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Rediscovering Worship Beyond Our Differences

Rediscovering Worship Beyond Our Differences

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By Steven Malcolm, Jackson Wu, C. Dennis Williams

By Steven Malcolm

I heard a story once that forever changed the way I view what it means to worship. My friend attended an annual youth camp that occurred in the Midwest, and every camp came with a groundskeeper. My friend said every day he would see the groundskeeper mowing the grass with the biggest smile on his face, so one day he went over and asked the man, “Why is it that you have a smile every time I see you cutting the grass?” The groundskeeper replied, “This is my way of worship and time away with God.” 

Renewing Our Minds

Romans 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

This Scripture was written on the inner cover of the first Bible my pastor gave to me. He told me that this Scripture would carry a lot of value doing what I do. What does it look like to worship? And even further, what does it look like to worship as a young black kid who loves hip-hop music and comes from the hip-hop community? I honestly never asked myself that when I started attending church and raising my hands during the worship part of service. 

When I circle back and think about Romans 12, and about the groundskeeper, I think about how it says “by the renewing of your mind.” It is almost like your original way of thinking can’t comprehend the fullness of what worship REALLY IS! A simple mind sees and hears only what it wants and/or likes. The mind is closed to fit its personal criteria and if something is unfamiliar, it is looked over. However, a renewed mind sees, hears, and carries a level of discernment of what it sees. It understands that not only are creation, skin, language, and culture different, but the way we worship our Creator is also different. 

Opening Our Hearts

The fact that Jesus didn’t even speak English is funny to me. Imagine a brown-skinned man coming into today’s American church and singing His favorite worship song. Without knowing who He really is, I wonder how many people would tune out and think, “Man, I wish He would have sung something from Hillsong.” That is today’s reality in some cases. This McDonald’s pace, “have it your way” state of mind that we have today blocks us from experiencing the worship God intended. I don’t believe God made worship a genre, style, sound, or community. I believe God made worship to be our daily lifestyle: to wake up each day, in the view of God, and give ourselves to Him the way we each best know how. 

So how do we rediscover true worship beyond our differences? The answer is simple: open our minds and open our hearts to the understanding of what true worship REALLY is. For me personally, I’m the guy who has everyone scratching their heads after worship asking, “What did I just watch?” For the longest time, the worship team and I from my church would lead worship as visitors at other churches and give them the hip-hop worship experience. The looks we would get sometimes would be sad and in some ways jaded me, but I pray we as God’s children will someday move past our own small thinking and remember how BIG God is. 

There is so much beauty in other cultures and so much to learn from one another. What if God intended us to have these differences to learn, grow, and love one another? There is newness in what we don’t understand, and until the day we open our minds and hearts, there will always be a gap to fill. 

Worship is a lifestyle, starting with renewing the mind. 

By C. Dennis Williams

Fifty-seven years ago, while visiting with faculty and staff at Michigan University, students asked Dr Martin Luther King, Jr about integration in the church. They were not only concerned about integration in the schools, but they were also concerned about integration in the church. Dr King’s response to the question was both profound and prolific. He said, “The most segregated hour in this nation is Sunday at 11:00 a.m.”  Even though Dr King uttered those words 57 years ago, we still find ourselves all these years later in a polemic, reverberating with the same issues. We are still segregated. We are segregated spiritually, theologically, culturally, and denominationally, and it is not getting better; it is getting worse.  

Recently several prominent black pastors who were members of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) announced that they are repudiating themselves from the SBC due to racial insensitivity. Several seminary presidents of the SBC have launched a battle against Critical Race Theory, a broad term used in academic circles to describe critiques of systemic racism. Furthermore, the presidents of the SBC seminaries stated that a fundamental concept in the struggle against racial injustice contravenes church doctrine, then they refused to change the names of buildings at the school named after slave holders.  

Pastors in Christian pulpits from my state of Texas have preached sermons urging their parishioners to keep their guns loaded leading up to the inauguration of President Joe Biden, while another pastor referred to Vice President Harris as a Jezebel two days after her inauguration. The vitriol and detritus that is coming from the houses of God are incalculable, and what I am so flummoxed about is that the church is mirroring the world rather than mirroring Christ. This scurrilous mentality is moving us closer to what 2 Corinthians 11:14 cautions us about. And no wonder, as Satan masquerades as an angel of light (NIV), when we really should try to become a Matthew 5:16 church: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”  

When churches find themselves contending with these kinds of divisive and degenerating realities, we must do a few things. First, congregations need to go through cultural diversity training, where we study the different cultures not just in society but present in the church as well. The rational for this is due to the fact that cultural differences did not just start today. They were in the Bible—Jews and Samaritans were always dealing with dissonance; Sadducees and Pharisees had theological differences. I surmise that if these opposing groups would have engaged in diversity training, then the training would have halted and eliminated some of the problems that they would eventually encounter. 

As we engage in diversity training, it is also equally important that we try to identify the personality of our church, especially before mediating conflict. In other words, is our church a spiritual church, traditional church, family church, etc. If we can identify the church, then it will become easier to implement new ministries because we will have a compass in knowing what kinds of things may or may not work in that local church. In conclusion, divisive issues will lead to a spirit of entitlement, but a spirit of commitment and service will lead to salvation.

By Jackson Wu

In 2019, our pastor resigned from his position to become a football coach. Naturally, many people assumed that a scandalous reason lurked behind the scenes. On the Sunday of his announcement, he explained his reason. It was the 2016 presidential election.  

The divisive antagonism of that year nearly ripped the church apart. As a black pastor of a multiethnic church, arguments over race took a toll on his heart and family. Slowly, he realized how upset and burned out he’d become. He had lost the vigor needed to shepherd the congregation well.  

Fast forward to 2020. The pastoral staff was determined not to endure again the trauma of 2016. And they didn’t, even while many other American churches found themselves divided more than ever. What did our pastors do this time? 

Intentional Preparation

As it turned out, part of the solution was being made ready in the four years between elections. A major value of our church leadership is authenticity. The pastors make a regular practice of publicly discussing their struggles and the sensitive issues that sweep through the church. Even among the staff, open disagreement and debate are encouraged. But reconciliation and repentance are always required if someone takes a conversation too far. This environment unwittingly prepared the church for the unprecedented spectacle that was the 2020 election. 

Well before COVID hit, pastors began reminding the church of the pain that 2016 inflicted. They forewarned of possible disputes and disunity looming in the months ahead. Our leaders used a two-pronged approach in their teaching. First, they intentionally sought to help people discern the worldview and values that underlie our political ideologies. They showed how each ideology seeks after a good goal meant to help creation to flourish. At the same time, each of these objectives, apart from the others, can become idols. Each of us might contribute to the problem even as we seek God’s best. 

Creating A Culture of Understanding

Second, the church formed small groups where people could intentionally process their views and the perspectives of those with whom they disagree. The intent and ethos of these groups were carefully crafted to facilitate discussion and mutual understanding. These are not places to filibuster about Black Lives Matter and in making America great. These venues gave people an outlet to express their anxiety and frustrations. They became places to foster appreciation, not antagonism. 

Several weeks after the election, our church has not merely survived, but strengthened. And to be sure, our church and its political views are incredibly diverse. What made the difference? The humility and vulnerability of pastoral staff and the foresight of our leaders to prepare the congregation for the inevitable occasion that would provoke strong emotions. Opportunities were created where people could be heard and understood. Our church did not close its eyes and pretend we agree about everything. Nor did we act like we are a perfect church. Such candor was a gift, an act of compassion by our pastors. 

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