#RacialRec: What’s Worship Have to Do With It?

When discussing diversity and the church, people may wonder, “What’s worship have to do with it?” Well, according to @ScottWilliams book Church Diversity: Sunday the Most Segregated Day of the Week, worship has everything to do with it. Under the subheading “What You See Is What You Get,” Williams writes, “When it comes to embracing a culture of diversity, too many churches miss the mark for the simple reason they have a homogeneous platform (48).”

Homogeneous simply means one dimensional or everyone looks the same. If all of the leaders in the church are white, that does not send a message that the congregation embraces diversity. The “platform” includes people who are LEADING from the pulpit or on stage. Most often, “the platform” includes pastors and worship leaders (singers, musicians, choir, praise band, soloists, etc). The latter group is the focus of today’s post.

The platform normally consists of paid staff (at least most of the time), which means, these are the people making decisions in the church. From yesterday’s blog, we know it is important to have a diverse group of people at the table when making decisions, and we also want the right group of people at the table. Why? The platform includes the most consistently visible people in the church. According to Williams, “one of the many questions that people walking through the doors of the church, especially for the first time, are asking is this, ‘Is there anyone in this church that looks like me?’ Another question is, ‘Do I see someone like me on the platform, pulpit, or stage’ (47)?”

Over the past few weeks, I have visited several multi-cultural churches and they all “get” this. Each of the churches I visited, along with the pastors interviewed from multicultural churches, all clearly have one thing in common—a racially and ethnically diverse worship team. When you think about it, in most suburban environments getting a diverse worship team should be fairly easy to do, but that accomplishment only scratches the surface because creating an environment where a diverse group of people feel free to intimately worship God is the difficult part.

Having Christian friends from racially and ethically diverse backgrounds, from various denominations and age groups, while attending seminary where many of the leaders and students are in the thick of church ministry, I am not oblivious to the “worship wars” experienced in churches. Worship wars are not a racial or ethnic issues, but rather an issue of the heart. I don’t intend to over simplify this but I do believe the Apostle Paul has a word for our understanding here. In his letter to the Church of Corinth, he wrote:

I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak, I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings (1 Cor. 19-23).

Paul is not talking about changing the gospel or watering down the power of its message. Paul was one of the most aggressive defenders of the faith. What he is talking about, however, is putting aside his personal preferences so that he can draw more people close to himself so they can have a way to hear the gospel. Worship leaders, perhaps more than any single entity in the church, have the most influence over the atmosphere set in the church, and worship leaders should therefore challenge themselves to embrace various means of worship, not for their own sake, but rather for the sake of the gospel.

I was all too excited to listen to the following clip last month which reveals the importance of this reality:

Herbert Cooper from Catalyst on Vimeo.

Herbert Cooper position on the topic: “Be intentional…Give up what you love, for what you love more.”

In the article, The Straight Truth About Multiracial Worship, UrbanFaith also provides a fascinating presentation on this topic.

The lessons to ponder this weekend:
Get the right worshipers on the platform.
Be intentional about the choice of music.
Do it all for the sake of the gospel.

How is worship going in your neck of the woods? Any lessons to share? When attending church on Sunday mornings, what really resonates in your heart as a worshiper?

© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2012

2 thoughts on “#RacialRec: What’s Worship Have to Do With It?

  1. Been doing this for several years at the Greater Boston Vineyard. I’m a white guy who identifies with ethnic minorites on several fronts, so to go multiethnic has been life to me, not brussel sprouts (i.e., done begrudgingly because it’s good for me). We’ve worked for a diverse platform here and a diverse repertoire because it genuinely reflects who comes to the church. And we love it all!

    Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Our intentionality or actual diversity. I’d say both/and. We needed to make choices and, at the same time, we needed to receive the people the Lord sent, and we are still not as diverse as I’d like – nowhere near. Our song planning is intentionally inclusive of at least 3 strands each week: gospel/ethnic, hymns, and what we’ve come to describe as “white worship”. Folks here – both on the platform and off – like the mix but it’s taken years for the vision to be truly owned and celebrated.

    I’ve said many times, I’m not doing this to please anybody. This isn’t court-mandated worship. All of this music is worthy and expresses different dimensions of God’s diverse worthiness. It’s what I’ve come to call braided worship, as we attempt to allow each strand to be stylistically authentic rather than putting the music in a blender and making it all come out sounding more or less the same. To be clear, we’re only as good as we are at this. We try not to pick songs that aren’t well-crafted for congregational singing just to be inclusive, and we try not to play the music badly! Most times we hit the mark. Sometimes we overreach, and the musical results are lacking. What I can say is that we rarely miss the mark of connecting with God, and people find the inclusivity invigorating and challenging. That’s what matters most to me.

    One fun development is that we are hosting a gospel concert featuring a mass choir of more than 100 voices in November. The gospel choir director, David Coleman, is coming to our church next Sunday with his group, Confirmation. It’ll mark the first time in our church’s 15 year history when worship will be entirely led by an African-American ensemble. I’m going to have a great time that morning! Furthermore, David and Confirmation aren’t simply doing special music. They will lead our congregation in singing songs which our congregation already knows. It’s not going to feel like church members came to a different church that morning, just that they are being led by a worship leader who comes from a different tradition than the home team. This confluence of opportunities didn’t happen over night. It’s taken years of investment in multiethnic worship.

    Within the Vineyard at large, diversity is championed a lot, but in truth, most worship leaders I am friends with ‘know what they like’ and ‘like what they know’, and stick to a single radio bandwidth in their song choices. I’ve become more sympathetic to the archetypal white guy guitarist who can’t get his head around doing a Fred Hammond tune because it’s not authentic to him. I get his struggle, especially if he has his own personal style and sound. At the same time, I agree with Natasha and Herbert Cooper. That worship leader should just get over himself and, on occasion, risk doing something he may not be able to pull off with excellence for the sake of God’s excellence. If he keeps at it for a few years, I’m confident he will come to love it all as much as I do.

    Thanks for keeping this important issue in the conversation.

    1. Christopher, Thank you for providing such important insight to this conversation. I love what’s happening at your church! I think what’s important about the “archetypal white guy guitarist” example referenced, is that he has a willingness to try. One of my godmother’s is a world renown (that’s how I feel about her) choir director and her heart beats for gospel music. She would be quick to share, “Everybody can’t sing this type of music. It’s hard to do,” particularly when you have soloist or a some groups of people singing.” However, I sung under her leadership for several years as a college student. We had a very diverse gospel choir and God was indeed glorified because it was all about Him, people’s hearts were in it and we were willing to work together and try even if it wasn’t perfect (and sometimes it wasn’t).

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