Strive for Cultural Diversity in Congregational Song to Promote Unity

Colossians 3:15-17- And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

My children find it strange that my favorite radio station in my car is the one that no one can hear–power off! Yes, I rarely listen to anything while I’m in the car. Likewise, when I run, I find solace in the quiet of my footsteps and the occasional barking dog. Sometimes it’s hard to explain to my children why someone who has devoted himself to music ministry needs a “break” from music listening. I don’t hate music; I just tend to compartmentalize my enjoyment of it since I’m “working” with music all day. Can you imagine what life would be like without music? Most of us cannot fathom a day without music to propel us forward or to simply soothe the soul. Paul knew the power of music as well as he admonished the Colossians to use music to remember the gospel truth.

Having been called by God to serve in vocational ministry, I’ve devoted most of my life to promoting, teaching, and glorifying God through church music. I feel fortunate that I enjoy leading and worshiping in most music contexts that glorify Christ and articulate the message of the gospel clearly. I’m an anomaly, however. Most people I encounter do not like all kinds of church music. In fact some are more adamant that certain types of music are genuinely more worshipful and edifying to the body. Further, there are those that believe that the presentation of “their” idea of worship music is somehow more authentic. Just like my penchant for “music” while driving, there are folks who given the choice in their churches, would rather simply just turn the worship team “off.”  It is vital that worship leaders be sensitive to this me versus them mentality and strive to integrate a musical atmosphere that is sensitive to the various generations and cultures in our churches.

Likewise, Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, knew that unity was important for the early church because sin would always creep in and cause division. Not only should worship be vertical (in praise to God directly), Paul asserts that unity could be achieved by singing the WORD of God to each other (horizontally) in a variety of types of songs. Paul knew that the early church didn’t have the printed Word of God that we enjoy today. These early Christians would need to remember the Word somehow…and singing scripture was an incredible way for the word to “dwell richly” in the hearts and minds of those early Christians. The songs we sing today should do the same thing. We must sing substance and the music should complement the text of Truth. Further, the various types of music available today should be reflected in our worship services.  Here are some suggestions to select worship music that reflects ethnic and generational diversity, while being rich in text.

  1. Text is most important factor in selecting worship music. Period.  Worship music should include vertical and horizontal expressions of worship where the people of God sing to God as well as one another the truth of the gospel. For more information, see this previous blog post Building Community in the Intergenerational Church through Music- Selecting We-Centric Songs
  2. Use black gospel as well as southern gospel music, especially if you have African-Americans in your congregation. We Georgians are well adept at singing southern gospel; our people are familiar with it. However, if we are to reflect our communities, we need to sing black gospel also. There are numerous wonderful songs out there to sing. However, I’ve found the best places to find these songs is by looking into literature written for schools and/or community choruses.
  3. Investigate music from Latin America. I love syncopation, especially the habanero and other cross-rhythmic beats. We have a severe lack of latin flavor in many of our churches. Just be sensitive if the presence of congas and a cowbell make some folks in your church squirm! Again, school literature often has more variety in terms of literature.
  4. Integrate music from Asian cultures. In our county, the Asian population is exploding. Traditional Asian music utilizes a limiting pentatonic scale, but there are some interesting things out that can be used if you investigate.
  5. At the very least, utilize worship leaders (players and singers) who are not ethnically the same as the majority of your congregation. Example, I have a wonderful Korean young woman in my choir who studied opera in South Korea. She is an excellent singer, but didn’t know many songs in English she could use in worship. I suggested she look at some oratorios she might be familiar with. She wound up singing “He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd,” during December and it was a glorious offering of worship.

The key is strong text, varying music types, and utilizing folks from various generations AND cultures. Doing so can really make the difference in the worship experiences for ages to come. I believe this is exactly what Paul was referring to when he was encouraging the Colossians to be unified…bring your various experiences and abilities and be unified in PURPOSE and the Lord will be glorified.


The Future of the Church is NOW

I think every Minister of Music or Worship Leader/Pastor should get outside the church and spend some time with students each year. Why? Because you need to see that students are not only our future worship leaders and participants, but they are the church of NOW!

