The Music Exchange from Richard Simpkin: Music from elsewhere

A privilege of being involved in a central London church is mixing with such a diversity of people from countless backgrounds and races.

I’ve witnessed the baptisms of people into Christ from Islamic, Jewish and Hindu cultures, and I know that this isn’t happening just in London, but throughout the UK.

Although these baptisms have been some of the most moving moments in my life, I never really thought until recently about how the presentation of music in a church meeting appears to people of different cultures. Or rather, I had thought about it, but I’d always been in denial! I’d always been concerned about godliness, servant-heartedness and a degree of musical skill regardless of the colour of a person’s skin. But what I hadn’t thought about was how people of other cultures perceived me (or us). Neither had I thought that they’d be particularly bothered about the fact that everyone who helped with music was white and middle class. I just thought they’d sit there and accept that they were outsiders needing to adapt to my way of doing things. I’m very fortunate to have friends who have gently challenged me regarding my small-mindedness!

Who’s in the band?
I know that we musicians have to think about the impossible job of trying to please everyone with the style of music we produce for the church meeting, but here’s something else to think about: as well as taking sensitive decisions about whether to use drums or not, making sure we’re dressed soberly as a music group and that we’re not drawing attention to ourselves musically, how about thinking about the cultural make-up of the band or music group?

Musicians nearly always have an up-front role. We’re visible to all, and are, therefore, to a certain degree, representative of the church we serve. Yet, at the same time, we’re praying that everything we do would be welcoming to outsiders. Therefore, deciding on a musical style that alienates the least amount of people is one thing, but if the musicians are all of the same cultural background and colour, it shows clearly to the overseas visitor ‘the type of people we are, and who is welcome here’.*

Valuing everyone
Of course, it looks totally contrived to have someone from every nation filing into view, but I simply wanted to encourage us all to keep the foreign visitor in mind as we look for musicians to serve. Whether the congregation is small or big, coming into a church building for the first time is intimidating, even if everyone is the same colour as you. We can play a small but important part in showing that we are those who welcome and value people who are, like us, made in the image of God, however different we may feel they are.

What can we do? It may be that there is only one musician. In which case, there’s not a lot we can do except to pray for God to send us more! However, if there are a few who have expressed an interest in serving musically, then it would be a good idea to be as flexible as possible in regard to their skill to accommodate musicians from other cultures. This doesn’t just serve visitors — I’ve always learnt great lessons about how to approach songs differently, due to input from people with different musical backgrounds.

Not only that, but having a good representation of cultures helps educate the congregation that we are a body made up of precious people who aren’t defined by the colour of their skin or the language they speak, but rather by the fact that we belong together to the family of Jesus.

(*Andy Mason, Reaching the Unreached)

Richard Simpkin is Director of Music at St. Helen’s Church, Bishopsgate, London.

This article was first published in the June 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057