This is the final post from an 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 hymns and contemporary Christian music. (Part 1 & Part 2)
As I’ve been thinking about this topic over the last couple of weeks I’ve realised what challenge it is for churches to learn new music styles. I attended a Gospel Meeting at a local African-American church last night and it dawned on me that even if we ‘borrowed’ one of their song leaders occasionally, our congregation wouldn’t necessarily know how to sing in that style. We’re trained in western classical and choral music to follow the leader, while in the Gospel genre the congregation needs to know their part because the leader is doing his own thing.
While there’s some benefit to having a black worship leader, if he’s expected to simply sing songs in the usual style, it’s really just window dressing, not multicultural worship. To allow all members to express their souls we must encourage their styles of worship music, even if the majority don’t readily recognise it.
I appreciate Kip addressing some of these challenges below.
What advice would you give smaller churches seeking to move to a more inclusive worship style where song leaders often don’t have a great deal of training?
If a smaller church is diverse and desires for its up-front leadership to reflect that diversity, I would say
- Begin with prayer, continue with prayer and end with prayer. Ask God to help you!
- Even though you can find plenty of diverse songs, you need to determine if your church is ready to adapt its worship culture. Different ethnicities sing in different ways. Although there is a lot of common ground in theme and style, I have discovered that predominantly white congregations and predominantly black congregations have a few differences when it comes to church music:
- Predominantly white churches are generally accustomed to following the song leader like a choral director. He sings the melody line and the church sings what he sings when he sings it. The church will usually sing “by the book”- meaning that they will follow the melody, harmonies, verses and choruses that the sheet music dictates.
- Predominantly African-American churches may be quite comfortable singing one thing while the worship leader might sing “fill ins” and “ad-libs” along the way. The congregation will sing some amazing harmony, but it may not be what is written in the hymnbook. They may also enjoy singing the chorus a few more times than is written.
- If you feel like your church will benefit from a more diverse style of worship, invite some of your black brothers and sisters to lunch or dinner to discuss new music and the worship culture of your church. You will most likely discover common ground along with many new opportunities to deepen your church’s worship culture.
- Begin listening to different radio stations and search for more black gospel songs.
- If you are able to arrange music, you can add to your list of congregational songs. If you aren’t able to arrange music, I know a lot of arrangers who would be willing to help.
- As a worship leader, you may feel unable to credibly lead the church in this style of music. If you just don’t feel capable of this, ask God to open your eyes to leaders among you that might need someone to open the door of leadership to them so they can use their gifts to bless their congregation If there is no one among your congregation who can help you create a more inclusive worship style, perhaps you can ask other churches if they have gifted worship leaders who would be willing to lead worship for you on occasion. I firmly believe that God will provide the leadership the church needs when its leaders are open-hearted about leading his people.
- I don’t know a lot of training opportunities like this, but I am always open to listen and offer help in any way I am able. You can reach me at email@example.com.
How much fun did you have recording Without Borders? As we close are there any stories you want to share?
The greatest blessing of this project was the people he gathered together to create it. I’ve always had talented background singers and soloists who have blessed each recording, but this time we discovered a few vocal gems!
It’s no secret that Steve Maxwell is an amazing vocalist. He sang with Acappella and is now the worship leader at North Atlanta Church. It’s a blessing to be a part of the congregation when he leads worship, but it was an awe inspiring moment when he recorded Every Praise. He came in, put on the headphones, got a sound level and proceeded to record it all in one take with no tuning or alignment needed. He was literally in and out of the booth in 4 minutes and it was golden. That was a moment I’ll never forget!
Another treasure is Kimberly Heard. She and her family were already an important part of Sycamore View, but to see the way the church responded to her solo on A Little More Jesus was unforgettable. She has a beautiful voice and a wonderful gift from God. This CD gave her a platform to give a gift to the Church that continues to bless.
Another one of my favorite treasures is Reginald Williams, who isn’t a part of our praise team. One Sunday morning we sang “Lean on Me” as our final song and Reginald came up to me after worship and started singing “You just call on me brother when you need a hand…” and I loved his voice. I asked him if he would consider learning a song called, “Count it Victory” to go on our new CD. I’ll never forget the child-like look in his eyes the first time he heard the finished product. He asked, “Is that ME?” and then he would listen for a few more seconds and ask again, “Is that really ME?” I loved to be able to say, “That’s you and you are going to bless a lot of people with your song brother!
I loved hearing Julie Sanon sing Mansion, Robe and Crown, Candice Goff sing Oceans, Derek Byrd sing Starts With Me. I am still moved by Eric Wilson’s spoken word piece called “And We Waved.” And our kids singing “Thrive” always makes me smile. I loved how our entire team worked so hard together to create a gift that calls us to unity as we celebrate diversity.
I just got a call from a brother in North Little Rock who received Without Borders as a gift from a friend who visited one of our worship gatherings. He called me to say that this CD has meant so much to him and many times he has been brought to tears as he listens to it. As our conversation moved to more personal levels, I shared my journey in creating this CD. He then shared his journey and how he grew up in an African-American church and went to a Harding University where he discovered different songs of worship and a different way to worship among the white churches and various campus devotionals he participated in. He said he came back home to share some new songs he learned only to find that his church wasn’t really interested in learning “those” songs.
He has since stepped out on faith to be a part of a church that is trying to blend black and white worship styles so that more people can find unity in worshiping the Father. After I hung up the phone, I was grateful to know that God used our little CD and how He is moving among our churches to begin some much needed conversations about diversity in music that will create more unity in churches. May God bless us as we continue the conversation.
Without Borders is available for streaming HERE. You can also order a CD of the album by contacting Kip: firstname.lastname@example.org.