I just spent last week with several hundred music students (12 from our church) from across the state of Georgia at our music camp sponsored by the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. From choirs, orchestras, praise teams, vocal ensembles, handbells, drama, audio/video instruction, these students have opportunities to hone their gifts for service in their local churches and beyond.

Each year I’m amazed at the passion and excitement I see from these students. The quality of training they receive is stellar. Some of the best in our field give of their time (mostly uncompensated) to invest in our next generations. I’ve had the privilege of serving on the faculty for several years now and I can say I’m encouraged each and every year by the talent and potential of so many of the students. In fact I believe that given the opportunity, many of these students could (and should) be used at this moment in their local churches.

My question to you Worship Pastor/Minister of Music: what are YOU doing to integrate these students into worship leadership at your church? Sure, it’s great to have graded choirs and youth choirs, but some of the more “gifted” students in your ministry should be playing piano and/or accompanying for a group in your church. The student with the great voice could sing on one of your praise teams, or the talented students who are interested in audio/visual ministry could serve in some way. What are you doing to ensure this happens?

Because intergenerational philosophy is so crucial to our mission, I seek to find ways to use our students every chance I get. We have student accompanists, use students for vocal teams/solos, and students for audio/visual ministry. I’m convinced that their involvement in our ministry as young people impress on their hearts the need to serve beyond their high school years. Truthfully, isn’t it worth it to invest in even a few students if someone gets plugged in for life? If not, the church of tomorrow will be severely lacking musicians. I don’t want to get into a debate about style of worship or musical styles because I believe there is room in our churches for varying expressions of music, but doesn’t it make sense to provide opportunities for the greatest number of students to participate? Certainly extremely talented musicians should have greater responsibility as needed, but don’t forget the moderate level musician in your church, my friend! We need all kinds in the body of Christ, and that extends to music ministry also.

At our church, we aim to involve as many students in worship leadership. For us, that means that we use choir and orchestra and graded choirs, etc. to fulfill the intergenerational philosophy we hold dear. This doesn’t mean that churches that don’t mimic our structure can’t invest in students, but I’ve found this is an excellent way to integrate the most people in our fellowship. I want to foster an environment that seeks to honor the giftedness of all and make a logic way for them to serve.

The pressure, worship leader, is undoubtedly high in your church to produce an excellent “product” each week. Taking a “training” approach to music ministry, like I have, takes guts and a supportive staff (my pastor is my biggest fan). The beginning product might not be awesome, but keep plugging away, training, investing, and praying for God to move and the quality will continue to rise if you raise the bar high and encourage along the way.

I often tell people, I’ve had/have key people in my life that invest/invested in me. They saw something in me that needed to be utilized for the building of the Kingdom. I think of them often and remind them of their specific encouragement and “risk” they took letting me accompany or sing when I didn’t even think I was ready. Because of their investment in me, I’m able to invest in our next generations. One generation to the next…

Psalm 145:4-6  (ESV)

One generation shall commend your works to another,
    and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
    and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
    and I will declare your greatness.

VBS Still Works

I could tell you story after story of the benefits of VBS, but I just wanted to share a few thoughts from our VBS which ended this week:

  1. Many of our students made decisions for Christ. No other event we do every year has the greatest impact on the salvation of our students. Each of the almost 30 students who made a decision for Christ will be followed up with in the coming week. Our goal is to get them plugged into the ongoing opportunities we have for them to grow in their faith.
    So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. 
    Isaiah 55:11 
  2. Our VBS is missional. We value missions as our students helped raise support and food needs for the Arabic Baptist church in our area. Our students need to know that the gospel is not just for us, but for all people.
    Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
    1 Chronicles 16:24 
  3. Our VBS is racially diverse. Just take a look at the picture below sent to me by one of our leaders. In this picture of one of our youngest classes, all races are present joining together as one unified body of Christ. The bonds of Jesus know no color.
    Worthy are you to take the book and to break its seals; for you were slain, and purchased for God with your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth. Revelation 5:9
  4. Our VBS is intergenerational. VBS is an excellent example of an intergenerational activity where the church comes together to make sure the next generations know the saving power of Christ.
    Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Deuteronomy 4:9

    Yes, VBS still works!