A few days ago, our pastor told us about a big worship leader conference that is coming to our area and that he would support us if we thought it would be beneficial for us to attend. He sent us the link to the website, and as we looked through the site we didn’t see one speaker, worship leader, guest performer, board member, or oversight committee member that looked like us. By “look like us,” we mean they were all Caucasian (mostly male) with the stereotypical Christian contemporary, spikey hair, skinny jeans, rock look. You know, “the look.” Please understand, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that style or look. Those who know us know we lead this style of music frequently and have found some of our deepest moments in worship during some of this precious music. It’s all sacred to God when it is delivered through a sincere heart. We just haven’t been able to copy “the look.”
The funny thing is our pastor called us not too long after he sent the link and commented on the fact that all the people involved in the conference were white–he being white himself but a sincere advocate for diversity in the church.
So this is interesting. The conference is presented by an organization that supports worship leaders, in general. So how is it that their leaders, board, panelists, and performers do not mirror the colorful culture in the kingdom of God? Who could an aspiring African American, gospel-sounding worship leader relate to in this group?
Maybe it’s not supposed to be that kind of conference. Maybe they didn’t think about how to make it diverse. Maybe to them worship music is only that contemporary Christian sound.
You must understand that just because we are people of color, we are not automatically diverse. Diversity is a choice–a deliberate choice, actually. There are many monotone worship teams and churches around. Yes, we used “monotone” to refer to skin tone and not “a single, unvaried key or pitch.” Monotone is easy and comfortable for most people, but it isn’t OK in the body of Christ. It is especially not OK when an organization formed out of the body of Christ comes together to present and resource specifically gifted brothers and sisters in Christ and only gives voice to one people group and one style. Perhaps it would be different if it was a conference for worship leaders who spoke and sang in Spanish or Mandarin. But a general American worship leaders conference for English-speaking people should represent a cross section of the American church.
An American worship conference should bring together various cultures, styles, and ethnicities to one place to fortify the diversity of the kingdom. This is perhaps a lot more challenging than it sounds, although we absolutely feel that it is worth the trouble and way past time for this to happen. We also humbly recognize that we’ve never organized a worship conference, so we can really only pose this as a question for discussion.
Can William McDowell, Ricardo Sanchez, Eddie James, Freddy Rodriguez, Stephen Hurd, Danillo Montero, and Micah Stampley be panelists or guest artists on the same stage as New Life Worship, Chris Tomlin, and David Crowder? Then what about the ladies of worship: Kari Jobe, Mandisa, Kim Walker, and Misty Edwards? Some of these, we realize, maybe too busy for a worship conference, but you get the idea of the kind of cross-section we are saying could really benefit the whole body of Christ and cause us all to embrace diversity and learn how to worship freely regardless of what the worship leader looks like or the style of music. Having a diverse panel and artist list would also be an encouragement to a new up and comer who needs solid role models who he or she can look up to and gain wisdom from regarding his or her specific passion, style, and gifting.
We are diverse because of the beautiful diversity we choose to surround ourselves with. At our church, our worship team consists of Caucasians, Latinos, and African Americans. Our church is made up of Latinos, West Indians, Caucasians, and African Americans. We make every effort to choose music that represents all of that. We love it, and we want more!
The band for Will and Jevon consists of Haitian Americans, Latinos, Caucasians, and African Americans. We have been asking a couple of our very gifted Asian American friends to join us. The timing just hasn’t been right, but we know that’s coming soon. The whole motivation behind our WorshipATIC Summer Tour is diversity of culture and style. Three bands–one Christian contemporary, one Christian Hip Hop, and one contemporary gospel–coming together to show that it’s all right to worship God in the way that He created you. You don’t have to fit the ‘”mold” to be considered a true worshiper.
We are off our soap box for now. Sunday does not have to continue to be the most segregated day in America. It can start with the powers that be or maybe just a few voices rising up to say “monotone” is not OK. Our organizations and planning committees can make deliberate plans to bring together people who don’t all look the same in general forums like worship conferences. Then people who aren’t exposed to certain styles and cultures will have a chance to sample and enjoy the beautiful mosaic of kingdom culture.