All things to all people

This is a blog by Todd Agnew. He’s an awesome blues/rock/gospel/worship/praise artist, in case some of you didn’t know:


“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (ESV)

Seeing as how the same thought has come up twice this week in completely unrelated circumstances, I think it may be of some value to share it with you. One instance was being in the van driving back from our shows listening to a sermon from my church. But that’s where you expect to hear from God and learn what He desires from you. The second instance was listening to a concert by a band that as far as I know doesn’t know God at all. They may, and that’s not really the point. The point is that it was a very different environment to be hearing from the Lord.

Now I’ve noticed that in our churches most of the time we want people to be like us. We may say we want to be welcoming to all races, but what we really mean is we’re going to do church like white people but anyone else is welcome to attend. Or we’re going to do church like black people, but you’re welcome to come. Or we’re going to do church like Hispanic people but you’re welcome. We have an upper middle class service but people from a lower income bracket are invited, should anyone happen to run into one. Now while I’m sure that is a step in the right direction, considering the stories I’ve heard of segregation in generations before, I don’t think it was what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 9.

I think I first noticed it in worship music. Obviously that is my field of strength so I pay attention to it. I noticed among many churches I was working with that they were starting to say they wanted to reach people of all ethnic backgrounds. And yet their services didn’t change at all. They may have invited people from other cultures, but hadn’t done anything to actually make them feel welcome once they arrived. Once again, the music stood out to me. A church I knew said they wanted to start reaching the African-American community surrounding the church, but musically they stuck with an entire roster of Passion songs. Now don’t get me wrong. There is absolutely nothing wrong with those songs. But they have definitely defined a generation. All I’m saying is in the middle of their set, why don’t they work in a gospel number? Or even a soul or hip-hop track? These visitors’ opinions on music are just as valid as ours. And Paul says he became like the people he was trying to reach. Not after he knew them, but in order to know them. So it seems to me that if we wanted to reach other ethnic groups that we should value their culture, their music, their heritage, and include them in our own.

So here is the example I wrote about. This weekend I attended the Austin City Limits Festival, which I will blog about in the days to come. On Sunday, we went to church and then hurried over to the festival grounds to make sure we got our spot for Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet. Abigail is a singer and a banjo player. The rest of the group included a violin (fiddle, if you will), cello, and another banjo. Of course, the OTHER banjo player was Bela Fleck, which only means something to music fans, but he’s amazing. So anyway, these guys (and girl) were incredible. Their instrumentations and arrangements were so creative. The songs were beautiful. And the musicianship was exquisite. I’m sorry, I know it’s a weird word, but it’s really the only one that fits. So anyway, they told a story about touring China and having such success that they were invited to be the first American group to play in Tibet. And in their set, they played two Chinese folk songs. They said when they played one of them at a high school in Tibet, they had 3,000 high school kids singing along. And they didn’t just learn Chinese songs to tour China. They truly appreciated the art and the music of this place. They had a love and a passion for it. So they had worked up amazing arrangements of these songs, using the banjo, a very American instrument. God really spoke to my heart about these people and their story. They had prepared to reach a very different people group. But they hadn’t just done it to be a hit over there, they truly valued this other culture and its music.

So I began to wonder what it would be like if we, the church, approached reaching people in this way? What if we built churches that didn’t demand that people fit into our mold, but accepted them and not only accepted them, but valued them as they are? What if, in trying to reach different people, we became different ourselves? What if we included their musical styles? What if we altered preaching styles, sometimes? What if a protestant church was willing to include some liturgy? (Now you Episcopals back off, I’m obviously not talking to you! …now that’s a joke. I’m just kidding. But I also refuse to use LOL or smiley faces to define my humor.) What if we were willing to become like the people we were trying to reach? Now obviously this is not a question of holiness, or of the church becoming like the world. I don’t mean that at all. I don’t mean we should start using offensive music in our churches because that may be what lost people listen to. I just mean that maybe we should put our preferences aside and be willing to include other cultures in our values, not just in our verbage.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.