Does Liturgy or Music Keep Minorities Away from Our Church? (Part 3)
September 9, 2014
In parts 1 and 2, I suggested that liturgy does not necessarily keep minorities away from our Presbyterian and Reformed churches. Following our examination of the liturgy, I wanted to pose another question:
What about music?
The so-called worship wars, as I read them, normally center around the type of music we sing and how we sing it. Are older hymns (i.e., that which is in the Trinity hymnal) our best option for singing? Should we eradicate it all, whether traditional hymns or contemporary music, and simply sing psalms? I will leave it to Dr. Jones and Dr. Clark to argue whether or not exclusive psalmody is the biblical and/or historic reformed practice. In the context of this post, however, singing psalms or hymns may not be the issue. Perhaps it is the absence of a choir? After all, many African-American churches--and other churches for that matter--have choirs. Perhaps it is the lack of African-American gospel music in our churches that causes our pews to virtually be void of minorities? Or maybe we need more instruments in our musical ensemble? Will that help?
There are a host of questions into which we must inquire, and depending on whom you ask, the answer varies as much as the waves in the ocean. What follows is my opinion.
Let's attempt to tackle one of the questions that I often hear raised. Do we need a choir? According to a story I recently heard, the answer is yes. Since many, perhaps most, African-American churches have choirs, the conclusion is that we, likewise, must have a choir. This addition, some believe, due to familiarity, will help our brothers and sisters feel more comfortable in our churches. There may be some truth to that, but ultimately it depends on the African-American culture to whom you are catering. Yes, you may need to reread the previous sentence. I did say, "catering."
If you have not discovered it by now, we are all catering to someone, whether intentionally or unintentionally. It is more evident, it seems, in those churches that have signs on their property that say, "Traditional service at 8:30am and Contemporary service at 11am." They are catering, which does not mean biblical compromise, to those who prefer traditional music (and liturgy) and to those who prefer contemporary music (and perchance less liturgy).
Catering is less apparent, some think, in some of our reformed churches that sing, for example, all hymns and have a standard liturgy, however we define 'standard.' To whom are they catering? The answer is simple: those who prefer singing hymns within the context of a standard liturgy. Categorically, these image-bearers would arrive at the 8:30am traditional service. An example is in order.
Several years ago a certain presbytery was pursuing me as a church planter. One gentleman in that presbytery, who wanted me to plant this church, said that he desired a solid Presbyterian church that sings from the Trinity Hymnal. To be Presbyterian, or in his language, "to be conservative," meant to sing all hymns. He further elaborated that a service that pursues this direction will attract a certain type of people (e.g., other conservative Christians). He recognized the link between intentionally arranging certain aspects of Lord's Day worship and the ability to garner certain people.
While some African-Americans may prefer choirs, some may not. There is not homogeneity among blacks that can somehow help generate a standard music practice in our churches that will guarantee more minorities come and stay (yes, stay). This complicates the ability to cater, or perhaps put in language that may not scream of affirmative action, contextualize our ministry.
If the community in which your church resides is ethnically and culturally diverse, conduct some research. Intentionally seek the demographic that is absent in your church and see what their church experience is. That will help you better understand the musical tastes of the people. This is ministry contextualization.
To be clear, I am not simply building an argument so that you can arrange your worship service ultimately to take Christians from other churches. More can, and perhaps should, be said about that, but for now, I will leave it there.
One final word is in order about the choir. I would go so far as to say that it is less about the choir in African-American churches and more about the enthusiasm, excitement, joy, and life the choir brings to the congregation. Can such joy and enthusiasm be produced without a choir?
As a brief aside, there is nothing wrong with joy, whether displayed inwardly or outwardly, and enthusiasm when singing to the God of the universe. It seems that many people downgrade these emotions as mere tactics to infuse energy into the church or polemics to engage the emotions. Can it be that? Yes. Does it have to be that way? No.
In closing, I wonder if what may be keeping minorities away from our Reformed and Presbyterians churches is the apparent lack of joy and enthusiasm while singing. Notice I said, apparent. We all express the aforementioned emotions differently. In many of the contexts in which I have been placed, it seems that those emotions are predominantly expressed inwardly. "I have joy in my heart," some say. The lack of visible demonstrative expression, however, may be a hinderance to minorities visiting our churches who prefer an outward expression of praise and thanksgiving. While no one has placed a sign above the door of our churches suggesting that you cannot outwardly express yourself during the singing aspect of worship, whether by swaying, lifting your hands, or kneeling, the atmosphere of the church may express something different. When no one is doing it, perhaps some may wonder if it is acceptable. Could this keep African-Americans away from our churches? It all depends on the context.
If this is, in fact, occurring (i.e., a lack of demonstrative expression is keeping blacks from our churches), how can we change this? Provided you are not insisting the Bible forbids such expression, maybe you can remind your church that they may express themselves in said manner. If they have never heard that from the pastor and/or session or consistory, how will they know those modes of expression are acceptable. Furthermore, if a minority, who prefers that mode of expression, hears that from the leadership, it may make her feel more comfortable.
In the next post, I want to focus particularly on singing traditional hymns and what that may, or may not, do for increasing African-American diversity in Presbyterian and Reformed churches. With such a broad topic, I do not plan to cover every aspect of this discussion. Whatever it is I have said in this series, I hope it is helpful.