A community that sings is a community that has something to express. As we sing, we transmit our sentiments, beliefs, and hopes. We also express our cultural distinctions and peculiarities. It is not surprising that dictatorial governments throughout history have taken measures to silence singers and songs that would question the status quo. French neurologist Boris Cyrulnik, a survivor of the Holocaust, affirms that “all dictatorial regimes have considered art a suspicious activity.”1
Singing within a Christian community is an expression of worship, and, as such, it is dedicated to God; yet, as we worship with songs, we also connect to each other, edifying the body of Christ.
Paul encourages us to “teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts” (Col. 3:16, NTV).
How can we create a welcoming space in our communities so musicians will feel free to express worship through songs in creative ways?
GOD, MUSIC, AND CREATIVITY
The Cambridge Dictionary defines creativity as “the ability to produce original and unusual ideas, or to make something new or imaginative.”2
The Bible begins by describing God’s creativity: “In the beginning, God created . . .” (Gen. 1:1). The very first verb used in the Scriptures is bara—to create. Creativity is intrinsic to God, and because we are created in God’s image, creativity is engraved in our human essence as well. When it comes to music, whether it may be to compose, perform, conduct, arrange, or record, creativity is essential.
In the context of music-making within a Christian community, musicians face several challenges regarding music and creativity. Here are some important questions to ask:
• How open is the community to exploring new musical expressions of worship?
• Should musical creativity be subordinated to established traditions, principles, or personal preferences?
• How can worship planners achieve a balanced relationship between music and theology?
• How open is the community to listening to the questions that musicians raise?
• How can we cultivate a creative community within the church?
A GLIMPSE AT CHURCH MUSIC HISTORY AND CREATIVITY
Throughout history, the Christian church has been challenged by the introduction of new musical expressions and instruments into the prevailing tradition of worship. One element to consider is the fact that music and theology are different fields, sometimes wrongly considered as opposing fields:
|The study of the nature of God||The art and science of expressing emotions and beauty through sound|
|A search for unchanging truth||An expression of a constantly changing human reality|
|A search for a method to explain God||A search for ways to express both subjective and objective matters|
|Offers answers to life and human nature||Raises questions about life and human nature|
The tension between music and theology led the church fathers in the fourth century A.D. to regulate and control musical creativity in order to avoid what they perceived as “improper musical expressions” that posed a threat to established truth and traditions. Worshippers were effectively silenced for nearly 1,000 years. The following is one example:
|Council of Laodicea|
|Use of instruments||X|
|Borrowing tunes from secular repertoire||X|
In the fourteenth century, Martin Luther, recognizing that Christian music is an expression of Christian theology, advanced the Reformation with a musical revolution at its center. Luther was both an accomplished theologian and musician, and he viewed the relationship between both disciplines as complementary rather than confrontational.
Luther writes: “Except for theology there is no art that could be put on the same level than music, since except for theology music alone produces what otherwise only theology can do, namely, a calm and joyful disposition. . . . The prophets did not make use of any art except music; when setting forth their theology they did it not as geometry, not as arithmetic, not as astronomy, but as music, so they held theology and music most tightly connected, and proclaimed truth through psalms and songs. My love for music . . . is abundant and overflowing.”3
CULTIVATING CREATIVE COMMUNITY
Today we can learn some lessons from history regarding creativity in worship expressions and its impact on church growth.
In its 2014 report, the Hartford Institute for Religious Research concludes that “whatever a congregation’s sense of innovation in worship, one thing has remained constant over our 15 years of surveys—namely, the strong relationship that changing worship has to both growth and spiritual vitality. One of the reasons for this is the relationship between innovative worship and distinguishing oneself from other congregations in one’s community. Such differentiation provides a notable boost in growth.”4
Some suggestions that may be useful to intentionally cultivate creative communities in our local congregations are:
• Listening: “Listening is essential to cultivating any healthy community,” writes Nicholas Zork.5 Paul wrote about it as well. Take a look at his advice to the early Christian church: “Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you” (1 Cor. 14:26, NTV). Don’t be afraid of what people in your congregation have to express. A platform of genuine conversation needs to be provided so they have a true sense of support and confidence.
• Invest time and resources: Quality music and a healthy, creative community require the investment of human energy, supportive presence, and financial resources (for equipment, training, and community gatherings). It will not happen without the support of local ministers, church elders, other lay leaders, and the church board.
• Stay open: Encourage participation and innovation in your congregation. Creative people usually come with unexpected ideas. Be ready to test those new ideas in the light of the Word of God, not tradition or personal preferences.
• Encourage genuine worship: Michal perceived David’s dance as an inadequate worship expression (2 Sam. 6:16-21, NTV). God, however, accepted David’s expression of worship because God understood his motivation. God knew David was being genuine. Even though we should strive for excellence in worship, we need to encourage authentic, genuine worship above all; otherwise, worship can become more of a production or performance than an opportunity to come before God in honest, humble gratitude.
As I read the biblical psalms, I enjoy the diversity of themes, authors, and atmospheres created by the narratives. The book of Psalms represents a compilation of old and new expressions of worship, which constantly invite us to be creative as we come before the Lord to express our gratitude.
“Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives. Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery! Replace the evil years with good. Let us, your servants, see you work again; let our children see your glory. And may the Lord our God show us his approval and make our efforts successful. Yes, make our efforts successful!” (Ps. 90:14-17, NLT).
May the Lord make our efforts successful as we cultivate a creative community in which people may encounter and respond to a fresh revelation of Jesus as we affirm the Seventh-day Adventist Philosophy of Music.
1 Boris Cyrulnik, Sauve-toi, la vie t’appelle. Odile Jabob, ed. (Paris, 2012), 152.
3 Martin Luther, Works, 49:427, 428-8 (letter to Lois Senfl).
Adriana Perera is associate professor at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama, USA.d