Celebrating Diversity

by | Mar 16, 2010 | Spirit-Led Living

Because of the music ministry with which God has blessed
me, I have had the privilege of worshiping in countless churches. I have
praised the Lord with people of numerous races and denominations. As a
result of my experiences, I have come to the conclusion that, regardless
of doctrinal differences, racial preferences and varying worship
styles, the body of Christ has more in common than it has differences.

Time and time again, I have seen the love of Christ as it
has been demonstrated to the lost and hurting. I have seen the church in
action as its members became agents of healing and wholeness.

But I have also seen the church take its eyes off those
things that bring us together and begin to concentrate on the things
that divide and separate us. I imagine that is how different
denominations got started.

I have nothing against denominations. But I believe that
many times the sign on the church door tends to keep people out rather
than invite them in.

Let’s imagine that the leper who was cleansed and healed
when Jesus stretched forth His hand (see Luke 5:12-13) went out and
started a church after his miraculous healing. Suppose he called the
church The First Church of the Stretched-Out Hand. His congregants
believed that the only way a person could be healed was for Jesus to
stretch out His hand toward them.

Assume that the centurion in Capernaum, whose servant
Jesus healed by merely sending the word (see Luke 7:1-10), also started a
church—this one called The First Church of the Sent Word. His
congregants believed that the only way a person could be healed was for
Jesus to send His word.

These two churches were in neighboring cities and could
have enjoyed wonderful times of fellowship together. They could have
celebrated the fact that there were people in both churches who had
personally encountered Jesus Christ—and that because of those
encounters, many others had come to a saving knowledge of Christ. But
instead they chose to build up denominational walls and become divided
over the issue of healing.

This imaginary scenario may be an exaggeration of the way
things truly are, but the point is that the church must not allow
prejudice and preference to create division. We must learn to celebrate
diversity, especially in worship.

Cultural Diversity

I have learned that much of our worship experience is
cultural. And I have never seen culture more clearly defined than in the
church.

Take my father’s church. In this black Baptist church, the
singing was loud. The preaching was loud. The hand clapping and foot
stomping were loud. People said, “If it’s not loud, it’s not church.”

My father was the finest preacher and Bible teacher I have
ever heard. He believed every word of the Bible and communicated each
of his points with power and conviction. But often during the sermon,
the congregation would begin to shout in agreement, and the organist and
the drummer would echo back in a rhythmic pulse. The worship service
would grow louder and louder—so loud, in fact, that I could hardly hear a
word my father said.

On the other hand, I’ve been in countless conservative
white churches where no one said amen, no one clapped his hands, and the
organist never played anything that wasn’t written in the hymnal. Every
part of the worship service was calculated, with no room for
spontaneity.

Often, the sermons delivered by the white preachers in
these conservative white churches were powerful and deserved plenty of
amens. Still the congregation sat quietly and attentively in their pews
without uttering a word.

The contrast between the two cultures is stark. But
recently I have begun to see something wonderful happening as believers
of different backgrounds worship together, both in church and at my
concerts. Those members of the body of Christ who enjoy a free and
liberated worship style are giving permission to the conservative
members to enjoy themselves in the Lord. The quiet, reserved members are
feeling free to respond. They clap their hands and say amen with
reckless abandon.

At the same time, our quiet, reserved brothers and sisters
are giving permission to the loud, liberated members of the body to sit
quietly and listen. It is an awesome sight to see those who once said
amen as if on cue sit in tearful reflection and ponder God’s goodness.

The key word is balance. Neither group has a monopoly on
worship. There is a place for emotional display, and there is a place
for the intellectual approach.

As we worship together more and more, we must begin to
appreciate and even learn from what other races and cultures can bring
to the worship experience. If we are serious about reconciliation, we
must be willing to accept each other’s culture and worship experience as
legitimate.

Refrain From Judging

One thing that helps us to accept different worship styles
is to avoid making judgments about them. We have to remain open rather
than declaring, “I don’t like that kind of music,” when we hear
something different from what we are accustomed to. Even if our first
response is a negative one, we may find ourselves changing our minds as
we listen.

