Book Review: The Next Worship

Today for “Natasha’s Study” I am reviewing the book, The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World by Sandra Maria Van Opstal.

The Next Worship

Why I picked up this book:

I received this book to review from my publisher InterVarsity Press and I was glad to review it for my friend, Sandra.

Who Should Read The Next Worship:

With this book, Sandra presents a wealth of knowledge from her diverse experiences leading cross-cultural worship teams. Any worship leader who is interested in multiethnic ministry, cross-cultural worship, being a bridge builder or reaching the millennial generation will benefit from reading this book.

Personally, I sought out the book because I am on a search committee for hiring a new Worship Arts Director & College Ministry Pastor for the multiethnic church where I am a member. I like to prayerfully make informed contributions and decisions so I was hoping that this resource could provide insight into the world of multi-ethnic worship, and it did.

What’s in Store for You:

Throughout the book, Sandra makes the analogy between leading worship and food. So much of the African American and Latino culture (in which Sandra is a part) centers around food. Even the sacrament of our Christian faith finds us gathered at a table of fellowship to reflect, remember, and celebrate our Savior.

Music is sacred. How we worship or engage people in worship makes it possible for diverse people groups to connect with God, and when we don’t do that in a multiethnic space then we are not honoring the vastness of God through the diverse people groups that he created. Through our praise and worship, God is present with us and we invite our sisters and brothers to know that God is near. In the book’s forward, Dr. Mark Labberton, President of Fuller Theological Seminary wrote, “Worship draws us toward God and toward our neighbor.” He is right.

Sandra makes a bold claim that “congregational worship should reflect the diversity of God’s people, even if a local congregation itself is not diverse.” Some may think that having diverse worship in a multiethnic church would make sense, but here she claims that whether or not we experience diversity in our worship, has nothing to do with whether or not we attend a homogeneous or multiethnic church. It has everything to do with the picture we get of worship in Heaven which John writes about in Revelations 5:9-10 NIV:

And they sang a new song:

“You are worthy to take the scroll

and to open its seals,

because you were slain,

and with your blood you purchased men for God

from every tribe and language and people and nation.

You have made them to be a kingdom and

priests to serve our God,

and they will reign on the earth.”

She continues, “we must create worship services that enable prophetic imagination in which people can see the future reality of God’s kingdom breaking into the present.” “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven (Matt. 6:10).” To the Glory of God, Amen!

Sandra provides some historical context, and presents the challenges and opportunities of different styles and approaches to worship. Throughout the book she offers practical tools, resources, and charts for the development of the worship leader, diverse worship services, and diverse worship team(s).

She also encourages worship leaders to step outside of their comfort zones as an act of spiritual formation, bridge building, and learning new ways of being and doing.

My personal take-aways?

Sandra presents an important opportunity that today’s American church has to reach “the unchurched, millennials, and people of color.” Worship can be an integral part of this outreach. I also love the ways that she intertwines worship in the work of spiritual formation, reconciliation, and the pursuit of justice. There are three ways in which she invites us into this transformation:

Hospitality, solidarity, and mutability.

Concerning hospitality, she acknowledges that “congregations typically do not adapt their worship to represent minority communities.” She reports from the Association of Religion Data Archives that, “the general pattern for multiracial congregations is to attempt to assimilate members of other racial groups into a congregational way of life established by the dominant racial group.”

As someone who loves music, and whose heart is shaped by worship, this is the single most challenging and disappointing reality of being an ethnic minority in various congregations over the past decade. There is little honor, respect, or celebration of the worship experiences that are unique to my culture but extremely important and necessary for me, especially in times of hardship.

What Sandra invites worship leaders to do is be hospitable, invite and lead the congregation into welcoming, honoring, and celebrating other cultures, their legacy, history, and traditions. This is also an act of solidarity. She writes, “Solidarity in worship transports us from the reality of the not yet. It reminds us of the kingdom to come. We can envision a place where we all as one body draw in closer to the glory of our God.”

Solidarity also brings us into a place of corporate confession and repentance. She continues, “Hospitality and solidarity lead to mutuality…When we honor the other, we display both the unity and the diversity of the church. As we learn from and receive gifts in worship from one another, we communicate, ‘We need you.’”

In this book, language can be a barrier: While reading, I have discovered that leading and developing worship is its own culture, and has its own unique language. I’m sure that the language used is common for those who are already in the field of worship; it was just somewhat foreign to me—much like a computer whiz who does coding, or a military Sailor who calls a “hat” a “cover.” Intentionally seeking to understand the language will help the reader like me better process this book.

Finally, I love how she invites worship leaders and readers into the model of shaped leadership. I have received formal leadership training, and cut my teeth in a military environment, so I know that the idea of sharing leadership is not normative. In the majority of the leadership training and reading that I have received, mostly perpetuated by white males in America, the message is pretty simple, “There are leaders and there are followers, and somebody has got to be in charge so why not me!”

On the other hand, women are more collaborative, and there are cultural communities that are more collaborative. Learning from and embracing these people, their cultures and diverse models and styles of leadership helps us all become more well-rounded leaders. As she quotes from James E. Plueddemann, “Multicultural leaders and follows need to be proficient in a wide range of leadership style, and know when to use which one.” I’ve had to learn this discipline as an African American woman who leads in various contexts, and this is an important take-away for all readers.

Twitter-worthy:

“The future diverse church depends on our ability to share our leadership.” @sandravanopstal

“Learning one another’s God story is what will lead to solidarity in worship.” @sandravanopstal

“The arts are rooted in the experience of a community; they tell a story.” @sandravanopstal

Diverse worship should not be a tool for growth but an expression of hospitality, solidary, & mutuality in reconciliation. @sandravanopstal

Quotable:

The primary reasons we should pursue multi-cultural worship, however, are neither pragmatic nor trends, but biblical community and mission.” – Sandra Maria Van Opstal

“By positioning ethnic minority cultures against white cultures we’re defining what is normal. In reality all congregations are ethnic.” – Sandra Maria Van Opstal

“Sharing leadership is…important for marginalized voices to be heard and marginalized values to be contributed.” – Sandra Maria Van Opstal

“Hospitality to and solidarity with people on the margins, and mutuality and connection with the global church are not means to an end but part of the kingdom work of God’s people.” – Sandra Maria Van Opstal

© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2017

 

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