7 Compelling Reasons to Avoid Chasing Culture and Style When Leading Worship
The kind of worshipers the Father seeks are those who don’t need their cultural or stylistic preferences catered to.
Diversity has become a serious buzz word in our world, especially in the last ten years. And of course, this means the Church has largely wrestled with its definition (as it should) in light of the Kingdom.
Let me say up-front that diversity itself is an incredibly beautiful thing. The gathering of people from every nation and people group to worship and unite in the Lord is something we want both now and in God’s heavenly Kingdom forever and ever. Each culture and race are equally valuable and make up a significant and wonderful part of the body of Christ that is truly irreplaceable.
That said, achieving diversity should never be our main focus and should not be something we are chasing as leaders in the body of Christ. As crazy as this may sound, to do so will not yield the desired results—results that include people of every tribe, culture, and tongue at the throne of Christ.
Let me explain.
Unity is a much higher goal than diversity, and it must be understood that these two are not one and the same. In fact, if we’re not careful, we can achieve great diversity and still have virtually no unity. Just because people of different cultures and colors attend church gatherings together (diversity) does not mean we have Kingdom agreement with each other (unity).
Additionally, walking in diversity doesn’t guarantee that our church is operating in Kingdom ways. Maybe yes. Maybe no. But let’s not be fooled. Though diversity is wonderful, it is still not among the very highest of Kingdom goals. Nor is it the mark of a healthy church. How do I know? Simple. Because hell is going to be just as diverse as heaven.
Think about it. We’ll circle back shortly.
In this post we will look at seven thoughts on chasing diversity in your church:
- The Church with the Most Nations Doesn’t Win
- Appealing to People through Musical Preference Takes Us Down a Never-ending, Fruitless Road
- There’s no way to know which people group to please first
- Heaven and Hell Will Both Host People from Every Tribe, Tongue, and Nation
- Biblical Love is Truly Color Blind
- Chasing Style is a Distraction from the Real Issue
- The Anointing Breaks the Yoke
One afternoon a few years back, as I sat chatting with our beloved (now former) president of North Central University, Dr. Gordon Anderson, I learned something new about our God-fearing leader. He really loves music. He spoke in great detail about some of his favorite artists and even about the abundant joy he receives from playing his ’75 Ovation acoustic and his ‘70 Gibson Les Paul electric. After all these years, I couldn’t believe he’d been holding out on me.
He asked if I was familiar with any of the songs or artists that he deemed inspirational, but I was not. He hoped to let me sample some of them at some point in the near future. Bursting with curiosity, I said, “How about now?” After a bit of coercing, he agreed to make the short walk from his office to our NCU sanctuary where our cherished Steinway grand piano sat. I bubbled with anticipation.
What happened next opened my eyes
He sat at the piano playing chords and singing melodies from years gone by—unnecessarily excusing his supposed rudimentary piano skills—all the while, glancing at me with eyes and face aglow, giddy as a schoolboy.
I was beyond enthralled. In awe. Not so much by the music, but certainly by his skills, his passion, and the poignancy of the moment. He kept looking at me as if to say, “Don’t these songs just take the cake?” And while I was deeply fascinated—feeling great appreciation for the music emanating from those ebonies and ivories—I didn’t personally connect with it stylistically in the same way he did.
Funny thing is, I started getting my own ideas. Ideas of sharing a little of my favorite music with him. After all, I’d recently written some instrumental-movie-score-type tunes I was dying to share. (NOTE: For those who may be interested, I did just release these five piano instrumentals on all streaming platforms in an EP entitled, From Eternity.)
We switched places.
Amusingly, I began behaving in the same manner he had. Playing passionately, looking up at him with that same gleeful grin—the one that said, “Now, this is real music, eh?” Yet, to my astonishment, he appeared to be distracted—just as I had been when he was playing. He began to show signs of disengagement, as if he might burst out at any moment, “Oh, no, look at the time. Is that my admin calling?”
I was intrigued. And then the Holy Spirit downloaded some invaluable thoughts on why chasing diversity in our church worship culture is almost certainly a set-up for disaster.
1. The Church with the Most Nations Doesn’t Win
Have you noticed? Style of worship music has become the new denomination. Sure, traditional denominations still exist, but nowadays people tend to gather in churches with those who worship musically in the same way they do (with the same instrumentation and/or the same level of expression) rather than with those who share the same theology.
Some prefer piano and organ with hymns. Others lean toward gospel music with choirs and lots of musical/lyrical repetition. Some tend toward acoustic instruments like guitars, ukuleles, and percussion and prefer to sing in the round. Still others connect with a more youthy, synth-driven, high-energy genre.
