Archive for category Multi-Cultural Ministry

A question from a college student

Here’s a note that I received from a former youth group member at my church and my response. I thought it might be helpful for other folks to read – or to add any more comments in response to the student’s questions.

…The reason I am messaging you is because I have a question about leading worship services in many languages. I am a part of Resident’s Life this year in my dorm and am the leader of my team of 12 students, one to represent each floor in my dorm. We are in the process of planning an all-dorm worship night which we have done a few of in the past, but this time we are trying to incorporate diversity of languages in singing and in scripture reading, and praying styles. My question for you is how do you do this authentically and in a way that represents real cultures, people, and languages that are members of the community in a way that makes them feel included but also runs logistically smooth to an extent? I don’t want this to be something we just do because we “should” but because it is a real way to be inclusive of the (somewhat) diverse community that we live in- majority white with Spanish and Korean languages being the two other most represented. My team who is leading and in charge of this event is majority white and we are struggling with wanting to incorporate this form of appreciation for diversity in worship and not wanting to overstep or lead something in a way that would be offensive or divisive. If you have any thoughts for me they would be greatly appreciated. I know this sort of thing is extremely difficult and can easily fail but the Lord has put it on my heart to try to incorporate these conversation topics into our efforts to build community in a dorm that is focused on living for Christ and growing in unity and love for one another. Thank you for taking the time to read all of this and please let me know what you think, Thanks so much… 

Thanks for writing and I find it encouraging that you are even asking these questions – you would be surprised how many people just crash into cultural walls without any sensitivity. I would encourage you and maybe your team to check out these videos made by InterVarsity that kind of address the whole idea of diverse worship in a very winsome manner. http://mem.intervarsity.org/mem/diverseworship

The next step would be to get some of the “non-white” folks in the conversation with you so that you are able to ask them for input. This is not just “tokenism” – it’s about relationship and giving away control. Tokenism happens when an all white leadership plans the songs and then asked a non-white person to sing with the team as a “token” of diversity. Reconciliation is about sharing the space and sharing the power. Is there a Hispanic or Korean campus group that you can connected with? Are there any local congregations from these cultures that you can connect with and ask to learn from? These are big steps, but a little step is to maybe just take the song We Fall Down by Chris Tomlin and sing it in several languages – just to affirm that these languages are part of the community.

You are right to not want to overtly offend, but there will be people who are offended (especially from the white mainstream) and there’s kind of no way to avoid that. The kingdom of God breaks down walls of division and that’s going to bother people who take comfort in their own safe spaces. There’s also a good chance you might offend some one who’s not white (maybe they think you are exploiting their culture). That’s to be expected as well. Trust in the Holy Spirit to break down relational barriers through healing worship and not in your ability to plan your way around conflict (speaking from experience).

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Diverse Worship Matters

I deeply appreciate these videos created by InterVarsity’s video production crew, twentyonehundred . They have re-framed the conversation about worship styles to emphasis something that I’ve always believed – that worship should be diverse in style out of love and mutual submission  that looks a lot like sharing a meal together.

These clips could function as a good conversation starter for a team of musicians, pastors, youth leaders, etc who are exploring the idea of diverse worship. It’s also a breath of fresh air in a time when the church is having hard and painful conversations about race and ethnicity. Brothers and sisters in Christ do need to have hard conversations, but they need to happen in the context of relationships that are fueled by gospel-based hospitality.

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2015 New Songs at New City Fellowship

January

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize – Mavis Staples

Following the tragic and paradigm-shifting events in St Louis, it felt necessary to look back to the Civil Rights movement and the expressions of worship that shaped the theology of righteous protest. “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” or “Keep Your Hand on the Plow” as it’s sometimes called fit the theme. I chose to blend the lyrics of Mahalia Jackson’s recording with the more recent verses from Mavis Staples recording. Jackson’s recording focused on the more transcendent context while Staples’ recording focused on the immanent call for justice.


February  

You Reign – William Murphy

I chose this song because I liked the easy to sing call and response format that invites participation. It was also a popular recording on the Gospel charts which connects with fans who are looking for signs at NCF that we care about current cultural expressions in the community. I did choose (emboldened by my friend Michelle Higgins) to add some more verses. Murphy only composed two verses and then  created variation through key modulations. I added a few more verses to further meditation on the theme of Jesus’ sovereignty. Here they are if you want to use them:

With justice and righteousness, Your kingdom is forever blessed, You reign!

Through the blood of the worthy Lamb, we worship the Son of Man, You reign!


