As a student at Columbia International University I got to experience a little taste of heaven every single day. At 10:40 am we would gather all the students and faculty together for chapel services. And every morning I stood to worship side by side with fellow believers from all over the world. Whether we were singing hymns, contemporary praise songs or listening to an international choir singing in other languages, we were all worshiping the same God, the same Savior, in the same Spirit. That’s what I imagine heaven is gonna be like…except that we’ll probably all be in tune… 🙂
But then came graduation and we all went our separate ways. We moved to churches where we were comfortable. We congregated with our friends and families. We settled into our routines of worshiping with people who were just like us in every way. Until one day we looked up and realized that our worship was so very one-dimensional. What happened? Why did we exchange diversity for monotony? And why doesn’t anyone seem to mind?
When Jeff & I lived in New Orleans we began to see the problem. During the week we would be surrounded by people of various races, cultures, and socio-economic status. But on Sunday when we attended church, we were surrounded with people who were all the same. One church was all white, one church was all black, one church was all middle-class suburbanites, one church was all college educated, one church was all working class, one church was all “old-money” southerners… Whether the separation was intentional or not, it was definitely obvious. Isn’t there somewhere that we can all worship together like we did back in college?
But we were not in charge of any of those churches back then. We didn’t have any say in how things were done. Then God moved us to Kentucky. He gave us a church and a vision of doing great things for Him. We longed for authentic worship, practical ministry and the co-existence of both unity and diversity. Do you know how hard it is to be intentional about diversity when your community is 90% white? Hmmm…
Then about three years ago God began to move in the hearts of various pastors and church leaders. The desire to gather their churches to worship together in a show of unity began to form. And suddenly we found ourselves leading the first ever worship gathering of Henderson Area Churches. At first the emphasis was on unity. Two of the churches choosing to participate had split from one body a mere three years before. Getting the people from both churches to sit in the same room together, much less worship, was a seemingly impossible task. But God wanted to show His great power by allowing pride to be broken, hearts softened and bitterness ended. What followed has been an amazing testimony to His grace!
Henderson Area Churches now meet every 5th Sunday for a joint worship celebration. Our celebrations include 8-12 churches from all over our county, and are some of the most fun times I’ve ever experienced in ministry! A typical celebration includes many forms of worship such as:
- A white, middle-class praise team sings contemporary Christian music (usually Chris Tomlin) with a CD track
- A blue-grass band complete with steel guitar and honky-tonk piano sing “I’ll Fly Away”
- A black choir of pentecostal persuasion claps and sways as they sing a traditional call & response accompanied by piano and drums
- A tattooed former biker couple blast out classic rock tunes with a spiritual twist
- A pastor and his wife in traditional Baptist clothing (i.e. suit & dress) sing an old hymn as their son plays piano
- A group of ladies from a small country church sing a Nicole C. Mullins song with hands lifted high
- A group of young people from a well-to-do African America church perform a worship dance wearing white gloves and praise dresses
- A youth group of mostly poor, white kids from difficult family backgrounds performs a dramatic interpretation of Christ rescuing them from the power of Satan
- A group of teens and women stretch out of their Baptist comfort zones to dance to a Mandisa song, hoping they won’t get laughed at or kicked out of their church…(That was my creative ministry team… 🙂 )
All of these expressions come together to form a toe-tapping, unpredictable symphony of heart-felt worship that once again gives us just a little taste of heaven.
“By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35
All of this does not come without a struggle. The enemy does not want us to be unified. He wants us to remain divided. It takes a lot of work to make worship like this possible… why do you think we only attempt it once a quarter? In the next post I will tell you some of the practical things we have learned in order to make intentionally worshiping in unity and diversity happen in our area.
What do you think about unity & diversity in worship? What has been your experience?