I believe it is important for worship leaders to think deeply about theology, leadership, vision, sociology, and as a result, I am grateful for several things about Dr. Marti’s work. First, he clearly states and reiterates frequently “music is never simply acoustic.” Because of his expertise in sociology, Marti thoroughly highlights the sociological aspects involved in corporate musical worship. These are important for us as worship leaders to consider. I believe wholeheartedly that the interaction between worship team members is more important than the music itself. Secondly, Marti clearly states that no one knows “what manner of worship is best for stimulating and accelerating racial and ethnic diversity in churches.” Absolutely. There is no one-size-fits-all method or approach to multicultural worship. Each congregation and combination of cultures is unique. Thirdly, Marti also makes a great point that music does not affect everyone from a specific race or culture in the same way. In my work to help churches transition from monocultural to multicultural as it relates to worship, I encourage a relational and dialogical approach. For example, recently, as I facilitated a dialogue among the members of a “Worship Renewal” team of a small congregation, it was totally surprising to a white member of the team that one of the black participants did not like gospel music, but preferred CCM. It is important that we not generalize, though it is extremely difficult, maybe even impossible to avoid completely.
On that note…I have been encouraged to think about myself and where I fall in Marti’s quadrants of “Philosophies of Music Guiding Music Selection” (Table 6.1). I found this to be quite frustrating. It was easy for me to recognize myself as someone with High Racial Awareness and High Musical Variety. Last week, I led worship at a Sudanese church, completely in Arabic. The week before that I led in English, Spanish, Creole, Swahili, French, Yoruba, and American Sign Language. I have a classical music degree. I am bi-cultural myself as a former missionary kid. I interact daily with people from different cultures than my own, and have frequent discussions on culture and its effects on individuals and society. So, according to Marti’s table, I am a “Pluralist.” However, I do not adopt musical styles based on my “notions of race” as Marti asserts. I adopt them based on friendship, relationship, dialogue, and sharing. As I meet believers from other cultures, I ask them to share songs with me that they find particularly worshipful. I ask them why they connect with these songs. And, I learn their songs and they become a part of who I am. Marti states, “Pluralists firmly believe every racial-ethnic group has a style of music best suited to them.” I disagree. I wholeheartedly believe that every individual has a style (or more than one!) of music that I would call their “heart music”…this stirs them on an emotional level. I believe you can develop new “heart music” and that this is not something that has to be (or even should be) static throughout one’s life. I am a living example of this. Right now, if I were to choose a musical style that expresses my heart to the Lord, it would be a toss up between Black Gospel and Christian “bhajans” (devotional songs) in Hindi. You can’t tell by looking at someone what kind of music will connect with their heart. This is one reason that relationship, dialogue, and cross-cultural collaboration are vital to inform and inspire corporate multicultural worship expression. And on that note, let’s dialogue!
Josh Davis is the founder of PROSKUNEO MINISTRIES, INC., a non-denominational, international ministry that exists for the purpose of bringing the nations together in worship.
As a worship leader, I was encouraged to see that someone had written a book within the last year or two that centered primarily around the topic of multicultural worship music. Worship Across the Racial Divide is a thoughtful and well-researched resource and I could see this book becoming a valuable resource for college and university programs that offer degree programs in Worship Music Ministry. The book gives a wonderful history of worship music in the church and addresses the importance of music in different cultures. I particularly enjoyed reading the chapter entitled African Americans as the Icon of “True Worship”.
At Bridgeway Community Church, our worship and music decisions have been made based on what the book might refer to as “fusion”. Our church has held the value high of “having church” together and finding a way to craft a worship service that incorporates various forms of cultural expression. Weekly worship services at Bridgeway incorporate stylistic diversity, genre diversity, language diversity (including ASL), as well as instrumental diversity. We have found that blending these elements together allows us the opportunity to leverage culture. The congregation is able to hear songs and scriptures in their native languages as well as learn the languages and songs of other ethnicities that exist within our church. Worship from week-to-week is a lovely array of different musical expressions. While some arguments of blended worship have presumed that blending cultural elements in one service may lead to a watered-down version of a cultural experience, that has not been our experience at Bridgeway. Over the years, we have seen the worship IQ of our congregation rise and we are watching them even consider one another’s worship preferences over their own.
I appreciate the time investment and careful research with which Dr. Marti has given the subject of multicultural ministry. And while I believe that leaders of multicultural music ministries would still benefit from a resource written by a day-to-day practitioner of multicultural ministry, I could not agree more with his conclusions at the end of this book: As I continued to pursue my research, I came to understand that it is not the acoustics of musical style but rather the visible presence of diversity—a racialized ritual inclusion—that stimulates integration of different racial and ethnic groups into their churches [pg. 198]. It is about people. People coming together from different cultures and ethnic groups, setting their personal preferences aside and worshipping our Lord, Jesus Christ who has made us one.
Nikki Lerner is the Director of Worship at Bridgeway Community Church in Columbia, MD and contributor to Multicultural Ministry Handbook: Connecting Creatively to a Diverse World (IVP)
Hi, I’m Jeff.
I’m a pluralist . . .
(We love you, Jeff!)
. . . addicted, well, “consumed with preparing and cultivating musical variety on the basis of appealing to different racial and ethnic groups” (p. 132).
It all started 5 years ago when the mono-ethnic church I was serving charted a new course of ministry toward becoming a “Christ centered community for all people.” A fresh understanding and application of the Gospel coupled with a desire to remain vital in our formerly-white-now-multi-ethnic community, led our church leadership to re-vision our ministry from a suburban past to an urban future.
As the Worship Pastor, I was charged with answering the questions: What does worship in a multi-ethnic church look like and sound like? What steps need to be taken to help in transforming a white congregation to a diverse one? How can the “face” of the church (our worship celebrations) help fuel and realize the vision?
Without reading the book or attending the conference, I assumed (some would say blindly!) that including different musical and spoken languages, re-shaping our rather typical music ministry structures, and being intentional about diversity on the platform were practical ways to begin answering those questions. The result of that assumption has been to ask myself in worship planning, “What is the multi-ethnic element (or elements) in our gathering this week?” It may be a person of color involved in some aspect of leading; it may be including a song with some “neck” (as my friend, Nikki, says); it may be someone praying in a different language; it may mean passing on teaching the congregation the latest Crowder tune in favor of learning a song in Arabic.
Dr. Marti’s research, however, concludes that this pluralistic approach to multi-ethnic worship isn’t necessary, at best, and disingenuous, at worst. “Any approach to music selection can work, and leaders do not need to be racially or ethnically conscious in their musical selections in order to create services where people of all ancestral backgrounds can truly worship” (p. 149). And, speaking of whites attempting racial musical styles: “Such music is fake, and rather than bringing in diverse people will fail due to its lack of substantive connection to the real lives of people” (p. 131). Honestly, I argued with Dr. Marti most of the way through the book but was beginning to feel an openness to his perspective due to the thoroughness of his research (and who am I to argue with an esteemed professor!).
Then I had coffee with Jersin. He is a 28-year old from Cameroon. He recently started attending our church and because I was in the thick of sifting through this material, I asked him about the impact of the different cultural elements in our gatherings. “The second week I came you sang a song in Spanish. Even though that’s not my language, I realized that as a church you welcomed people from different cultures. Then in November, when you sang a song in Yoruba, it really connected with my heart.”
I realize Jersin’s response is anecdotal. But it’s real and it’s happening in my church.
Jeff McCourt, Pastor of Worship Music and Celebration Arts – New Hope Church in New Hope, MN