gail song bantum

blog on identity, leadership, worship

multi-ethnic worship: YOUR thoughts

so, i’ve been asked to write an article due out in july on the top 3 issues that worship leaders of multi-ethnic worship face on a macro and micro level. as i have my thoughts pretty set on this topic, primarily from years of experience in both homogenous congregations and in communities who are faithfully trying to live into racial reconciliation, i think it would be nice to hear from YOU as well.

i am no fool to think that my experiences alone or my interest/study/research on this topic makes me an authority by any means. however, i am thrilled to have the opportunity to share my thoughts on it and will post it here once the publication is out at the end of july.

in the meantime, whether you’re a pastor, worship leader, former worship leader, have an innate sense of what your worship leader is dealing with, whatever…i’d LOVE to hear your thoughts/experiences/insights on what YOUR top 3 issues for worship leaders of multi-ethnic worship are.

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8 thoughts on “multi-ethnic worship: YOUR thoughts

  1. dbb45 on said:

    One thing I have struggled with in thinking about worship in multicultural churches is how to balance the various views of what musical style constitutes true worship. Are these styles preference or aspects of God’s gift of difference?

  2. Bryan on said:

    Here’s a few I have noticed and think about

    1. When cultural preferences/norms become spiritual absolutes, it becomes very difficult for people to worship outside their culture because it “feels” unspiritual/unbiblical?
    2. There are so many cultural issues in worship (combined with generational, gender, learning style, music preference, etc..) that it makes it very difficult to teach, model, explain stuff without culture becoming the main thing. A few issues, music, length of music, length of service, style of preaching, starting/ending on time, role of children, liturgy, congregational participation, etc…
    3. When the services is genuinely “cross-cultural/multi-cultural” people who identify with a particular cultural way of worship can feel disconnected. I wonder if most people view church more through a cultural lens than a spiritual one. So… if your church has 3 cultures, but worship is actually a 4th (some hybrid of the 3), does anyone actually connect to it?

    • gailsongbantum on said:

      great thoughts bryan…#3 is actually pretty interesting. we often equate our capacity to “connect” in worship to our level of familiarity/comfort/knowledge of our environment, as if we ought to have authority over it. however, i am reminded that for many whose lives are a constant negotiation of the foreign, the alien, the other, the unfamiliar, it is often in these spaces that one senses the power and presence of “god with us.”

  3. Kimberly Holmes on said:

    One issue is helping people connect to the other culture is a short amount of time, if the issue being discussed is particularly worship through music. Folks have to firstly be open to the idea of multi-ethnic worship and move beyond the idea that just because they sit next to a Latino or African-American person each Sunday doesn’t mean they respect their style of worship to the point that they can worship with them in that style.

    • gailsongbantum on said:

      yes, and i believe that it cannot be approached as a momentous occasion but rather a life long journey of communion. in this way, it can never just be about respecting style but embodying it.

  4. One thing we talked about in Q worship leadership in the past is that it is difficult to pursue styles of worship that are not in your own background without it feeling showy or fake. For example, we could round up a bunch of folks and do a gospel choir, but will it have authenticity? Or will it be a group of mostly white/asian people trying to mimic a genuine expression of worship? (Not that white or asian people can’t come from a gospel background, I am speaking in generalities, and what we faced.) It could be done well, and could come from a good intention, but it could also be considered insulting. It’s a tough balance.

  5. So many thoughts on this subject…wow. Here are 3 issues/questions that I personally think of when discussing “multi-ethnic” worship.

    1. Intent must be clarified: What’s the point of trying to have “multi-ethnic” worship? Is it so we can throw a bone to the 2 black families that started coming last week so they will stay? Is it so we can show the young people who are running out of the doors in waves that we can be “cool” and “funky”? Is it a genuine desire to present an offering of praise that represents the people whom we serve each week. Is it a way to stretch a congregation beyond cultural norms? Is it out of the conviction of the Holy Spirit or out of guilt?
    2. Defining the What: Multi-ethnic in Seattle, WA is going to look different than Multi-ethnic in Dearborn, MI or anywhere else for that matter. Often multi-ethnic worship can be code for blending “black gospel” with “white ccm”. Defining or rather researching “what” multi-ethnic means in your own worship community can be challenging but crucial.
    3. Growing in the How: Once the “why” and “what” are figured out (at least for now) the “how” is where most of the drama and fun begins. For me, wrestling through the first two questions help create some parameters from which to discover the “how” or if nothing else give me the resolve to navigate through a minefield of personal preferences, cultural mindsets, and board meetings.

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