Unified Diversity

Oh how good it is when the family of God
Dwells together in spirit, in faith and unity.
Where the bonds of peace, of acceptance, and love
Are the fruit of His presence here among us.

So with one voice we’ll sing to the Lord,
And with one heart we’ll live out His word
Till the whole earth sees the Redeemer has come
For He dwells in the presence of His people.

-“Oh, How Good It Is” by Keith and Kristyn Getty, Ross Holmes, Stuart Townend

I spent the last two weeks at church music conferences. The first was the annual conference of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada , which met in New Orleans. The second was the Alleluia Conference hosted by Baylor University in Waco, Texas. The Hymn Society focuses on congregational song, and Alleluia also addresses choral music and children’s music. Both were great.

The group singing at these meetings is always very significant to me. To be sure, gathering a few hundred trained musicians and creative-types yields some beautiful sounds, especially when the music is picked and prepared by excellent leaders. But the truly wonderful aspect of such assemblies is that people of diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, and beliefs come together and willingly pour their hearts, minds, bodies, and voices into the corporate praise of God.

It is this sort of unified diversity that constitutes the people of God, and it is best understood as an artistic expression of the great Creator: Many voices, one song. Many colors, one canvas.

A hymn sing is a microcosm of the Church. When one person drops out of the singing for a moment to catch his breath, the others faithfully continue on, and the absent voice is only noticed by his close neighbors. This is analogous to the pastoral role within the church and of the church in the world. On the other hand, when everyone stops singing except one person, the broken silence is painfully obvious. Sometimes this person is singing an unexpected solo because she misread the music or misunderstood the instructions. Occasionally, however, the soloist is correct and the rest of us are too anxious to join in the song. This is like the prophetic role in the church and of the church to the world.

The Church and its appointed ministers are called to be both pastors and prophets. Both are servant roles. Both require humility. The two roles come together to form the Church’s song of praise to God and message of redemption for humankind. Praise be to God for this high calling and the beautiful harmony that it produces!

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