This week, I read an email from a colleague who was wrestling with the role of artists in a church that is actively ministering to the poor. He felt uncomfortable with his role of preparing songs while there were families coming into the church off the street who were looking for food and clothes. I felt compelled to respond to his wrestle because it’s a wrestle that I’ve had to deal with also.
Sometimes, I start to wonder how my salary is actually justified when that money could be added to meeting the basic felt needs of the poor in my community. Wouldn’t it be better for me to give up my salary to the other ministries to the poor and then get a job teaching music and tithe some more of my cash to the meeting felt needs? We all know that art and beauty are important and valuable, but if we do art when our neighbor is starving, we have to seriously consider the verses like 1 John 3:17 “if anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”
With that being said, here are some of the things that I have learned to give me the right perspective on this stuff.
1. Development vs. Relief.
There’s a difference between meeting the immediate felt need (a meal for today) and working to end the systems that create that need. Worship musicians in the church (and all artists) fit into the place of development and not into relief when it comes to doing justice. We point the poor and the rich alike to the gospel and the kingdom in a way that will heal the broken parts of the community which are the root causes of poverty. Find the purpose and value in your role and don’t be ashamed that you are not doing relief – especially because development is the more difficult and long-term process of doing justice. (I learned this from reading the book “When Helping Hurts” but it’s also classic John Perkins stuff. Read more about that process here.)
2. Stay involved in meeting felt needs outside of music.
My wife and I are foster parents. It’s a very practical way that we can love kids and their families when they are in deep crisis. This ministry has helped my music and worship planning because it keeps me out of the ivory tower of arts appreciation and in the mess of real broken situations. I don’t think that an artist who is part of the kingdom can pursue the vision of romantic genius who creates art in a vacuum. I’m not saying art needs a moral justification, but rather that artists (like everyone else) are image-bearing humans who have to stay in community – connected to the needs of the poor.
3. Do justice in your music ministry practices
Are the poor welcome in your church to participate, lead and share gifts in your ministry? Are you using just practices in how you spend the churches resources to equip the ministry? Are you actually inviting the poor and powerless or are you just singing about it? Are the songs and styles representing the voices of the poor in your community or just the powerful?
Some practical suggestions:
1. Invite a deacon to come to rehearsals
If this happens every time you have a rehearsal, maybe the folks with needs are just being drawn in like a moth to a flame by the sounds of your worship. You could have a deacon or someone who is on site during your practice to connect with them as they come in.
2. Lock the doors
Post hours when the mercy ministry representatives are available. Maybe include some emergency numbers. Don’t be ashamed of getting your work done – you have a job and a responsibility that has been delegated to you to fulfill.
Some books I’d recommend:
Evangelism – Doing Justice and Preaching Grace by Harvie Conn
Beyond Charity – John Perkins
The Dangerous Act of Worship – Mark Labberton
I just got back from Chattanooga and while I was relaxing with my family, I also had time to take care of some long over due meetings. I met with some of the team that curates ncfmusic.com and we are hoping to fix some of the glitches on the website as well as tweak the content to make it more useful. In addition, we were able to talk some about a music conference for 2015! If you are a church musician (volunteer or pro), you should make a general plan to travel next summer to our conference to be inspired, encouraged, empowered, etc. in the struggle to produce cross-cultural music for worship.
By the way – if you are a musician in St Louis and you haven’t done it yet, please register for the Worship Music Workshop on August 8 & 9.
I just posted a bunch of my songs to ncfmusic.com. Here’s what I added today:
I wrote Your Presence is Here early in the morning on Easter Sunday in 2008. I remember that because my son was born a few days later, and I had a million contingency plans in place if my wife went into labor at any point during Passion week. The song is about the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus in our regular worship practices. He is risen, and he is present in every worship service. It was kind of a response to the gospel hit that was popular at the time, “The Presence of the Lord is Here.” The song as well as almost all the others on this list are included on my recording, “Guardian Grace”.
Restore Us was written when I was in college and listening to Coldplay’s first CD a lot. It’s based on Psalm 80. This was one of the first songs that I wrote that really seemed to click with people in worship. We’ve only sung it once at my church even though we have a ministry called “Restore St Louis.”
Rejoice In The Lord comes from my jazz performance days in college. I was interested in what it would be like to use “Rhythm Changes” to create a song for worship. The verses were inspired by the Steely Dan tune, “Peg” The text is from Philippians 4. It’s a real harmonic work out for all you music nerds out there. I had so much fun arranging the horn parts for the pros I hired on the recording.
New Creation was written after I was living in St Louis for a while. Our church had a large group of Liberian immigrants who were struggling with some pretty serious sin issues in their community that called into question their understanding of what it means to be changed by the gospel. So, I had the idea of writing a song in an African style using the text from 2 Corinthians 5:17. The bridge is composed in the typical African worship fashion where the group repeats a short idea over and over and the leader embellishes/preaches over top.
Walk the Talk was the theme of the 2002 Urban Camp at New City Fellowship in Chattanooga. It was composed for that purpose and a team of African American high schoolers (including NCF-Chatt musician Nikki Ellis) helped sell it to the kids. Among the other things that were created at that camp were the “Afro Man” videos and friendship with a certain counselor that would turn into an engagement a year later. Good times.
