Striving for diversity in congregational song in the intergenerational church

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.

Music surrounds my life! My boys find it strange that my favorite music to listen to in the car is so varied they never know what I’ll be listening to. I will admit, though, I often have something from Latin America playing; it’s always a fiesta in my car! Joking aside, as a musician, I find that all over the world music speaks to people in different ways. Paul knew the power of music as well as he admonished the Colossians to use all types of 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 music. I feel blessed 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 and “holy.” Then 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.

if you asked most American churches to describe their worship experiences, most would say their congregational song includes some variation of hymns and/or modern worship music. From a musical standpoint, other than the newness of the songs composition, there is little really very little diversity from a stylistic standpoint. It’s interesting how diverse we really think our music is that many churches create services specifically to homogenize the musical style, rather than provide opportunities for diversity! When I taught high school choir many years ago, diversity of the literature was encouraged strongly to promote unity in spite of the diversity. However, our churches who should be beacons of light for the gospel, struggle to even find unity in their congregational songs!

Our lack of unity is no stranger to contemporary culture. 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. I encourage the writers of today’s congregational song to branch out into styles more reflective of the diversity of our communities.

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,” one 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.

4 Comments on “Striving for diversity in congregational song in the intergenerational church

  1. You raise some good points. Hopefully you will correct the missing ending of the sentence so I can feel comfortable in sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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