Multiethnic Worship [from Christianity Today]

Michael Emerson, best known to me as a co-author of the outstanding book, Divided by Faith, wrote a very good review of a new book by Gerardo Marti entitled, Worship Across the Racial Divide: Religious Music and the Multiracial Congregation. A number of folks here at Eastbrook Church sent me links to the article because it relates to who we are here as a ‘multi-everything’ church.

This is the core question of Gerardo Marti’s fascinating new book, Worship Across the Racial Divide: Religious Music and the Multiracial Congregation(Oxford University Press), and one that occupies the minds of many a Christian leader attempting to do multiethnic ministry.

Marti’s answer is shocking.

After carefully studying twelve successfully integrated churches, he came to a clear conclusion:

It doesn’t matter what type(s) of music.

What? This answer seems counterintuitive, and Marti admits it is not the one he thought he would find. He also notes that it is not the answer most anyone gives, even those heading up successful multiracial churches… [Read more here.]

What do you think? Does music style matter in multiethnic churches? Should there be a ‘buffet’ of musical styles or one main style that everyone adjusts to?

What do you think actually helps bring people together across various backgrounds in worship?

You can also read three responses from practitioners by visiting the Unity in Christ Magazine web-site here.

11 thoughts on “Multiethnic Worship [from Christianity Today]

  1. I agree with Dr. Marti in that the music is secondary to the peoples’ relationship to one another. If we are coming together to make worship that is led by the Spirit, the notes will take care of themselves. Authenticity, in relationships and worship, is more important than song choice. Which is why I love the worship at our church….

    • Well said, Brian. Relationship is of primary importance not only from a sociological/experiential level, but also theologically. We are brought together through Christ’s reconciling work at the Cross. As Paul wrote to the churches in and around Ephesus: “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22, ESV).

      The powerful theological reality of Christ’s work in us then takes shape as we worship together.

  2. I think the question is not, “Does style matter?” But rather, “How do you consistently impress upon others that style shouldn’t matter?”
    On a theological level, Scripture is clear that the right way to worship God begins with the heart of the worshiper, not the instruments being played in the background. Some of the most moving worship I have ever been a part of took place in a mud brick building with the choir singing a language I’ve never spoken. It is the heart condition of the worshipers that binds a congregation together, not the style of the music, or even the words being sung.
    The answer is not in the correct buffet of style, the answer is in creating hearts that deeply seek corporate worship despite cultural dissimilarities.

    • Thanks for commenting, Tim. I do agree with you that “the right way to worship God begins with the heart of the worshiper, not the instruments being played.” From what I can tell, this book by Marti suggests that very thing. While Marti’s book is likely more of a sociological look at multiethnic congregations, we need to always return to this heart level.

      That being said, there are elements of culture that need to be considered in the way that we approach life together as church. If we are in a mostly mono-ethnic setting, this will rarely come up, but if we are in a multi-ethnic setting we bump into these cultural aspects often. It is part of the joy of being the body of Christ together. Music is an aspect of culture, and needs to be considered along with this, I think.

  3. I can certainly identify with the statement “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”, because before I came to Eastbrook I was never moved by the sound of bells, but listening to the Bell Choir at church has opened my heart to a wholly new and wonderful worship experience. There’s a woman at my family church who always yells out “Thank you Lord for the voices!” after some particularly moving selections. One time at church, I felt like shouting “Thank you Lord for the bells!” Who’d a thunk it?!?!

  4. Clearly our Creator loves diversity! Hallelujah! What joy it is to be free to worship, spurred on by the song that Jesus placed in my heart as well as the hearts of my sisters and brothers. Since the nations are promised to be represented in heaven, why not welcome the richness of diversity now!

  5. I’m not a big blog commenter, but this is really interesting. I do think that in multiracial/multiethnic churches we need to be intentional about having a broad spectrum of music, so I don’t think that style doesn’t matter. But I think the key is to get people from many races/ethnicities involved in both the planning and the execution of the music. Ben and Maurice can lead gospel music like nobody’s business. Femi and Tolu can help us sing authentic Nigerian music. Michelle and Erica can lead us in a Gungor song convincingly. Eric makes Baptist hymns come alive. Michael Emerson says here, “People simply are not trained or skilled in the abilities to perform such a wide range of musical styles. Even if a church finds an incredibly gifted worship leader who can do so, the worship leader will not be able to find enough volunteer choir members who can do so.” I agree! But if the burden isn’t on one incredibly gifted worship leader, then there is a better chance of success.

    • Thank you for your comments, Ruth. I agree with you that involvement throughout the church is a very important aspect of how to approach this. I see that as a significant strength of what is happening at Eastbrook right now.

      Although it can be difficult to combat the American tendency to turn leaders into superstars, I agree with you that sharing the ‘burden’ – and the JOY – of leadership together brings strength to a multiethnic church.

  6. I like Ruth’s point about spreading out the burden (and joy) of leadership among many who are able. As a missionary kid and therefore a bi-cultural person (Hispanic/American), I have to choose what I am going to be when I go to church most often. Most churches don’t communicate in both of my heart’s languages. I have to pick one. Most worship services don’t allow people to sing/dance/express in more than one musical style. Intentionally or not, they are giving preference to the people whose hearts connect with that one musical style. And intentionally or not, they are excluding others. I am a firm believer that music style is important and relationships are MORE important. Music is not the be-all-end-all. By no means. But, when my relationship with someone is important, I care about what they care about. And that includes music styles. I am looking forward to the day when people in congregations everywhere are standing up and speaking out for each other’s preferences, rather than their own. I believe that kind of Philippians 2 mentality honors Jesus greatly!

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