Greater Is He Who Is In Us was also composed as a song for kids in our ministries at New City Fellowship in Chattanooga. There was another song we were singing by the same title that I was really tired of, so I composed a new one.
To check out all the songs that I have on ncfmusic.com you can hover over the “My Songs” tab at the top of the page.
This weekend at New City Fellowship, I’m introducing a new tune called “You Are My God and King” which I learned last year at the LDR Conference thanks to Michelle Higgins. The song is performed by Donnie McClurkin and it features verses in Spanish and French. How could we pass up on that?
I might be entering into a phase of life when the basic work of living life takes up all my time such that there’s no time left for contemplative activities like writing. Living life right now consists of some fun new developments that are part of my calling to follow Jesus. He has invited us into some scary places, but His rod and staff are a comfort and the yoke He has placed on our shoulders is both “the cross” in that it costs everything and yet it is also “the empty tomb” because it gives everlasting life.
Currently, my family is hosting two foster children. One is a 3 year old boy who is a non-stop flow of questions and energy. He has been with us for 6 months now and he is still wrestling with both the trials of his formal home as well as the loss of his former life. The other foster placement which we just received last week is a 4 week old infant who is still a little bit in shock that the womb-home of her mother has been replaced with a loud and crazy home of big kids, dog barking and strange caregivers. Currently, she needs to be held and rocked and swaddled almost constantly when she is awake.
Fostering is a strange life. It’s hard to describe it to people who haven’t lived it. It’s both intensely personal as you become “Daddy” overnight to a stranger and yet it’s intensely impersonal as you are treated with cold, professional indifference by the vast bureaucratic web that these kids are caught up in. Foster parents are asked to love and nurture a child in their home as one of their own all the while knowing that at any moment a phone call could bring an abrupt end to your relationship with this child.
The other thing that I have going on this summer is a little project in the works that a few of my colleagues and I are cooking up. We have called it the “Worship Ministry Workshop” and it’s a kind of low-key conference to encourage and equip our volunteers. I’m working together with Michelle Higgins and Mary Higgins from South City Community Church and Jules Gikundiro and Adina O’Neal from New City Fellowship – South to put this together. The plan is that we will give our volunteers an time to draw near in intimacy with Christ without rehearsal agendas, to receive gospel-refreshment directed at our particular struggles as worship musicians, and then to share some of our vision for what God can accomplish through our teams.
At this time, I am filled with anticipation for what God is doing in his musician servants in St Louis right now. The ground is tilled and the season is approaching for a Spirit-filled movement in this city to see a new thing come into being, a new wine-skin of songs and expressions for a new generation of saints. I mean something bigger than the next flavor-of-the-month music trend. I’m talking about a revival of the Holy Spirit working to heal and restore this broken, fractured city into the family of Christ. Of course, he’s always at work, but I just feel like his Spirit is opening the eyes of my heart to see how vast his love is for this community.
You can learn more and register for the Worship Ministry Workshop here: http://wmw.ticketleap.com/worshipstl/
SAVE THE DATE // August 9, 2014 in Saint Louis
Who: Worship musicians, leaders, and volunteers
What: resource exchange, training, praise, and fellowship
When: Saturday August 9 2014, Daytime workshops ($5 for participants) // Evening concert event open to the public
Why: worship teams from various churches don’t normally have the chance to gather in the same place to be participate in worship events rather than direct them. We will learn together, encourage each other, and share our experiences.
organized by New City Fellowship and South City Church
Contact: email@example.com // firstname.lastname@example.org
Adorons L’eternel (aka GAEL) & Alain Moloto are now on iTunes. Their music is the primary source of Congolese worship that I use. Available for download are several songs that we use: Yahwe Tobelemi, Eh Yahwe, Mwana Na Mpate, Medley (Je Veux N’être Qu’à Toi – Emmanuel), and Schilo. The only one that’s missing is “Jesus Le Prince Glourieux”.
Lingala worship is not just a Congolese thing. This music has spread over the whole continent and the sound of GAEL’s worship has influenced many other artists. I recommend this to any musician as a direct source to learn bass lines, guitar patterns, drum beats and keyboard styles. For American vocalists (especially those at NCF-U city), buy these tracks, make a mix for your car and get these songs in your brain and your spirit to sing without having to focus so much on the language barrier.
Two weeks ago, we had another African worship service at New City Fellowship. I enjoyed working on the service, but Friday night before the rehearsal, I got to experience the stomach bug that’s been going around. So even though I was out for the rest of the weekend, I wanted to share two of the songs that we added to the repertoire that weekend.
Moyo is from Congo and in Lingala, it’s basically saying, “Greetings Mother, Father, Youth” in the chorus. The verses say, “You can’t get to heaven by your riches, wisdom, strength, but you have to be changed by Jesus.”
Amenitendea is supposedly a classic song in Kenya. My wife says she remembers singing the song when she lived there as a missionary kid. In Swahili, it’s saying, “He has done it for me!” and the following verses go into what he’s done: “Saved me, blessed me, etc.” and then it’s offering praises.
I hope to have charts for both of these up on ncfmusic.com in the near future.