Last week I began a 3 part interview with Kip Long, the worship minister at Sycamore View Church of Christ in Memphis, TN. In 2015 Kip and the Sycamore View Praise Team produced an album titled Without Borders that broke from their usual repertoire of contemporary Christian music.
One of the great challenges for multi-ethnic churches is designing ways for each culture to express themselves in worship. So I was curious to learn from Kip what motivated the production of this album and the process of reflecting cultural diversity through music.
You can read Part 1 of the interview HERE:
How are the song choices on this album different from previous compilations?
The song choices were different than previous compilations primarily because their sources and style were different. I spent time searching for songs suggested by my Hope Works class members and a few brothers and sisters who were familiar with urban contemporary gospel music and it opened a whole new appreciation for other artists. These songs were a stylistic departure from the previous songs because we had never recorded much gospel music before. We touched on a few songs on our Hymns CD which featured Jerome Williams, but never to this extent.
I understand that you took a sabbatical and did some research in preparing not only for the album but to adjust the worship style at Sycamore View. Can you describe that process?
After 7 years of ministry, each minister at Sycamore View gets a sabbatical to not only unplug from ministry, but to make deeper connections with God. During my time with God, I needed Him to help me discover ways to be the worship leader for a congregation that continues to grow in diversity. I am a 46 year-old white male who leads worship for a multi-generational, economically diverse, and multi-ethnic congregation. I knew we were planning to make a few stylistic changes to the next CD, but beyond that I wasn’t sure how much change was needed in our worship gatherings.
So I attended predominantly African-American congregations across the city to experience first-hand the similarities and differences in worship styles. I observed and learned a lot. I met with black worship leader friends and though I don’t have the same past experiences with Gospel music that they have, I was willing to learn and they were willing to teach. I met with many of my black brothers and sisters at Sycamore View who could help me gain new insight in this area and I was pleasantly surprised to find that most held a great appreciation for our music ministry and had discovered many new and wonderful songs that they had never heard before coming to Sycamore View. By the end of my sabbatical I felt:
- No wholesale changes in worship style were needed, but our music style would need to reflect the congregation as it grows in diversity.
- This CD would help many members and guests gain a greater appreciation for Gospel music. Without Borders would be a good first step.
- God was training our hearts and ears to hear his voice among different styles of music and culture.
- Peace in knowing that God is shaping us into the church he needs us to be on his time table.
What’s the racial makeup of your church? Have you received criticism for introducing songs from a different culture than many members are accustomed?
Our church is about 77% White, 20% Black with a few other ethnic groups among us. The bride of Christ at Sycamore View is truly beautiful. After the CD release, I received a few comments from people who do not prefer this style of music, because it was a little “too busy” for their ears. But most of our members fell in love with new music they might have never heard had we not chosen these specific songs.
As we move forward, I intend to seek out more congregational-friendly songs (for CD’s and for worship) that have roots in the African-American community. I am praying that God will continue making our praise team even more diverse and as we grow together so we can lead with credibility and integrity. I keep asking God to guide this process and open the doors that need to be opened. My prayer is Philippians 1:6, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” God started this journey and he will guide our church to a place where we can all experience worship gatherings with the style of worship that is right for us.
Many of the resources I know on the topic of multi-ethnic churches emphasize the importance of expressing the cultural diversity of the membership in our worship services. What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a worship leader in a larger church?
As we prepare worship each week, we pray that the leadership on the stage reflects the diversity in the pews, but not every Sunday will be as diverse as our congregation. We lead with those who are available to lead and celebrate when it happens to be a diverse group. Our prayer is that God will continually help us open doors of leadership to all people in our family so that various generations, genders, ethnicities, and socioeconomic levels would be represented.
Continue to the final part HERE.
Without Borders is available for streaming HERE. You can also order a CD of the album by contacting Kip: firstname.lastname@example.org.