March

Help Me Walk With You – James Ward

My dad wrote this song based on Micah 6:8. There’s an old Maranatha setting of that verse which has been played out since the 90’s. We also sang another setting from the “Compassion Art” project in the ‘00’s called “You Have Shown Us”. However, this new setting was inspired by the music of jazz vocalist, Gregory Porter has some very tasty changes. It’s a keeper.

http://ncfmusic.com/resource/help-me-walk-you/


April

Taste and See – Edwin Hawkins

Michelle Higgins dug up this classic from the Hawkins song book for the 2014 LDR conference. The song touches on so many themes without losing focus so it’s a good opener, communion song, sermon prep, offertory, and more. I opted to leave out the bridge, but every time we sing it, I have doubts about whether that was the right call.


May

10,000 Reasons – Matt Redman

Maybe you’ve heard of this song. Sometimes you have to just play the hit. Especially when it’s got good meaty lyrics. I couldn’t just play it straight though, so we’ve turned it into a Reggae feel, kind of like “Three Little Birds” and we moved the key to E flat.


June

Nkembo Alleluia

My friend, Dieu Teku shared this song with us. “Nkembo” means glory and each verse is about one of the persons of the Trinity. It’s fairly simple to pick up by Americans.


July

Where All the Nations Shall Be Healed – Kirk Ward

This song was composed for the 2015 New City Music Conference. It was well received by our congregation despite the more laid back groove. I had a lot of fun writing this song, and it’s pretty fun to perform if you can hold the pocket together.

http://ncfmusic.com/resource/where-all-nations-shall-be-healed/


August

Tambira Jehovah – Mkhululi ft Joyous Celebration choir

African music, as I’ve come to understand it, is deeply connected to dance. This song simply says, “Come and dance to the Lord.” It’s a challenge to ask Americans (especially those from European cultures) to give into the groove and shake it. However, embracing reconciliation is sometimes more than words and ideas. If dancing is such a powerful expression in African cultures, then loving Africans requires an open attitude toward body movement. (We didn’t perform all of the song on the video. I didn’t roll around on the stage either.)

 Libéré – Maggie Blanchard

There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We are free. We are redeemed. We are heirs. We are justified. This is the message of this song composed in French by Maggie Blanchard, a Haitian singer living in French Canada. How could you not love a song with these words?

Father of Lights – Josh Davis (performed by Nikki Lerner and Bridgeway)

Josh Davis is the founder of Proskaneu Ministry. I love how this song uses multiple languages (English, Spanish, Arabic, Korean, and Swahili) to express thanksgiving. It is based on James 1:17, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” This song has connected well with our congregation. I have to honestly say that our band sounds great performing it.


October

He Will Supply – Kirk Franklin

We performed this song a while back at one of the LDR conferences and I’ve been looking for a good time to perform it. In October, we were having a “Choir Sunday” and I was torn between a few different songs that we could have added. I sent an email to several Gospel music fans on my team with 4 options and asked them to pick two. They all picked this one. The message is one that we preach often here at NCF, that Jesus calls us to love the world and he has promised to supply everything that we will need to accomplish that calling. Our pastor, Tony Myles really got fired up by this song and exhorted the congregation to continue singing this song. It was a blast!

Dios Manda Lluvia – Ericson Alexander Molano with Marcos Witt

We had a “Spanish Sunday” in October when we were able to teach this song. A new singer, Marcella Lee, shared this song with us. It’s a prayer of invocation asking the Spirit to rain on us with power and to restore us again. Amen!


November

In Jesus Name – Israel Houghton

We’ve only been able to perform this once. I wrote about it a few weeks ago, so go read about it here.


December

Come Again Lord Jesus – Kirk Ward

I wrote this song for Advent and we performed it on our last Choir Sunday of the year. It was a blast and the choir had fun learning it. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to composed music for NCF and to be able see that music become the emotional framework for the people of NCF.

http://ncfmusic.com/resource/come-again-lord-jesus/

Please share any new songs your church learned this year in the comments or if you are from NCF, what was your favorite new song from 2015?

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The Origin of the Cajon via TEDEd

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New Song: “In Jesus Name”

Here’s a new song that we are going to learn this weekend at New City Fellowship.

This song was co-written by Israel Houghton and Darlene Zschech. It’s the single from Israel’s latest recording, “Alive in Asia”  but Zschech seems to have released it earlier with a more HIllsong-y rock vibe. 

