A Three-Part Blog Series on Decolonizing the Worship Movement
PART 2: “The Medium is the Message”
By Malcolm Du Plessis
We have begun a three-part blog series that addresses the decolonization of the worship movement. In our last blog, Malcolm Du Plessis gave us a look into the current state of the worship movement and challenged us to engage in worship as a multicultural expression. To read “Part 1: The Current State of Worship Music,” click (here).
This week, Malcolm will further explain the importance of internationalizing the worship movement and how we can become involved. Read on!
THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE
God has chosen to reveal himself by incarnating himself, firstly in his son, but now in us; in and through our feebleness, our humanness, our idiosyncrasies, our cultures, and our stories. One of the stories that we need to tell is that the gospel is relevant to every culture. May God help us to begin to tell that story in our worship songs.
Incarnation is basically “content meeting form.” The gospel is not an ethereal conceptual message. It is an enfleshed reality. We are not robotic copycats of a message. We are the message. Therefore form matters. Therefore our worship music should reflect our cultures and, potentially, the mishmash of cultures that have responded to the gospel. As Marshall McLuhan, the father of communications, put it: “the medium is the message.”
The million-dollar question is “what message is being told by the medium and culture of contemporary worship?” I would like to make a few observations:
(1) globalization, spiritual colonization, and isomorphism are acceptable and inevitable,
(2) celebrity and brand leveraging are legitimate catalyzing agents for the spread of the gospel, and
(3) high-tech production and fashion give us credibility.
Let’s look at these three observations in more detail:
(1) Firstly, I would like to propose that spiritual colonization has impoverished and not enriched kingdom life. Jesus sends us out to disciple nations. Somewhere in church history, discipling and colonizing the nations got a little blurred.
Colonization is the sending out of a group of settlers to a nation to establish control over it, leveraging God-given blessings for the interests of the sending agency, superimposing language and culture and other realities on the settlement, leaving behind a trail of sadnesses.
Modern day brand leveraging runs the same risks as colonization. An overly cultivated desire within a ministry community to influence the church worldwide with its homegrown resources can have consequences similar to colonialism. Bear in mind that the only people that upset Jesus enough for him to threaten with a whip were the “resourcing agents” that made it easy for worshipers to purchase their sacrifice animals on site. Jesus’ antidote to the enterprise of religion was summed up in his retort that his father’s house was meant to be a house of prayer for all nations. Just like John the Baptist had predicted in this comment, “he raised every valley and brought down every mountain and hill,” and created a level playing field where all had dignity and a vital role.
I would like to propose that the antidote to the current overly cultivated desire amongst a few ministries to “resource the church worldwide with their songs” is still the same today as it was in Jesus’ time — for us to be reminded that the house of God is international, a commonwealth of communities where each group has something valid and vital to contribute, notwithstanding “a song to share.”
Discipling is different from colonizing. It is less about influencing and more about serving. Yes, there are truths to be taught, but they are communicated in such a way that they can be absorbed via the local culture. When the bible is translated it is repurposed via local idiom. Discipling should not repeat the mistakes of the colonial missionary movement of days gone by. Servant-hearted ministry results in the blessing of the nations, just as was God’s original intent with Abraham.
Imagine a Christianity where every culture is represented with dignity. Imagine if our worship told a story that could reach the gospel into every people group.
God’s way, in nature and in the kingdom, is cross-pollination. I pray this dynamic would become the way of the worship movement.
We can argue that the internet spawned globalization, making it easier for certain cultures to get the gospel out in new and creative ways. However, the converse is also true. The internet can also open the opportunity for a two-way exchange. This should be a priority-sensitivity in the kingdom. We should not be following the trend of the day. We should be emulating the dynamics of heaven where every culture and language has a place.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Malcolm Du Plessis
Malcolm is the co-founder of Commonexchange.com, an online collective dedicated to the cross-pollination of worship music across all cultures. For more information about Malcolm and the Common Exchange community, click (here) to view his website.