Contextualization

This worship planning post may end up asking more questions than it answers, but these exact questions are being asked in my worship ministry right now.  Perhaps you are going through the same thing, or maybe you’ve already been there.

I try to view myself as a missionary to the community around my church. It isn’t very hard to imagine. My culture is much different from that of our average attender. I am from a middle class suburban upbringing, while the church is in a mostly poor, rural area. We are directly across the street from a large trailer park, but other than that, there is mostly farm land. I was brought up on Motown, punk rock, and U2, while most of these people grew up listening to Willie Nelson, George Jones, and Hank Williams.

How far do you go to meet the people on their own turf? Is it not selfish to only play the style of music that I am familiar with? Now, this discussion must be taken with the assumption that God has no favorite genre. If He does, we should only play that style. Seeing that we don’t know His style preference, we must conclude that all musical styles (more or less) are equal, and the content is where God finds pleasure. Some may then be lead to think that style does not matter at all. I would disagree with that statement, but again, I am still not completely certain how to determine the perfect style for a given situation. However, through prayer and experience, here are a few guidelines I am using.

  1. You have to be authentic. If I were to wear overalls and a straw hat this Sunday morning, and attempt an all bluegrass worship service, it would not go over well. It would come off as mockery rather than sincerity. People would immediately know that I was putting on an act.
  2. Always keep learning. I don’t understand a musician who can only appreciate one type of music. Keep your ears wide open and continually absorb new sounds and textures. If you have a true appreciation of the music from another culture, you will be able to present it more respectfully than in the last example.
  3. Find common ground. Maybe I have trouble getting into Hank Sr., and you don’t really love Anberlin, but maybe we’d both enjoy Marshall Tucker Band. (Odd example, you say? I just went and saw them three nights ago. They were great!)
  4. Don’t be afraid to challenge the sensibilities of your members. It would do us all good to expand our horizons a little bit, so if your people hear something new to them…it can’t be all bad!

 By Josh Hamrick

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