What I love about this song:

  • Infectious groove and ear-wormish melody
  • Bold proclamation of God’s commitment to his people and his kingdom (Romans 8)

Stuff that I’m not going to worry about:

  • maintaining Houghton’s EDM pop vibe on the recording (because we’re just not that kind of band)
  • maintaining the recording’s unison only vocals (my people harmonize even when I tell them not to)
  • performing all 6 1/2 minutes from the recording

I went through a period of doing a TON of Houghton’s music. It’s always fun and for the most part, theologically solid despite his  connection to Joel Osteen. For me, his songs have been the bridge between CCM style worship and contemporary gospel which is exactly what a multicultural evangelical church needs. If you haven’t incorporated these yet, you should check out his other songs like:

  • You are Good
  • Friend of God
  • Again I Say Rejoice
  • There’s a Lifting of the Hands
  • Jesus At The Center
  • Saved By Grace
  • Who Is Like The Lord
  • Highly Exalted
  • Moving Forward
  • Deeper

Stuff to remember when attempting Houghton’s songs with a congregation:

  • His voice is at it’s best in the alto range and so his recordings are going to pitch the songs accordingly, so either give the melody to the altos or bring the key down at least a whole step – or push it up a 3rd and drop it an octave. Just be careful about losing all the intensity
  • His songs often work well in a white worship setting or a black worship setting (Friend of God is a good example) so if your group is made up of mostly white, rock musicians, you are going to have to work hard not to lose the gospel vibe.
  • His songs are simple and so to make them more interesting, the recordings throw a lot of stuff into the form to constantly change things up. You have freedom to simplify these song forms to make it more “congregational” if you need to, so don’t let all those hip details from the recording make you over-think things.

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Conference Highlights and Thoughts from @NewCityMusic #MusiCon15

I’ve had a few days to rest (play with my kids, talk with my wife, stare at the walls, etc.) and now that I’m back in the office, I’m ready to think a little bit about the conference we just hosted. I want to especially thank Carrie Jones, Michelle Higgins, Adina O’Neal, Lisa St. Pierre, and Sara Ward who did the bulk of the back end logistics to make the whole conference work. simple_graphic

Music

We had some good times playing music together and sharing our worship expressions. This year, there was a much stronger representation of original songs and arrangements. I brought some of my stuff, but there was also the creative work of Michelle Higgins, Michael Kendall, and Matthew Monticchio. New City Music is becoming more and more of a movement of original songs and expressions through the work of the Spirit in our communities. These songs came off to me as much stronger than the “radio” stuff in our times of worship. The open mic time was also full of original songs and ideas. God is moving and working in this generation, y’all.

Teaching

All three of the plenary sessions were fun, moving, and thought provoking. I was not at all the breakouts (i have to rest some time, right?) but I am looking forward to listening to them online. Ruth Naomi Floyd was my personal highlight. Her voice could move mountains. She has incredible control over her instrument making each “clip” of a spiritual that she presented deeply expressive and poignant. Many of the songs she shared, I’d heard before, but I’d never really listened to what the song was saying until she “unpacked it” for us. Edem Dzunu was both hopeful about the power of the gospel to reconcile people, but also didn’t downplay the hard truth that it ain’t easy. It’s always encouraging to know that the struggle that I’m experiencing is not unique to me because there’s something I’m doing wrong, but the struggle is the only path we can walk in order to see the kingdom advance. My dad, James Ward, was his usual entertaining self and I always enjoy his presentations. He’s my mentor so nothing he brought was new to me, but I was thankful that he was able to share about his rehearsal experiences with this larger audience.

Fellowship

I am so thankful for the friendships that are born out of these events. We also grow closer and share more about each other with each passing year. I was especially appreciative of the St Louis community of musicians who stepped up to help. When we hosted in 2011, I felt like I had to “do it all” without much help, but this time, I had a team of friends who had my back and brought gifts that I didn’t even imagine were possible. I was encouraged to see people connecting with each other departing with new connections.

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Come to #MusiCon15


simple_graphicNew City Music Conference 2015 is shaping up. We are getting registrations slowly but I fully expect 2/3 of the conference to register at the last minute. I’m so thrilled to have our line up of speakers and breakout leaders. It seems to get better and better every time we pull one of these together. If you haven’t done it yet, please check out the conference details and register at www.ncfmusic.com/conference/

Carrie Jones is the conference director this time. Carrie was involved in the 2011 conference we had here in St. Louis as the graphic designer and she created the conference notebook which was so full of information and resources that people wanted to get the notebook even though they couldn’t attend the conference. Carrie is also a long time member of NCF (@NCFStLouis) and as well as a highly qualified musician on our team.

The conference steering committee was made up of myself (@kirkwardmusic), my dad (@jcalvinward), and my long time friend, Michelle Higgins (@fast_foodie). We went out to lunch when my dad was here in March and hammered out the rough outline of who and what will be featured at this year’s conference.

