Xennials

Varying Music Types that are Biblically-rich 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.

Over the next few weeks, I will begin a series of blog posts related to choral literature in the intergenerational church. These blog posts reflect my research in the area of choral literature in intergenerational Baptist churches in the state of Georgia. Stay tuned…

Building relationships in your community is the key to creating a more diverse church

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. During the week after Christmas, 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. (more later on the music part).

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 was 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, 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 LOVE to get involved and put their faith into action (not that other generational groups don’t), but Millennials are driven often by investing in their community. Get your Millennial leaders involved in helping plan and implement some of these ministries aimed at diversifying your local church community.

In my next post, I’ll talk about some easy ways to use varying types of music in diverse ways. Most are very easy to implement and use.

What is it About Candlelight Services Anyway?

CandlelightJohn 1 ESV

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

 

If you’re like my church, you do some sort of candlelight service during the month of December. Many churches even pair these candlelight services with the Lord’s Supper. Unlike many churches, our church opts to do this service the Sunday evening before Christmas (or Christmas Eve if it falls on a Sunday, which it does this year). This year, our service was last night, the 17th. It’s always a special time and of course the “best part” is lighting those candles…as we hear scripture about Jesus being the light of the world and how we are to take the light of Christ into the darkness of the world.

As a young boy, I looked forward to Christmas Eve Candlelight services. Perhaps it had something to do with my fascination with fire (another story!), but the experience of passing the light of Christ and in unity celebrating that the LIGHT HAS COME and kneeling to receive the body and the bread made (and still makes) a profound impression on me. Sure, singing O Holy Night and Silent Night was great, but the kinesthetic action of experiential worship made all the difference in the world to me. Together…with my family…with multiple generations of my church family…together in unity worshiping the Christ-child.

Several years ago, I was sitting in a conference and the leader asked us to jot down the most memorable worship service/experience we’d ever had a part of in our lives thus far. Of the hundred or so participants in that workshop, ALL recalled worship services that promoted something experiential. Many recalled physical acts of worship, special musical times, and the like, as worship experiences that impacted their spiritual formation in a profound way. There is a reason Howard Gardner gained so much attention in his work on the 8 multiple intelligences.   Read more about Gardner’s Theory here.   (more…)

Xennial Christmas Music Memories

I am a Gen-X minister of music. Based on my birthdate, some would classify me as an older Millennial, but I feel like I identify with the Gen X generation more than the Millennial generation. Perhaps I feel this way because I am the third born of four children, born in 1977, and my older brothers are definitely Gen Xers. Recently, I’ve read some articles that have re-classified those of us born between 1977-1985 by grouping us into a new classification, calling us Xennials. Even one article I read called us the Oregon Trail generation. These terms are basically interchangeable because the characteristics described are synonymous. I laughed at the Oregon Trail reference, because it’s true, I definitely froze to death in Oklahoma while on the Apple II computers in the classroom-converted computer lab at my elementary school! Whatever you call us, there is definitely something about being born during a bridge period in generational history. I’ve included some articles on these terms that I think you’ll find interesting. It explains the dichotomy of being a bridger. After the articles, I’ll explain how being a Xennial has influenced my Christmas music memories and how I consider Christmas music to be a brilliant way to bridge gaps among generations.

Read here about Xennials:

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2017/06/28/xennials_a_23006562/

http://www.businessinsider.com/people-born-between-gen-x-millennials-xennials-2017-11

Read here about the Oregon Trail:

http://thefederalist.com/2017/07/21/finally-theres-name-generation-gen-x-millennials/

Christmas Music Memories from the Xennial perspective

As a so-called Xennial, I was raised in a family with Boomer parents and Builder grandparents in the same town. I had no idea that my Christmas “traditions” were somewhat skewed by the generational traditions of my elders until much later in life. You know when I realized it? When I started projecting my own idea of what celebrating Christmas should be to my own children. Let me elaborate specifically on the musical aspect of my Christmas memories…

If you grew up in my house, you developed a fondness for Christmas carols and holiday favorites from artists such as Bing Crosby, Burl Ives, Gene Autry, Nat King Cole, the Andrews Sisters and the like. I can still see the record covers today (my absolute favorite is featured here in the cover photo); they are etched in my brain. To this day, I much prefer these renditions of familiar Christmas songs to anything newer. These songs/renditions have been my soundtrack for the season for years. I can’t hear Holly Jolly Christmas or The Christmas Song without being transported to another time and another place; it’s uncanny! However, during my formative years, I learned all kinds of new Christmas songs also that are now “classics,” such as Mary, Did You Know, Welcome to Our World, Breath of Heaven, and In the First Light, among many others. I grew fond (and still am) of so many “newer” Christmas songs, but nothing “warms my heart” like Bing, Nat, Burl, Gene, and Andy Williams!

I realize that my “bridge” status between generations allows me to “talk the talk” in a broader way than most. In fact I believe it’s a wonderful thing because I love all types of Christmas music and can lead them (generally) with ease. I also identify with both groups so I can understand the differences that divide and try to find common ground beyond our theological beliefs. However, I’ve found that people in general prefer nostalgic Christmas music, which certainly is different for everyone. It is interesting to me, however, that people of all ages have a fondness for more traditional Christmas carols. People who wouldn’t necessarily prefer hearing a choir and/or orchestra any other time of the year are suddenly rushing to services offering just that.

One of the first churches I served had multiple types of worship services with varying music types. On Christmas Eve we would host three worship services with varying styles of music similar to the styles during the rest of the year. Even though at the time our most modern worship service had the most attending, our “traditional” Christmas Eve services were always the packed out ones. I remember asking a few who never came to traditional services why they chose to attend the more traditional service on Christmas Eve. Their uniform response was…”I like singing traditional Christmas carols on Christmas Eve because it brings back many memories…it feels like Christmas to sing these familiar carols.” At the time, I remembered thinking, “of course…I feel the same way” and then just left it at that. It got me thinking later, why is this the case? Recently, I’ve been grappling with the question: what if nostalgia, for nostalgia’s sake, can be hurtful to our spiritual understanding of musical worship? Can our “hold” on tradition limit us from experiencing the joys of “new songs?” Here are a couple of thoughts:

  1. When nostalgic music (and it can be newer and nostalgic) is more important to us than “putting a new song in our mouths,” we can alienate others.
  2. The converse is true. When we try to forget the perceived “tired and worn out” songs and assume that those who like them are emotionless, out-dated, and tired in favor of only new songs; we can alienate others.
  3. Because Christmas carols (especially those found in most hymnals) are universally sung and known, they can provide an excellent way to bridge the gap in services that typically don’t sing “older” songs. Want to try intergenerational worship services at Christmas? Sing something everyone knows (carols) even if the carols are accompanied by different instrumentation that you prefer, is a great way to start.

If you’re like me, and newer Christmas music is familiar, but not your favorite, you are not alone. This does not give you a pass to forgo newer Christmas music. however. It’s important to remember that of all the times of the year, Christmas is the most nostalgic, so use it to your advantage to incorporate new and old music in worship services. You’ll find more “modern” versions of Christmas carols than anything else newly composed. Use new versions of older carols, along with new songs to bridge music gaps in your services that speak to all generations.