I am thankful for the responses from students, pastors, and friends to my October 8 blog “Strategies Towards Multicultural Worship!” Interestingly, a common thread ran through those responses, one that reflected a shortcoming in my blog. I failed to clarify a vision for multicultural worship with respect to the style of music.
Consequently, the responses to my blog tended to equate multicultural worship with worship that employs a variety of musical styles. While worship services which employ a variety of musical styles qualify as multicultural worship, I had something else in mind.
Before describing this vision, I begin with two qualifications.
First, I don’t envision a liturgy or service which incorporates multiple liturgical or musical styles into one service. Personally, I don’t promote such a practice for, in the end, it gives shape to a service which resembles more a variety show than a worship service. Plus, for reasons we don’t have time to explore here (but will explore later), it tends to lack spiritually formative power.
Second, I don’t envision a liturgy or service which seeks to represent ethnicities and cultures not represented in a congregation’s community. I don’t envision, as an example, incorporating Reggae into a worship service when the congregation and community does not include Jamaicans. That approach may be culturally illuminating (and even appropriate when hosting a guest or missionary from Jamaica), but it does not serve the goal of a congregation whose desire is to represent the demographics of its community.
Instead, here is my proposal.
- If a congregation longs to experience a little heaven on earth by including people from the tribes and nations represented in her community,
- Then her liturgy will reflect the influence of people from those same tribes and nations.
- In so doing, the congregation will choose a default liturgical or music style to guide and accompany its worship, one style consistent with her culture.
- At the same time, the congregation will explore the boundaries of her default style with the hope of discovering prayers, music and more by people representing the tribes and nations she seeks to embrace.
Let’s expand upon those four points:
- This point reflects the mission of God as described in the book of Revelation.
- On this point, see my previous blog.
- Typically, a congregation selects a dominant or default liturgical and musical style by which she worships - and this is good. Among the more than 300 styles of music, we find Latin, Caribbean, Rock n’ Roll, Metal, Country, Rhythm and Blues (R&B), Jazz, and Baroque. Some of these have made their way into sanctuaries, such as Black Gospel (which represents a fusion of R&B and Jazz), Praise & Worship (which leans heavily on Rock n’ Roll), and Traditional Worship (which has been founded upon Baroque music).
- When a congregation pushes out from the center to the boundaries of its default style (Green Circle), it will find rituals and music which overlap the boundaries of another style (Red Circle).
- In the overlapping areas, a congregation may find liturgists and artists whose ethnicities, race and culture represent those of the people in her community. Once discovered, they will make certain that the Sunday services reflect the contribution of such people.
One might ask, “Is it that easy?” Yes and No! Yes, if the looks on the faces of the worship indicate anything. As one who has had the privilege of planning and leading a multicultural congregation, I can assure you that such efforts speak to those who participate in worship. I have seen the smiles on the faces, witnessed worshipful response, and received affirmation.
Yes, it is that easy. While leading worship in a multiethnic church, I will never forget the response of one worshiper who had been raised as a Roman Catholic when we sang Daniel Schutte’s “Here I Am, Lord,” or the response of a young African American worshiper when we brought out William McDowell’s “I Give Myself Away.” The style of both songs fell within our default musical style and the artists of each represented the cultures of people in our community.
And No. It takes time to stay abreast of the margins of a musical style. It takes courage to try new things. Plus, it requires more than one worship leader or liturgist for it we limit the planning and leading of worship to one person, the result tends to be mono-ethnic worship (that of the worship leader or liturgist). Ideally, the worship planning and leading team will include individuals representing different ethnicities, musical instruments, and vocal gifting.
In conclusion, when we promote multicultural or multiethnic worship, the listener often assumes that we are promoting the use of multiple musical styles of worship. In some instances, that may be the case. But, I suggest a different approach, one which affirms the default musical (even liturgical) style of a congregation, while exploring the boundaries of that style where we often find connections to a diversity of tribes and nations. Planning and leading such services challenge worship leaders on many levels but, in the end, it is worth the effort.