This is post number three in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry. These ruminations are in no particular order, they vary in significance, and I welcome discussion re: any of them.
Reflection #3: As a general rule, worship teams are more diverse than ever before.
I suppose I could put “As a general rule” in front of all of these reflections, as there will always be examples where the complete opposite is true, but the introductory qualifying phrase is more appropriate than usual here. I recognize there is so much room for improvement where diversity on the typical American church platform is concerned. Dr. King’s assertion that 11 a.m. on Sunday morning is the most-segregated hour of the week is still, unfortunately, true.
But that assertion is, at least, slightly less true than it used to be–and that’s to be celebrated. Especially in larger churches, I’ve seen more and more people of color leading, not just playing in the rhythm section or doing vocals on funky or gospel-driven songs. Change comes slowly, often too slowly, but it comes.
One area related to diversity where change has come more quickly in the Church over the past several years concerns demographics unrelated to skin color. Call it the diversity of superficial beauty. At the dawn of seeker-sensitivity, it seemed to me that churches actively attempting to attract unbelievers to their services purposely chose primarily (and sometimes exclusively) worship participants who wouldn’t have been out of place on the cover of GQ or Elle.
I wrote an article for Worship Leader magazine at that time entitled “Church Choirs: The Quest for Cultural Relevance,” in which I extolled the benefits of utilizing choirs, one of which was that “choirs help [militate] against the market-driven, we’re-all-young-and-beautiful vibe so prevalent on the platforms of so many ‘culturally relevant’ churches.” (You can read the whole article here: “Church Choirs: The Quest for Cultural Relevance.”) I went on to offer a critique on what seemed like the prevailing philosophy of megachurches and megachurch wannabes in my part of the world:
The power of images . . . is strong, and the predominant human images in our culture feature an alarming emphasis on youthfulness and superficial beauty. More space to, er, flesh this argument out would be nice, but, truthfully, is unnecessary. That American culture worships at the altar of the airbrush is self-evident. And when the Church reinforces that dynamic by putting only the most vibrant and physically fit of its members on the platform, where the spotlight shines most brightly, it unwittingly blesses the lies spewing forth from Madison Avenue. Utilizing choirs of all ages, on the other hand, allows the entire Body of Christ, warts and all, to participate in the leading of worship, a more biblically sound model (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12).
Fifteen years or so later, it’s not unusual for me to see overweight folks taking a significant role in worship leadership, even on megachurch stages. (I especially appreciate this as one whose metabolism stopped working, never to return again, around the second semester of my sophomore year in high school.) I see more and more older people on the platform as well. Both of these demographics were severely under-represented in churches pursuing contemporary worship in the not-too-distant past. (There’s a delicious, do-as-I-say-not-as-I-did irony re: senior-citizen Baby Boomers–many of whom ushered in seeker-sensitivity while ushering out anything or anyone perceived to be old and musty–still taking their places on worship platforms. In the end, of course, this is a good thing.)
It’s gratifying to see that the Church, which seemed to participate with such alarming willfulness in the genteel racism inherent in much of 20th-century evangelical Christianity, has been quicker to recognize and refute the sins of fat-shaming and ageism. (I would love to see the barrier of physical disability be the next one to fall. Yes, we will need to redesign stages, create entrance ramps for wheelchairs, and add dollars to our worship budgets. Let’s get to it.)
So while we have a long, long way to go, and though we will never fully “arrive” on the diversity issue (or any other sin issue) this side of heaven, my recent visits to numerous churches of different denominations and different populations give me reason to hope that we have turned a corner on diversity where worship teams are concerned, at least to some extent. We have “miles to go before [we] sleep,” as Robert Frost once wrote, but we are on the right path.
The second verse of Harry Emerson Fosdick’s “God of Grace and God of Glory” serves well as a conclusion to these thoughts:
Lo! the hosts of evil round us / Scorn the Christ, assail His ways! / From the fears that long have bound us / Free our hearts to faith and praise. / Grant us wisdom, grant us courage / For the living of these days, / For the living of these days.
The Lord be with you!
P.S. Re: last week’s post, the best resource I’ve come across to help worship leaders find words for worship is the aptly named Worship Words, by Debra and Ron Rienstra. Highly recommended!
Coming next week (Lord willing): The interesting irony of liturgy in “liturgical” and “non-liturgical” churches pursuing contemporary worship.