I’m currently reading K.P. Yohannan’s Revolution in World Missions, (get it free here). He has seen phenomenal results throughout Asia in taking the gospel to villages through national missionaries who are literally willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of the Gospel–it sounds much like the book of Acts.
Yohanan says some things about American Christianity that are painful to hear, but worth considering. He suggests that we have allowed worldliness and materialism to distract us from our call to take the Gospel to all the world. We spend $74 million on new buildings when that same money could evangelize whole nations or build 7000 churches in Asia.
***As a side note, I remember in college asking a renowned Bible scholar why we were spending millions of dollars creating a new English Bible translation when there are more than 2000 language groups in the world that don’t even have a chapter of the Bible. He didn’t have a satisfactory answer. Now I’m the one who is challenged with why we spend $500,000 on church sound systems when that could support dozens of indigenous missionaries.”
His critique that caught my attention was related to our choirs, orchestras and modern worship bands. He wondered if we worship our worship instead of Christ. Do we really need all this music, he wonders?
If you read this blog, you probably have my reaction: “Of course we need music. The church hired me to do this. And haven’t we had music in churches since the angels sang of Jesus’ birth?” and after more careful thought, “Doesn’t God command us to use music in our worship of him? After all, the psalms are filled with calls to sing, shout, dance and make music to the Lord.”
It would be easy to dismiss Yohanan’s critique as stemming from a missions radical, but I think we would miss what the Spirit might be asking, “Are we worshipping our worship, instead of Christ?”
All this got me thinking about the legitimate role of musicians in global missions. I have many friends who have given their lives to this cause. Here are a few to check out, if you’re interested:
- Byron Spradlin with Artists in Christian Testimony (there are hundreds of musicianaries to check out in this organization)
- Scott Wesley Brown
- Paul Neeley and the International Council of Ethnomusicologists (check out some of the other people on this site like Frank Fortunato)
- Roberta King at Fuller School of Intercultural Studies.
- Joel Pelsue with Arts & Entertainment Ministries in Los Angeles
- Campus Crusade’s Keynote Ministries
- Here is a resource for singing global worship songs.
If the call of the Kingdom is to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all Christ’s commandments, do we need music to do this?
I hope this becomes a conversation starter as we all consider how our gifts are used in God’s Kingdom.
“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is.
Missions exists because worship doesn’t. . . .
Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal in missions.”
John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad.
With John Piper’s famous quote in our ears, let me propose ten reasons why church musicians and worship leaders are needed in global missions:
10. Musicians are typically good students of culture, which is exactly what missionaries need to be.
9. Music and art have universal appeal, and while not all cultures embrace Western styles of music, there is more openness today than ever before. In fact, studies have shown that young people in Japan and Saudi Arabia will spend thousands of dollars to attend concerts of Western music.
8. Worship leaders who are adept at learning new instruments and styles can quickly build rapport with the local community more quickly than missionaries with other skill sets.
7. Musicians can say things through art and music that missionaries would never be able to get away with. I often tell the story of missionary friends in Central Asia who started an Arts Festival so they could bring Christian artists to share the gospel through their music and art, since these missionaries had be unable to do so after more than a dozen years of relatively unfruitful preaching. The harvest was unprecedented.
6. Too often Western missionaries have unwittingly imported Western forms of music and worship (think African Queen). Informed musicians bring a sensitivity to cultural issues that other missionaries might miss and that will help the church become appropriately indigenous.
5. Who better to help train future worship leaders than biblically literate, gospel-saturated worship leaders who have a healthy grid for discerning culture?
4. Excellence in one’s craft will gain audiences with kings and queens. Proverbs 22:29 says, “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.” Musicians and artists have an opportunity through their craft to gain the respect and attention of local and national leaders. I have a missionary friend who became a national musical hero through her ability to sing national folk songs.
3. Missionaries need musicians on their team (and vice versa). I’ve written about this before and the point is worth repeating. The artistic temperament brings a healthy balance to the typical gifts of most pastors and missionaries.
2. In a day where sights and sounds have largely supplanted the spoken and written word, we need the artistic skills of musicians, artists and videographers to help communicate the gospel across cultural barriers (in person and online). In my social media work, I continually find that photos and videos are increasingly the way people take in information. We live in unprecedented times for using the internet for Kingdom purposes and artists can help translate our stories.
1. Music, art and drama are primary teaching methods in many oral societies. If that is true, then musicianaries become critical to not only evangelism, but also the discipleship of new churches in newly opened fields. Wycliffe Bible Translators has seen the importance of this. I have friends who have participated in their short-term ethnomusicology projects.
This list is by no means exhaustive. It’s meant to be a catalyst for conversation, not the final authority on this conversation. May God prompt all of us to consider how our skills and craft might be used for His kingdom purposes in our local churches, communities AND across the globe on short-term assignments and potentially through relocation.