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Conference crowd told: Musicians must be theologians, too

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–How important is music to missions? What part do the praises of God have in declaring the Gospel?

More than 300 ministers of music, pastors and missionaries examined these and similar questions at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Global Consultation on Music and Missions Sept. 15-18.

The consultation, which began in song, intended to show that music and worship are not just “add-ons” to the Gospel, according to Frank Fortunato, who helped lead music throughout the week.

Participants from 26 different countries attended the conference.

“Personally, this has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, to see Christians from around the globe finding unity and solidarity in Christ, even though they worship and sing in different languages,” said Stan Moore, acting dean of the School of Church Music at Southwestern Seminary.

Renjy Abraham said he had no idea what to expect as he made the journey from Portland, Ore., to attend the conference, but he said he came away from the conference with a wealth of useful knowledge.

Abraham said the conference helped him to discover “different ways to worship the Lord and really meditate on what His Word says. What does it mean to delight in the Lord? What does it mean to sacrifice in worship and also receive?”

Participants of the conference were challenged by the notion that most people, including those in the West, learn and preserve what they believe about God largely by what they sing about Him.

“You’d better be a good biblical theologian, because God cares about what His people say about Him, sing about Him, believe about Him,” said John Piper, senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minn., and keynote speaker at the conference.

“You have a huge array of possibilities before you in the western church — most of them wrong — and so your work is cut out for you. Don’t think that knowing music is enough to do your job if you intend to help cultures awaken to who God is and sing appropriately about Him.”

John Boozer, professor of church music at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., was pleased that others were beginning to see the critical role that music plays in effectively reaching the nations.

Boozer recently led a group of Southeastern Seminary students to Southeast Asia to work among Buddhist monks in Thailand. Drawing upon his own expertise in music and focusing his gifts in missionary endeavor, Boozer is trying to equip his students through both classroom instruction and practical experience to use their God-given skills for kingdom purposes.

“Most people today have no idea what ethnomusicology is supposed to be. There are basic musical principles that are universally transferable. I’m trying to get my students to see how God can use the gifts he has given them for a greater purpose.”

Roberta King, who serves as associate professor of communication and ethnomusicology at Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of World Mission in California, exhorted conference participants on the last day of the gathering to “make known among the nations what God has done.” The Great Commission, she noted, commands believers to make disciples, not new songs.

“But when we condemn a people’s music, we condemn a people, and that is equally true in North America,” she said. “When we condemn a generation’s music, we condemn that generation.”

King shared examples of how she saw music help missionaries connect with indigenous people during her 22 years at Daystar University in Nairobi, Kenya.

“All of life involves communication,” she said. “We are communicating whether we are singing, talking, dancing or not. Communication involves all of our five senses. … We are always sending a message, but for the Christian, our message is more than merely critical information — it is a person message, bringing people into a relationship with the living God, the Lord Jesus Christ, a relational message that connects people with the Holy One of Israel.”

King identified three barriers to communication which musicians are best equipped to overcome: sound barriers, cultural barriers and relational barriers.

Moore said many individuals have already expressed interest in planning another event like the Global Consultation on Music and Missions.

“This consultation demonstrated that worship can and should be a unifying experience in the life of believers,” he said. “It also clearly demonstrated how God is powerfully using music and all the arts as a means of evangelism and church planting. Music missions should be a prominent strategy in every church planting movement.”
Samuel Smith and Benjamin S. Cole contributed to this story. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: LIFTING UP THE LORD.

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  • Lauri Arnold