Unfortunately, I have been misjudged as a singer numerous
times. People have heard me singing a soft, easy listening ballad over
the radio and assumed I was a white singer. They were surprised when
they learned I am an African American!

Remember that old adage, “Never judge a book by its
cover.” No longer can we trust in traditions, uphold our stereotypes and
put people in a box.

In recent years, you’ve probably heard white singers belt
out a tune with the soul of a Motown singer. And you’ve probably heard
African Americans sing beautifully sweet, tender ballads. If we will let
God do His work in our hearts, we will see Him erase the lines we have
drawn.

I started singing publicly more often when I was in high
school. I realized right away that I had a unique vocal style. But most
people thought that since I was black, I ought to deliver gut-wrenching,
sweat-producing gospel songs.

When I was younger, I thought that, too. I was often
frustrated by what I believed was a limited ability. I considered my
voice too white for black people and too black for white people. I tried
my best to sing soul-rending gospel renditions, but I’d always end up
with laryngitis the next day.

The enemy pointed his long finger of judgment at me and
said, “Well, there certainly is no room in the church for a gray singer.
You might as well pack up your soundtracks and go home.” For a long
time I believed his lie.

But I don’t believe it anymore! I realize now that what
God did with my voice, He did on purpose for a purpose. He gave me
exactly the kind of voice He wanted me to have. He gave me just enough
of the traditional gospel music style to minister to my black brothers
and sisters. And He gave me just enough of the contemporary style to
minister to my white brothers and sisters.

In a Babbie Mason concert we all come together with one
thing in mind, and that is to worship. Hopefully we can put an end to
categorizing music based on whether it is “black” or “white.”

Striking a Balance

One of the most beautiful pictures of a balanced and
harmonious relationship is the orchestra. Each section of instruments
plays its part as written by the composer and directed by the conductor.
The voices of instruments are all made from different materials. They
come in all shapes and sizes, with tone qualities and timbres uniquely
their own. Yet they make beautiful music together.

The heart of the listener can be deeply moved by the
performance of a finely tuned symphony orchestra. But imagine how
disruptive it would be if all of a sudden the French horn players stood
to their feet and began to play loudly, each doing his own thing. We
would all cover our ears in disapproval. Again, the key word is balance.

Some churches focus on the spirit in a worship service.
The praise and worship must be spirited, the preaching must be exciting,
and the response must be emotional.

On the other hand, some churches focus on the truth. Their
approach to worship is purely intellectual. But Jesus told the woman at
the well that true worshipers will worship in spirit and in truth (see
John 4: 23).

In order for the human body to be healthy, it must receive
a balanced diet. Too much fat, too much salt or too much caffeine can
upset the body’s chemistry and cause it to be weak, sick and diseased.

In addition, each member of the body is dependent upon the
other members to remain healthy. The digestive system works with the
circulatory system. Together they work with the nervous system.

It is the same in the body of Christ. The Bible tells us,
“And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; nor again
the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Cor. 12:21, NKJV). In
other words, we need each other. Each member of the body plays a vitally
important part in maintaining the overall health of the church.

This truth carries over to different denominations and
different congregations within those denominations. We need them all.
God created the body perfectly balanced so there would be no schisms in
it. In other words, God designed the church to function in perfect unity
so nothing will be lacking.

I’ve seen positive signs that unity is on the horizon in
the area of worship. But there’s more to be done. Let’s commit together
to pray for the healing of the church. We must all accept the challenge
as members of Christ’s body to walk together, work together, serve
together and especially worship together in unity, while celebrating our
diversity.

Babbie Mason is a premier gospel singer and songwriter
with numerous honors to her credit, including two Dove awards. She has
been a featured artist for the Billy Graham Crusades and the Women of
Faith tour. Babbie and her husband, Charles, reside in Atlanta, Georgia.

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