Meanwhile, for better or worse, the cry for diversity has been challenging pastors to rethink their method of attracting folks of different cultures to their churches—mostly as a result of the prevailing notion that the church with the most nations wins. This, of course, often leads pastors to encourage their worship leaders to incorporate as many different styles as possible to appeal to as many different people groups as possible.
This is an error, because it assumes—devastatingly—that incorporating a diverse style of music is the key to building a diverse church. This in turn places the emphasis—a tiring effort—on chasing styles to please and gain attendees. A truth that is not very true at all.
Let me say it this way
I believe deeply that the “problem” of attracting people from different nations to worship in our churches will never be “solved” by diversifying our styles of music. This is surely as illogical as it is dangerous. Even worse, it flat out doesn’t work.
Yet, unfortunately, if we find in some small way that it does seem to work, we’ll surely work tirelessly in an attempt to incorporate each and every one of the culturally unique musical expressions that fill the earth.
2. Appealing to People through Musical Preference Takes Us Down a Never-ending, Fruitless Road
Do you believe building a culturally diverse church is important? That it is scriptural? Do you believe that incorporating just the right amount of everyone’s individual styles and preferences is the answer to growing a diverse church? A healthy church?
So many questions.
If building a diverse church is indeed of premium importance, we must first ask how we might accomplish it? Which people group should we appeal to first? Which culture? Which genre of music? And which genre within that genre?
I find it interesting. Often, those who talk the most about diversity in worship music only intend to incorporate two distinct styles. Pop-sounding White music and Black gospel music. There you have it. Tada! We’ve achieved it! Diversity. Honestly, this type of thinking makes us appear arrogant (or ignorant). How can we claim to have achieved “diversity” when we’re representing only a fragment of the world’s musical styles while excluding so many others?
I suppose we could study the population demographics of the neighborhoods surrounding our churches and attempt to diversify our music styles accordingly. According to a 2019 census, it was reported that the city of Minneapolis, MN is approximately 19.2% Black, 9.6% Hispanic or Latino, 60% White, 5.9% Asian, 1.4% American Indian, 0.0% Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, and 4.8% two or more races.
If we subscribe to this rationale, we’ll need to divide up our standard twenty-three-minute Sunday morning worship set in like manner. Approximately. We’ll need to incorporate 19.2% Black music, 9.6% Hispanic or Latino music, 60% White music, 5.9% Asian music, 0.0% Native American music, and 4.8% other music. In this way, we’ll assure a diverse congregation. Correct?
It’s tough. I truly understand why certain leaders buy into chasing style, assuming this is the best way to corral people from different cultures. Yet, if we start down this road, we’ll never find an end to it. Even worse, we’ll never actually reach our intended destination.
3. There’s No Way to Know Which People Group to Please First
Believe it or not, when I was in college, I began listening to a little rap music—some dc Talk as well as some popular rap tunes on the radio. I loved the groove and the rhythmic aspects as well as the way the artists explored controversial issues within their lyrics.
Soon I began enjoying rap music so much that I started writing my own rap songs. I even recorded two rap CDs (Another Alternative and Go the Distance). Yes, you heard me right. Two rap CDs. I wore baggie clothing, backwards ball caps, extra jewelry, and Nike high-tops. What can I say? It was the early ’90s.
Here’s the thing…
As I traveled to different churches and youth groups, performing, people had different responses. But I’ll never forget the night a tall, lanky fella in cowboy boots and a cowboy hat walked up to me and said with a thick Southern accent, “Hey, man. I don’t usually like that rap music, ya hear. But there was just something about your anointed performance and the way you spoke about God that really touched me tonight.”
A few years later, I followed the trends and started writing and singing alternative rock music. Similarly, one Sunday morning, an elderly lady approached me, pulled out her ear plugs, and said, “Well, son, I don’t usually like that rock-n-roll music, but there was something about your anointed singing this morning and the way you shared your heart that really touched me. Thank you.”
I had spent years trying to appeal to different people groups by singing a little something for everyone. A little rap for the hip-hop kids. A little rock for the alternative kids. A ballad or two for the young married couples. And a hymn for the older folks. And yet, just like that, my theory was shot to bits.Astonishingly, according to theguardian.com, Glenn McDonald reports that there are now over 1,264 total music genres and micro- genres in the world representing all cultures.
With this in mind, let’s ask again
Out of the hundreds of cultures in the world with differing music styles, which one(s) should we aim to please? Just about the time we incorporate the right amount of one music style into our services, we realize we’d better consider scores of others, as well. Thing is, even if we simply consider the seven major culture categories from our government census, we still have an enormous amount of work to do.
