We hear a great deal about diversity these days. Truth is, we’ve always been a diverse society in the US. Our population comes from everywhere. Literally. The American culture is really a combination of influences from Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. We even have absorbed traditions from the natives who occupied the land for centuries before the explorers from Europe arrived in the 17th century.
So even though we live in an inherently diverse society, the call from many corners is that we need to be even more diverse. Of course, what that increased diversity actually means depends on the context of both the caller and the subject at hand. As with everything in life, some of it’s good and some of it’s bad so it’s probably best to move cautiously.
This is especially true when it comes to the call to diversify worship, or, more accurately, the music used during a worship service. On its face diversity is neither good nor bad, but it can be used for either depending on the motivations of those calling for it or the skills of those in charge of executing it. Or both.
Worship Wars: Diversify Worship
For the last twenty years we have seen churches go through the Worship Wars, with one group pitted against another in a pitched battle over what style of music is most “appropriate” for that congregation. Some argue for sticking with the traditions of past generations; others demand that the musical styles, forms and sounds of the day are what’s needed to reach out to a largely secular generation of young people. These positions are both worthy of careful consideration. For, in the end, isn’t that what true diversity is?
Unfortunately, the ability to respect the validity of the other view is washed away by what is essentially ego and fear. Sides become entrenched, and what should be measured dialogue turns into heated argument. And then the war begins. Stop me if this sounds familiar…
For those whose calling is to lead the people of God in worship, this is not acceptable. Ever. We all have our own personal tastes and preferences, for which there need not be any apologies. However, when those personal tastes start dictating how, why, when, and especially who gets to worship God in a congregation, it’s time to find another job. God is bigger than your tastes and preferences.
I’m not a church musician, but I grew up with a father who was. I run a company that has a mission to provide quality resources to church musicians, but I’m not a musician by any stretch. What I am, though, is a worshipper of God, and I can be moved by an ancient chant just as much as a modern worship song. If I don’t want to be put into a stylistic box, how much more preposterous is it to try to put God into that same restrictive construct just to appease our own comfort zone?
That brings me back to the call for diversity. I believe that God calls us to diversity because He is diverse. He loves the myriad of ways that His people praise Him. But what He (and those charged with leading God’s people should) despise is when diversity replaces Him as the object of worship and is used as a tool to divide congregations.
“Traditional Service” vs “Contemporary Service”
I cringe every time I hear of a church creating a “Traditional Service” and a “Contemporary Service” to settle the disputes over music style. That’s not diversity; that’s homogeny. It’s not building up,the congregation; its dividing it. Again, these types of decisions are always over musical style. They’re never over immersion or sprinkling. They’re never over wine or grape juice. It’s always over music. Always. And musical style choices like this are almost always driven by personal preference, at the expense of those who like something else. So, instead of unifying, we divide into our own island of preferred musical style with those who happen to share our good taste. Show me where the Gospel calls us to isolate ourselves from our brothers and sisters in Christ who like organ music or who like electric guitars. I’ll wait here while you look that up…
You didn’t find it, did you? That’s because it’s not there. However, what is there – in Acts, to be precise – is the story of Pentecost. On that day, the Holy Spirit was sent by God to interpret the words of the Apostles to anyone who could hear them, regardless of the language that they spoke. The Spirit didn’t give Peter the ability to speak Greek or Latin. It gave the listener the ability to understand the message as if it were his or her own tongue. God translated the Good News to everyone’s native language because He alone could speak them all because he alone created them all. He singularly is the ultimate diversity.
God calls us to diversity
From Genesis to Revelation, God calls us to love our neighbors. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus teaches us to pray for and love those with whom we disagree of they, too, are children of the Heavenly Father. God calls us to diversity – not because diversity is cool, but because He is more diverse than you or I can ever comprehend. And if we don’t embrace that fact, we are putting God into a box of our own design based on what we like, not what He loves.