I hope that you consider coming. If you are from the local region, we would love to meet you or connect again with you to be able to encourage each other in the struggle. If you are from out of town, we would to meet and connect as well and to hear what is going on in other communities. So much has happened in our nation this year that has served to break down our facades and to reveal the areas where we are divided and broken. The gospel has the power to heal communities when it is planted in soil that will let it thrive and produce fruit. Let’s live the gospel of reconciliation and justice that is available to us through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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The Backwards Bike and Cross-cultural Worship

Edit: Oops, I used the wrong URL for the video. Now it’s fixed.

It turns out that riding a bike becomes nearly impossible when you rig it to turn the opposite direction. Your brain can’t perform all the processes when just one is reversed.

I wonder what this says about cross-cultural communication. How many brain processes go into singing, dancing, or performing a worship liturgy? What happens when you have to suddenly perform a familiar action like these but one or more of the “rules” have changed when you are immersed in a new culture.

It also says something about the power of our brains to adapt with practice. The video shows that after a few months of riding the bike everyday, you can teach your brain to adapt. There is a path toward understanding a new culture, but it’s not quick and easy. It’s also every difficult to be a “third culture kid” who has to “ride their bike” in many different ways.

When we face an issue from opposite sides of the cultural divide (#Ferguson, #Baltimore) why does it seem like it’s impossible to get someone to “change their mind” to see things from your perspective? Maybe we are assuming that we can give people the raw facts and make to make them completely change their understanding without the more long term process of relationship and community.

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Review: Doxa “Centered”

Gospel music is good stuff. I’m a fan. I have been deeply affect by gospel over the years. Especially the music of Fred Hammond, Kirk Franklin, Richard Smallwood, Hezekiah Walker, the Hawkins, the Clarks, Andrae Crouch, Israel Houghton, Kurt Carr, Tye Tribbett, the list goes on. Lately, I’ve been uninspired. There seems to be a very strong commercial drive to get the next hit. I realize that this is nothing new in the global marketplace of pop music and the “Christian” sub-genres have been absorbed into that same stream. In fact, after spending weeks listening to new releases, I heard a 1984 recording of Edwin Hawkins, Taste and See and it was like a breath of fresh air to hear a song so thoughtfully composed.

With that being said, it’s very refreshing to hear this recording from DOXA, CenteredDOXA is the name of the worship music ministry of Dr. Eric Mason‘s church Epiphany Fellowship. My dad recommend this to me and the first thing I heard when I previewed it was the glorious horn parts and lush changes. Yes, Lord! Looking into it more deeply through the handy lyrics link on their website, I found that several of the songs were actually written or co-written by “holy hip hop” artist, Shai Linne. How cool is that? Can we start seeing more lyricists lending their gifts to creating congregational music? There seems to be a strong sense of collaboration between the lyricist, the musical director (Aaron Johnson, I think), and the pastor who also sings on the recording. Less stars, more community. They have included a few good examples of using creativity combined with congregational considerations. Hymns and popular tunes covered and rearranged without losing their familiarity. There’s a freshness to this recording that brings to mind the music of next gen black artists like Robert Glasper, Esperanza Spalding,  or even the band-for-music-geeks, Snarky Puppy.

I’m not sure that I’ve picked on that I can use at New City Fellowship. I’m going to listen for a few weeks and see what sticks with me.

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To God Be The Glory: 11th Annual Black Heritage Celebration at New City Fellowship

Please join us for the 11th annual Black Heritage Celebration at New City Fellowship on Saturday, February 28, at 6:30.

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Our theme for the evening is “To God Be The Glory” based on the Andraé Crouch song, “My Tribute.” Crouch passed away last month and we will be performing a couple of his songs in the concert to celebrate God’s work through him as a composer and worship leader.

In our planning, we the musicians talked about the passage from John 9 about the man born blind who Jesus healed. The question was asked about why he was born that way and Jesus’s response was that this happened that the works of God would be displayed in him. So as we remember the heritage of African Americans, we might ask “why did so much evil and suffering have to happen in our nation?” and we can look to this blind man, his healing and his testimony to see that all people and cultures exist to display the works of God, for his glory alone. We remember the past works of God in Black community and culture because HIS glory is woven into their story for all to see, and we can all praise Him for the things He has done.

Please pray for our choir directors, Michelle Higgins and Noelle Becker who both have stomach flu running through their family this week. (Also, pray for my wife and the other spouses who have to care for the kids during extra rehearsals this week.)

Please pray for the unity and bond of peace from the Holy Spirit to fill the hearts of everyone involved.

Please pray for Thurman Williams, one of the pastors at Grace and Peace Fellowship who will be bringing a sermon.

Please pray for the long, slow healing process that our region is going through this year.

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