Embracing Diversity through Community Engagement

We live in a diverse country. One doesn’t have to travel far to see this. In any large city at any given time, people from all races and backgrounds surround us. In early October my family and I spent several days in South Florida where diversity is as common as the grains of sands on the plentiful beaches. Sometimes I think I’ve been transported to another world there because at any given time, one can hear multiple languages spoken simultaneously. I’ve learned also that people from different cultural contexts have different norms. I don’t mean just the different foods they eat, and so forth, I’m talking about differences in social customs as well. What may be perceived by some as rude behavior, is simply normal behavior to folks from other countries. Likewise, preferences, experiences, and taste in music can vary greatly from one cultural context to another. If we are not careful, our own ethnocentrism can creep in. This ethnocentric behavior can creep into the church as well. To combat this trend, I suggest that our churches grow and synthesize our people into multi-cultural musical worshipers while aiming to reach out to the diversity of the community surrounding the church.

Our musical worship should be expanded and enriched through incorporating varying styles of music. As we consider the impact that multiple generations, and their experiences have on a congregation, we cannot forget the fact that many of our people also have cultural differences that reflect who they are. There is a problem, however. Many of our congregations don’t have much ethnic diversity. Therefore, their musical experiences are vastly limited. But, just as I have claimed for other musical reasons, becoming more musical diversified in order to “attract” any segment of your population is ineffective at best. Building generationally and racially-diverse relationships is the key. It’s really all about context. As your church embraces and welcomes folks from all walks of life, THEN make sure what you are singing is also diverse.

How should we build relationships with our community which reach out to the diversity already present?

  1. Reach out to the local schools in the community
  2. Volunteer and support local civic and charitable groups
  3. Volunteer and support local ministries such as a pregnancy resource center, food bank, and the like
  4. Allow your church to be used for community events then be as hospitable and welcoming as possible
  5. As you become more varied ethnically, spend time learning cultural differences of those in your midst. You’ll learn so much just spending time with various folks from different ethnic groups than your own. It will expand you…in a good way!

Much more could be added to this list. The point is to reach outside the walls, especially if the ethnic make-up of your church is not very diversified. Then, LEARN from all and INVOLVE all, especially those with cultural and ethnic experiences different from the majority of your worshipers. Finally, be present in your community with the intention of promoting the gospel of Jesus through acts of service and love. Added bonus: Millennials and Gen Zers LOVE to get involved and put their faith into action (not that other generational groups don’t), but Millennials and Gen Zers are driven often by investing in their community. Get your Millennial and Gen Z leaders involved in helping plan and implement some of these ministries aimed at diversifying your local church community.

The Importance of Having an Intergenerational Choir

When I researched intergenerational choirs in Georgia Baptist Churches several years ago, I found that leaders of churches that are intergenerational usually have a philosophical reason to value them. Even those leaders that are historically intergenerational (but not always intentional about celebrating the diversity of ages in the church) still value that the generations are worshiping together in their church.

When asked why these leaders, who already serve intergenerational churches, value not only having an intergenerational church, but having a choir that is intergenerational, they responded with the following answers in rank order:

  • The choir reflects the age diversity already present in the congregation. Over 70% of those interviewed stated that they simply want the choir to be a reflection (generationally) of what is already present in the congregation.
  • The choir is the easiest/best way to involve multiple generations in the worship service. These leaders have realized that the music ministry is an excellent way to get all ages involved in serving in worship. What other ministry of the local church involves the youngest and the eldest members of the church (possibly even simultaneously) on a regular basis?
  • Older and Younger Members should learn from each otherThese leaders have identified what I call mutual submission or mutual learning. As I’ve mentioned before, there is something to be learned from young people. Likewise, the older members can pour into younger members the wealth of knowledge they’ve gained along the way. Each generation must learn to be submissive and respectful of all as the intergenerational church learns to co-exist and aim for unity (think Phil. 2)
  • It’s Biblical. What surprised me was that only about 20 percent of those leaders I interviewed even mentioned the biblical precedent for intergenerational worship. Of the 20 percent, the leaders overwhelmingly were older Millennials and leaders from Generation X. My research did not indicate WHY this was the case, but my thought is that our younger music leaders are being encouraged to consider the biblical precedent because they grew up in the “worship wars,” while the older leaders never were taught many years ago (and they didn’t have to) why they should be intergenerational. This stat tells me that we’ve got a lot of work to do to train all pastors to intentionally celebrate intergenerational philosophy in their churches.
  • Leader’s personal preference or experience. A few of those interviewed (actually most of these, not surprisingly, were from historically intergenerational churches) indicated that they felt the church should be like it always “was.” By this I mean, several decades ago there wasn’t the need to be discussing this topic and their churches are still operating in that same mode of “family” church.        

The church choir, and certainly instrumental groups, have the opportunity to pave the way for promoting intergenerational behavior throughout the rest of the church. The choir must work together to overcome music style differences, traditions, and preferences in order to lead in worship. In Romans 15:5-6, Paul writes, ” May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The church choir is definitely about making music, but more importantly, it’s a visual model to the rest of the congregation about setting aside our personal preferences, being of ONE mind and ONE voice, to proclaim the message of the gospel.

How Should New Testament Worshipers Worship?

I’m teaching Introduction to Congregational Song this semester at TMU. This week we focused on New Testament Congregational Song. I’m reminded again that as we come to the Father through Jesus the Son, we no longer have to depend on a high priest to offer animal sacrifices so we can find redemption for our sins. No longer must we follow arduous sets of rules and worship practices. We have instant access through the power of the resurrection. Worship transforms us as we meet together to encourage, edify, and express our collective thanks to God in the name of the Lord.

In the New Testament there were no new or updated worship liturgies beyond what was established in the Old Testament. Must believe that Old Testament worship practices were adhered to for the most part until Jesus came. A few elements such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper became regular parts of corporate worship then. What we DO get from the New Testament is instructions to believers about their “posture” as worshipers. While there is much more to be said, but consider these three well-known scriptures that stood out to me from our reading that I think have some powerful reminders for corporate worship.

Ephesians 5:18-20- …be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 Colossians 3:15-17- Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Romans 12:1-2- Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

What do you see when you read these scriptures together? What stands out to you? Here’s what I see:

  1. We are able to worship TROUGH Christ because of the power of His death and the power of the resurrection.
  2. Worship is NEVER about us. It is Christ-centric; Christ is the object of our worship.
  3. Worship is never strictly vertical. While scripture is full of references to vertical worship e.g. “sing to the Lord,” scripture is also clear that we are sing TO and WITH one another in a horizontal fashion. Read these scriptures again. Every single one focuses on a horizontal element in worship. We are to sing to ONE ANOTHER…instruct ONE ANOTHER…admonish ONE ANOTHER.
  4. Worship is an opportunity for us to express our THANKS to God in THE NAME OF THE LORD.
  5. Worship is EXPERIENTIAL. We are to sing and make music from our hearts, offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, have a transformed mind et al. As we humbly offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, Christ transforms us to be more like Christ.
  6. Worship UNIFIES US. Because Christ is the object of our worship, we are called to peace, we are and are unified by the message of Christ.

Friends, let the truths of these passages remind you our purpose in worship. While our liturgies might vary to some degree, the object of our worship must be Christ who desires to continue to transform us to be more like Him. Soli Deo Gloria

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