I’m French and German. So which culture should we incorporate if we’re hoping to get me to church? Especially since the French and the Germans have very different musical tastes? Maybe we assume all White people enjoy the same genre of music. Oops.
Or maybe we think because White people are the majority in America, their style preferences don’t matter. But then aren’t we doing exactly what we don’t want others to do to us? Lumping all like-skinned people together, assuming they’re all the same—with the same musical preferences?
While we’re at it, let’s ask another important, but potentially volatile, question: Is the responsibility to diversify our church populations expected only of large White churches, or does that same responsibility rest on Mung churches, Latin churches, Filipino Churches, Black churches, Asian churches, and Messianic Jewish churches, etc.? If so, what percentage of differing styles should each of these churches mix into their worship services on behalf of all other cultures?
Okay. This could get complicated.
4. Heaven and Hell Will Both Host People from Every Tribe, Tongue, and Nation
Can you see how easily chasing style quickly becomes a distraction? Honestly, chasing style with the hopes of drawing greater numbers of diverse people to our services is a bottomless pit. A black hole. Plus, it backfires on us.
Which is more important, a diverse church or a spiritually mature church? Some might argue that our efforts to build a diverse church prove we are growing toward spiritual maturity, but this is an oversimplification. Being diverse accomplishes little by itself. Again, diversity is wonderful and desirable, but diversity is not the end goal. Unity is the goal. (One of the foundational goals of the Church, according to Jesus’ prayer in John 17:21.)
Let me repeat the bold statement I made a few paragraphs back. Diversity is not the mark of heaven. How do we know? Because hell is going to be just as diverse as heaven.
Are you seeing this? Am I saying something that is untrue? Unbiblical?
Consider the verse we often site to justify the idea of chasing diversity:
“After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, ‘Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb’” (Revelation 7:9–10).
Here’s my question…
Is heaven going to be made up of people from every tribe, every tongue, and every nation? Yes, of course.
This should excite every believer. It excites me profoundly! But let me ask: Isn’t hell also going to be made up of people from every tribe, every tongue, and every nation? Yes, of course. And if this is true, it can only lead us to one important conclusion: diversity is not one of the defining characteristics that distinguishes the people of God from the people of eternal destruction.
Both groups will be diverse. Both groups will be made up of people from every culture. Those who spend eternity with God as well as those who spend eternity in hell will both be a part of a group that is highly diverse. Trust me.
This may be hard to wrap your mind around, and you may need to say it aloud—777 times: “Diversity is not the goal. Diversity is not the goal.”
But if diversity is not the goal, what is?
Love is the goal
Love is ultimately why people come to church. It’s why they stay at church. Not music style. We don’t need to achieve an equal representation of cultural styles, musical preferences, or skin color —based on our current population demographic—to be known as an inclusive, loving church.
We don’t even have to enjoy the same musical styles to prove we love one another. In fact, it would be atrocious if we all preferred the same styles of anything. Music. Food. Clothing. Dance. Travel. Art. Books. Entertainment.
Here’s the truth.
Growing a multicultural congregation (something we truly desire) is remarkably more about operating with a fusion of authentic love and Holy Spirit anointing than it ever will be about style.
5. Biblical Love is Truly Color Blind
This is the beauty of the Kingdom. It really is color blind. Not ignorant or insensitive to color or culture, mind you. But completely, 100 percent unbiased when it comes to our skin color or cultural backgrounds, and when it comes to the Kingdom value imbedded within every single person God created. Each person is equally and inherently valuable, no matter their culture or color, age or gender, economic status or IQ. Period.
Yet, in modern times, many have labeled this “color blind” phraseology inconsiderate. Mean spirited. Even racist. Meanwhile, it’s entirely biblical:
“For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, [no longer] slave or free, [no longer] male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.” (Galatians 3:26–29)
This passage helps us grasp the truth—once and for all—that God no longer identifies or distinguishes us according to our outward appearances. Or by our race or culture—our “clothing,” so to speak. Why? Because we are now a part of a brand-new culture. With brand-new clothes. A brand-new family. The family of Abraham. One culture. A Kingdom culture. No longer defined by the way things have been in the past.
We are now one creation in Christ
Not Jew or Gentile. Not African or North American. Not Australian or Asian. Not South American or European. Not old or young. Not slave or free. Not even male or female, concerning our identity in the Kingdom. We have all become little Christs now, and the physical traits that once defined us (and often separated us) no longer apply in God’s Kingdom.
We are all one big, beautiful, defined-by-Jesus family
What unites us has now taken center stage over what separates us. That is, the Spirit of Christ. Alive within us. Each one.
