J.D. Greear, pastor of Summit Church in Raleigh/Durham, N.C. wrote on his blog: “God created us to glorify Him in art, and when we do so we fulfill his purpose in creation. However, our desire to produce good art must be balanced with the fact that God has called us to leverage our resources for the spread of the Gospel. Thus, our (a local church’s) desire to produce good art should be balanced with the urgency of the mission.”
It’s time for us to repent of the sin that makes us culture snobs about our favorite language, style, dress, music, architecture, and anything else that we place on the throne of our worship in place of God himself. (A culture snob is one who thinks their own cultural preference should be the standard for everyone. See https://goingfullcircleblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/25/is-your-style-preference-an-enemy-of-biblical-worship/)
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his native language?”
Acts 2:1–8, NIV
Christians must communicate in the cultural languages of the people group to whom they are sent. On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached the gospel in his Aramaic language. Yet people from all across the known world who were present that day heard Peter’s message in their own native language. Miraculously, Peter’s words were translated by the Holy Spirit into the language of the listeners. God was at work in Peter that day using language as a cultural tool to communicate the gospel of Christ.
Spoken language is the mode by which we express ourselves and communicate our thoughts verbally. Language is a set of symbols that signify certain realities and convey meaning. We combine the letters t, a, b, l, and e to signify a real object that we can place our dinner on. Similarly, art forms such as music, fashion, visual art, architecture, dance, etc., express life and communicate thought. So, artistic forms truly are cultural languages. Consequently, artistic style, while not inherently good or evil, certainly can convey cultural context and theological meaning. A cathedral communicates God’s majesty and glory while the simple country church communicates God’s accessibility. The “Hallelujah” Chorus from Handel’s “Messiah” often brings the audience to their feet, while a quiet hymn may move us to prayer, then a praise chorus might cause us to clap along or lift our hands heavenward. These are all culturally programmed responses to an artistic style. After Sunday worship, a close friend told me, “I dread singing ‘How Great Thou Art’ because it was sung at my mother’s funeral and it brings back the feeling of grief.” For this lady, this great song of worship does not signify praise but sorrow.
As worship leaders, we must carefully discern our cultural context to understand what certain styles signify. Just as we need to communicate the gospel of Christ in the spoken and written language of the target group, so too must we communicate in their artistic and stylistic languages. The church you serve is not in the same cultural context as any other church. Every church in every community has a unique calling to a unique cultural context. Don’t settle for duplicating a style that is working in another church simply because you assume it will work for your church, too. When we follow the leading of the Spirit of God, guided every step by his Word of Truth, we can forget about following a trend. Missional worship comes through much prayer, studying his Word, studying the community where he has placed us, and leading Christians to grow as disciples and become missionaries to their community. That’s when our worship will come alive. Not because we have the latest technical equipment or a cool new format, but because we have a mission.
Are you working to be the best church “in” your community or to be the best church “for” your community? Baseball players and golfers are always hoping to hit the ball on the “sweet spot” to get the most “carry.” Find the cultural “sweet spot” for your church’s worship and then stay in it to “carry” them full circle as “worshiping disciples on mission.” — Mark Powers