Article by: Tom Lane
We used to live a world where hymns and a few choruses were what we had and largely deemed acceptable for use in worship services. But for the past 15 + years we’ve seen an influx of songs as God once again, like in times past, turned the heart of his people back to himself. Now there are more songs than ever and most churches have the top CCLI list in constant rotation. All that’s a good thing and it’s amazing how God has used some of these songs and the leaders who’ve written them.
One thing I’m personally passionate about is seeing the indigenous expression of any people group arise from their own creative community. It is powerful to be around the world somewhere and all be able to sing the same song in many languages. Used to be no matter where I went it was almost always 90-99% songs from the west that had been translated. Hardly ever would I hear a worship song written from within. As I’d get to know the musicians I’d find out they had volumes of music of their own just that little of it was ever used in their church. So a long time ago I started asking Why?
There’s always been a bit of a rub between musicians and the church. We’re historically very good at building boxes to put stuff in and anything outside the comfort zone is awkward. A brief look into history paints the picture of an ongoing struggle for artists and musicians in the church family to find their place or their voice. So it’s nothing new!
What I do hear is the discontent from both sides; the artists/worship leaders and the leadership who are looking out for their people. Both are scared to push the envelope too much for many different reasons. Can’t cover all of the reasons here but would like to talk about what we can do to encourage the new, unique, fresh, innate, creativity that should be flowing from the ground up in the Church. And being that we’re a diversely gifted group, thankfully it’s going to look different from one body to another.
Which leads to another? Why do we primarily look outside first? I understand not every church has a writer in the midst and by all means we use what we have available. But we should always be looking for it within and mining for it, even if it takes years to see the fruit. We tend to be importers more than exporters yet every church has something to give away. Again I get it but should and does it have to stay that way? Some of you have long been determined to change that and are doing a wonderful job. For others it’s still in the infancy but hopefully we can agree on the need.
Some things we can do if we are willing to make some room.
1. Plant some seeds: It starts young needless to say. Begin making an investment now into your future leaders and artists. Buy a sound system and donate a room, somewhere The Yoots can come make some noise. Try not to attach a bunch of strings either, let’em run free a bit. The point at this stage is not to only have them replicate what our older folks are doing. In the next 10 years it’s gonna shift again and we may not recognize much of what is now our normal. That’s OK! Many well known bands/artists have come from the church, unfortunately not many stay in the church. Some of that has to do with our own inability to allow and provide for an environment of true friendship to grow up in. We need to embrace the apprentice mentality; lead and instruct yes, but don’t tie their hands behind their backs, prohibiting them from being the unique bird they are.
2. Venture a go at it: In addition to learning the top 20 CCLI, begin to prioritize the incorporation of new songs from your own people. To do that you may need to educate both your writers and your people. (There’s a seminar a minute for just such!) For sure we need to become less critical and people pleasing in worship. Of all places there should be a safe and welcoming atmosphere in the church to receive what’s coming from one of our own. Instead of an immediate judgment of its worth in comparison to our favorite worship song or leader. It will be clumsy, messy, and not always good, but are we at least making room to try it? See it as tapping a well; in time if you keep priming the pump you’ll have water coming from your own cistern!
3. Build community and friendship locally/regionally: When we pool our resources and band together the impact is deeper and wider. Though we normally want to see it as our own thing, in truth we’re only a part of THE Church in our cities, no one of us has or owns the domain. Think about starting a local or regional gathering on a regular basis to exchange, encourage, and inspire each other. Pray and worship beyond your differences and ask God to be at work within your own area through your creative community. Great things have started that way and we all share it the benefits.
More than ever the world needs to see a band of united Christians loving and embracing our own well. Unfortunately the road is littered with too many that have witnessed the opposite of unity and run the other way. Sadly, many of those are some of the most creatively gifted the world’s ever known.
The work starts at home, it comes from within. We can only give away that which we have, so let’s go get it!