Honestly, one of the biggest mistakes we make is overemphasizing our cultural differences. This is the same as identifying ourselves primarily by the “old man” and not according to Christ. This, of course, is not to say we shouldn’t greatly appreciate and even richly celebrate our differences—skin color, hair, facial and body types, styles, and cultures. We ought! But it will never be our differences that unite us. It is our differences that make us beautiful, but it is our similarities—as children of God—that bring us together.
6. Chasing Style is a Distraction from the Real Issue
“Are you saying we should stop presenting diverse styles of music in our church services?”
Certainly not! I’m just saying we should stop believing this is the key to growing a healthy church. Here’s the thing. As Dr. Anderson and I discovered, the issue is infinitely more complicated than we first thought. Even as we blindly consider race and cultural preferences, we nearly forget generational preferences. You see, music style is a language. A cultural language, as well as a generational one. There are countless dialects that represent all the diverse cultures of the world, as well as both genders, and the diverse age groups of the world.
This is why older people sometimes say things like, “These new songs are hard to sing.” Not because they’re actually hard to sing, but because they’re written in a different musical language then when they grew up. A language that sounds “foreign” to their particular generation.
It’s the same reason young people think songs from the 1600s sound “old-fashioned” or “out of touch.” It’s all Greek to them. It just doesn’t compute. Nor does it inspire, lyrically and melodically. Not because it isn’t quality music, but because it is written in a language preferred by older listeners that is virtually unknown to younger listeners.
Therein lies the barrier: a “foreign” musical language that can (if we let it) separate God’s people. Yet, surprisingly, the solution comes not with attempting to cram a hundred and one new styles down people’s throats. There’s an approach that’s incredibly more effective.
7. The Anointing Breaks the Yoke
“Fine. What is it, Jeff? What is it that’s going to bring us all together in unity?”
The cowboy and the grandma had it right from the beginning. It’s the anointing. The heavenly language of the Holy Spirit. He is what (or Who) unites us. His anointing is the thing that transcends every ounce of our style and cultural differences to bring us together. He is the One who breaks down the musical language barriers between His people (all without negating their own intrinsic value).
It is His presence—experienced through His person and His anointing—that weaves its way as a single thread to connect every believer on the face of the planet. Despite our style and generational differences and preferences. Hallelujah!
God’s anointing is the “music” of all spiritual people. All born-again people. It’s the anointing that breaks the yoke of bondage (see Isaiah 10:27). Believe me, you can play a nice song from the farthest reaches of the globe in an earthly language I’ve never heard, and you’ll completely lose me.
But if you sing that same song under the anointing—in tandem with the powerful, universal, heavenly language of God’s Spirit—my spirit will rise up to join with your spirit in explosive worship, even if I can’t fully understand the words. We will be united in the supernatural in ways that are impossible in the natural.
Warning: Huge statement coming
It‘s not that we should appeal to our congregation through their favorite styles of music, but that we should teach our congregation to worship God passionately regardless of the style of music. This is the solution. We must teach this. We must lead this.
God’s mature believers must learn to worship Him passionately no matter the cultural style. No matter the generational style. No matter the music quality. No matter if there’s a great band on stage or a few a cappella singers. No matter how we feel. No matter what the musicians are wearing or even how they’re acting. No matter if we’re singing our favorite songs in the right key or not. These things do matter to varying degrees, but they’re all peripheral.
What many people miss is that chasing diversity puts us in a position to appeal to the fleshly desires of our church family, but chasing the anointing puts us in a position to appeal to their spirit. Additionally, chasing diversity often delivers exactly the opposite of what we desire. When we focus on style and preference, people learn that style and preference are king. But when we focus on the anointing, people learn that Jesus is King.
The truth is…
We’ll never create a church that has the perfect blend of music and the perfect balance of all cultures. And that’s okay because this has never been the objective. Ironically, when people attend a church that focuses on chasing diversity, they tend to grow angry at other churches who aren’t focused on chasing diversity. But don’t worry.
Once people realize your church is chasing the Spirit of God, they’ll stop worrying about the fact that you aren’t chasing diversity. And when we chase the Spirit of God, He will do the work of drawing people from every tribe, nation, and culture to our churches and to Himself.
Other Worship Leadership Articles:
6 Steps for Increasing Worship Team Effectiveness
8 Ground Rules to Run an Effective Worship Rehearsal
8 Things for your Worship Team to Rehearse
Your Guide to Smooth Transitions Between Worship Songs
5 Biblical Reasons for Spontaneous Worship in Your Church
4 Great Ways to Take Your Congregation to the Next Level in Worship
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