This past Sunday was an awesome moment for New City. Pastor Keith and Pastor Lawrence both took the stage and shared on the topic of racism in light of the Gospel. There is one part that struck a chord with me. It was the part about music, particularly music at New City. As we look toward the future of New City, I too have a dream that we can have our own unique sound that represents and reaches across cultures for the Gospel.
Music is always a touchy subject isn’t it? Everyone has an opinion on music. It’s because music isn’t just noise. It impacts us on a much deeper level. How many of us upon hearing the brass on the opening theme song of Star Wars recall yellow text floating upwards in the middle of space? If we continue to listen, we begin to remember where we first saw the movie, who we were with, etc. This is why we can hear/sing a particular old hymn and be transported to a different setting; standing in pews, colors of the stage carpet, people singing with extremely wide vibratos. Music causes a flood of memories in our minds and a flood of emotion in our hearts. Music is something powerful that God has given His people.
We see countless examples in the Bible of using song to recall all God has done for His people but also using song to express emotions. We see the very first written song after God uses Moses to lead His people out of slavery and towards the Promised Land. In Exodus 15 we see that Moses composed a song declaring what the Lord had done to bring them out of Egypt. They had just seen God triumph over the Egyptians and the Israelites sing and rejoice, remembering what God has done. In Psalms we see David’s emotions clearly poured out, writing psalm after psalm. Whether at an extremely joyful moment in David’s life or when crippled with fear and depression, it is all expressed in song. We see and hear David’s emotions quite clearly. Many of the psalms are intended to be sung.
God has ordained song to be a wonderful tool to connect thought and memory with emotion. There is often a flood or rush of emotion when you hear a particular song or style of music. There is also a sense of comfort, ability and openness. Often times this can be a barrier as well. Maybe when you visit a church service or a concert, songs are played, and you don’t know them. Or, maybe it’s the style of music that turns you away. You feel disconnected. Most often you do not walk away with a great experience.
As a church located in downtown Macon, we recognize that the majority of the surrounding population is African American. We seek to reach out to all cultures. We want to represent the kingdom well. (Revelations 7:9) This means laying aside our personal preferences of music and growing toward a more blended sound of worship. Now this doesn’t mean that we seek to change our sound completely. What this means is that we borrow from a different genre and create our own sound at New City. We all know that no two churches are alike because of the DNA of the church, the people that make up the church, their background, their culture. Music sounds different from church to church as well. Since New City is made up of a multitude of cultures and backgrounds, we can combine and borrow and create a sound that isn’t just unique but reaches all peoples.
This is a tall order. As we begin this journey together, know and rest assured that it will be taken very carefully and very slowly. As a musician, you grow up playing a particular style and type of music. Most likely it is the style and sound in which you were surrounded. It is completely different when you decide to hop into and explore another genre. It’s even a completely different way of listening to music. This will not happen overnight. It is something that will slowly grow and change. Again, this process is difficult and will take time. I ask of New City to continue to pray for us as we journey through this together. Pray for our musicians as they listen and learn. Pray that God would grow all of us in laying down our preferences, our prejudices for His Glory.
A Message from Pastor Keith
I am excited about our direction in the area of music. Arthur and I have been talking about the difficult gap that we need to bridge between cultures since he joined us at New City. I want to say that our leadership is committed to reaching all cultures in Middle Georgia and beyond - not because it is the new cool thing to do, but because we are firmly convicted that the church is the Kingdom present, here and now. While we will never see or be the full Kingdom until Jesus returns, we should give beautiful glimpses of what the Kingdom to come will look like. The Kingdom will be very colorful according to John's vision in the book of Revelation.
As we take steps toward more engaging worship for different cultures here are some thoughts and requests:
- This will probably not be easy.
We will make some mistakes, expect it. We will get some things right and some wrong. Expect that as well.
- This will be slow.
As Arthur has said above, it isn't as simple as adding different songs. We have musicians who will have to learn different genres of music and different ways of playing. We will need vocalists who are able to do some things differently. It will even mean some small changes to how we mix our music and which musical instruments are emphasized. We will only be able to move as God provides the people and training to do so.
- We are not alone.
There are other churches in other cities who have gone before us. We will seek to learn from them. Arthur is already talking with other worship leaders and will soon be scheduling some trips to meet them and attend one of their church's worship services.
- We are not moving to become a black gospel band.
We are simply seeking to blend styles and be more inclusive of other cultural styles.
What you can do:
- PRAY. Change is rarely easy and always comes with a cost. Pray that God would make this change as easy as possible. Pray that God would give our body unity as we strive to reach all peoples and as we strive to glorify God by seeing the wall between us broken down. Pray for our musicians. Pray for new vocalists and musicians as needed. Pray for Arthur as he attempts something outside of his own comfort and experience.
- ENCOURAGE. Encourage the musicians and singers. Encourage Arthur. Encourage the elders. Encourage one another.
- BE PATIENT. Be patient with the process. That means patient with the changes, patient with the mistakes, and patient with ongoing successes.
- KEEP YOUR EYES ON JESUS. As we talked about last Sunday (1/17/16), this is a gospel issue. We have to be careful to keep a view toward the work of Jesus - making us 1 new people, 1 family, brothers and sisters. Remember that preference is subject and Jesus calls us to set aside our preferences for the good of others. This is bigger than our preferences, just as the gospel is bigger than any one of us.
- BE EXCITED. You should be filled with excitement and hope as we take these steps by faith! Few of us have ever experienced the unity that we are seeking. We have a tremendous opportunity to be a church that greatly glorifies our great God as more and more we become a picture of the Kingdom. We have an opportunity in this to see more of Him and more of His work than we ever have before!
Thank you for being so gracious and patient with me and with us. Thank you for your willingness, New City Church to try - to take chances and take risks for the glory of God and the good of His people!