By Sam Hamstra, Jr.
We will agree that the mission of God is to create a people with representatives from every tribe and nation. It seems to me that one cannot read Revelation 4 and conclude otherwise. Of course, affirming the mission of God differs from participating in the mission of God. Local congregations which do both, embrace God’s mission and take intentional steps towards becoming a multi-ethnic congregation. Those steps often impact the weekly gathering of God’s people in areas such as staffing, leadership, worship style, art, and more.
Here’s one strategy to add to the list, one that is often overlooked: congregational songs which reflect the diversity a congregation hopes to experience. Here’s what I mean: take a look at the authors of your congregational songs and determine if they represent a diverse group of artists. Do they represent chronological, racial, ethnic, and gender diversity?
I came to this strategy as a WASP (white, American, suburban, Protestant) male. I came to it at a time when many WASP congregations embraced God’s mission and began pursuing diversity as a congregation. They began to dream about how they could better reflect God’s plan for a people with many tribes and nations. Consequently, they planned and executed strategic measures to reach that goal, such as a diversity of individuals on the platform. Yet, upon closer examination I discovered that the music chosen for congregational worship was not diverse. Instead, most had been written by WASPs just like me. In fact, after a quick look at the “Top 25” list compiled by Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI), I concluded that nearly every song had been written and recorded by white males.
The question here is, “What message are we sending to a congregation when we only sing songs written by white men?” What message are we sending to those who are not WASP males? When I take time to ask those question of those who are not like me, I learn that such a practice hinders the goal of becoming a multi-ethnic church by suggesting that the worship of the church will be determined by the dominant people group. It says that you can worship here as long as you worship like us. It propagates an expectation, then, of homogenous worship.
Therein lies the rational for the strategy of affirming and pursuing God’s mission by selecting congregational songs which reflect the diversity a congregation hopes to experience. This is why I encourage those planning worship to select worship music written and/or recorded by a variety of people groups and ages.
Now let’s move from theory to practice. Here’s a good first step for those readers who serve predominantly white congregations which long to experience a little heaven on earth through the diversity of several tribes and nations. Limit the number of congregational songs written by white men by broadening your congregation’s repertoire to include music written by women, by African-Americans, and by Latinos. Songs by each of those groups are readily accessible. Here are some that I have found to be a good fit for both the worship of multi-ethnic congregations and for WASP congregations seeking multi-ethnicity.
• Here’s a great call to worship: “O Magnify the Lord” by Arthur Dyer and recorded by Bishop T.D. Jakes and Potter’s House.
• Here’s a wonderful song of praise to the Lord: “Magnificent” by Ken Singleton of New York. Check out these lyrics:
Magnificent, my glorious God and King, Wonderful.
Magnificent, Creator of all things, powerful.
Who can compare to you? None can compare to you.
No one so magnificent as You.
• How can it go wrong when singing “Because of Who You Are” by Martha Munizzi?
• Here’s another song of praise: “No Other Name” by Freddy Rodriguez, the worship leader for the Champion Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
• If you have a choir, look no further than “Total Praise” by Richard Smallwood, and surely check out the growing body of work by Cynthia Cymbala, director of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.
• Here’s a great song of testimony: “Your Faithfulness” by Ken Reynolds of Resurrection Life Church in Grand Rapids, MI
• Here’s a powerful song of commitment: “I Give Myself Away” by the up and coming William McDowell.
In conclusion, I encourage worship leaders for congregations which take intentional steps towards affirming the diversity of God’s people to take a look at the authors of the congregational songs to determine if they represent a diverse group of artists. God has poured out the Spirit upon men and women of countless tribes and nations. As a result, many songs have been written for congregational worship. Let’s not limit ourselves to the songs of but one tribe when, with a little work, we can be exposed to the Spirit’s work among other people groups – and, in the process, affirm the mission of God.
Sam Hamstra, Jr. is the Affiliate Professor of Worship and Church History at Northern Seminary (Lombard, IL), the founder and president of ChapterNext (chapter-next.com) , a Chicagoland based church consultancy, and a pastor who has been planning and leading worship for over thirty years.