to be one body of believers, he reasons, so it makes sense to build a choir that is a true melting pot of races and backgrounds – not just to sing God’s praises as one, but to potentially draw a wider range of people to Christ. 

The word goes out, and 3000 people apply to be part of his choir. Three thousand! And most of them are from the area surrounding the church in Hampton Roads, Virginia. Can there possibly be that many good singers from such a small area?

Remarkably, there can. Bishop Williams and those helping him with the project – a local gospel legend, a choir master and a music director – invite 300 of the applicants to three days of auditions. After day one, the bishop muses, they already have “50 phenomenal singers” for a planned choir of 75 people, so he enlists the help of his famous nephew, singer-songwriter and record producer Pharrell Williams.

“Many of us may be damaged goods but... God has a purpose for our lives”.

Pharrell advises him that what he’s looking for are “unicorns”; that is, men and women with the kind of vocal gifting you don’t see every day. Yet he, too, is blown away by the level of voice and faith commitment that keeps walking through the door.

Singer after singer speaks of the voice they have as a gift from God; of surviving physical, mental, relational and life hardships by the grace of God. Says one: “Many of us may be damaged goods but... God has a purpose for our lives”.

This is a joy to hear and to watch, as they sing songs of faith and thankfulness in which every word has meaning – so much so that some are brought to tears by it. 

We don’t really see the diversity Bishop Williams hopes for. The vast majority of people auditioning are African American, and many who aren’t find producing the desired gospel “sound” much more of a challenge. 

Having said that, Bishop Williams tells them that “Jesus is equal opportunity... all he’s interested in is your heart”. And those who are selected for the choir, and pour everything of themselves into the process, certainly reap the rewards. 

Full-on gospel singing isn’t usually my thing, as it often looks more like performance than worship. In Voices of Fire that appears to be the case at times but, then again, it’s also a very different kind of worship from what I have experienced for most of my life.    

As we meet the singers and watch them go through the process of rehearsal and preparation for the choir’s debut performance, it’s clear their worship comes from a place of deep faith and trust. 

You may not always agree with how they express that faith – or with how Bishop Williams and his team express theirs – but amid the almost constant secular diet now available on our screens, it’s uplifting to watch a series in which the desire to praise God is unashamedly central.