Sometimes we can get stuck in certain ways of thinking. We might be tired, and busy and it is easy to fall back into familiar paradigms. A familiar paradigm might be that orchestras play classical music. To an extent, this is true orchestras do play classical music and have done for centuries in the western world. What happens if we bust out of this paradigm? What happens if we take this orchestra and their bemused looking conductor, add in a guitar playing vocalist, known for heavy rock music, a pop singer, and a reggae musician. Throw in a young up and coming pop singer, some very good session musicians, on saxophone, electric guitar, and keyboards. Lastly add a concert pianist and music written by a popular singer-songwriter who reinvented himself several times for an influential career spanning almost 5 decades.
What happens when you bring this juxtaposition together for a concert?
You create magic! You get a creative sparking between the different musicians and styles that create a fresh energy and everyone including the multi-generational audience has a lot of fun. I found attending Bowie: Starman a few months ago quite inspirational. This was a concert fronted by Jon Toogood(Shihad) and Julia Deans (Fur Patrol) with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and other singers such as Laughton Kora (Kora), and Anna Coddington. They had, of course, come together to play the music of David Bowie. The concert made me think about creativity, about juxtapositions, about energy and about the church. Creativity is often about putting things together in a new way or bringing things together that haven’t been mixed together before, it is that sparking between different ideas that enables us to create something new.
The church is a bit like an orchestra venerating music from previous centuries, or Shihad fans that are left to have their concert outside in Aotea Square while the orchestra performs in the Town Hall, and the styles never come together. We have created services and churches that stick to their style and paradigm but we never manage to bring them together well. What would happen if we approached church a bit more like a Bowie:Starman concert? What if the real creative sparking will come when instead of having separate enclaves we mix everything together?
We can create a fresh energy and fresh spaces for the Holy Spirit to work if we mix diversity together with generosity.
As I reflected on the concert I identified some key components that made the concert work and give us inspiration for how we do church.
The central figure in making this concert happen has a talent for collaboration. Toogood doesn’t lead by himself and he doesn’t have to be centre stage all the time. His role seems to be to cast the vision and bring everyone on board, creating a leadership team. He then helps them all work together and understand what they are creating. He knows when to step back and let others do their jobs, he knows when to let the conductor lead, and when he needs to follow the conductor. To create a good collaborative concert he doesn’t need to sing all the songs, he can also play a support role by singing backing vocals in many of the songs.
What would our church or organisation look like if we had a leadership team instead of a single figure?
What would our church or organisation look like if we had a leader who excelled at collaboration?
Deans and Toogood have worked together on a number of projects now, and from the audience, it looks like they are great friends and colleagues that enjoy each other's strengths and spur each other to achieve more. The orchestra was made up of people from diverse ethnicities and ages. Classical music, however, was primarily created and grown in the western world, and this needs to be acknowledged if we are creating something truly diverse. Diversity needs to be something broader and wider than simply including a singer with a background in NZ reggae. This type of inclusion can sometimes walk a line that is very close to tokenism.
What would our church or organisation look like if our leadership team was more diverse, containing strong relationships across genders, age groups and ethnic groups?
What would our church or organisation look like if we acknowledged that our systems, procedures, beliefs and ways of being are firmly based in western/middle-class models?
A key component of a successful collaboration is generosity. The pop and rock singers were supported by a large crew of classically trained musicians, with traditional knowledge. What generosity it must take for them to play pop music. I wonder if perhaps some of the orchestral musicians don’t even like David Bowie, yet they are willing to play as part of the team from their commitment to their orchestra. They are generous in their attitude to be lead by someone else with a different musical vision to what they are used to. They are generous to allow this to stretch them right out of what they are comfortable with. Part of the generosity in making this happen is to acknowledge that it might feel uncomfortable for each individual as they see their contribution changed and their valued way of doing things challenged.
What would our church/organisation look like if we were more willing to be uncomfortable?
What would our church/organisation look like it we were more willing to be generous in our preferences?
The final component that I noticed at the concert was that everyone had fun, there was a lot of joy expressed. The singers had fun trying different (quite difficult) songs. You could see that many of the orchestral musicians were playing for the sheer joy of using their instrument. The singers enjoyed being together and working with different musicians and supporting each other. The audience had fun, listening and being pulled into the fun of what was created. Everyone enjoyed themselves and had fun, they expressed their joy through dance and song and smiles.
When did your staff team last have fun together?
When did you last have fun attending church, and see an expression of pure joy from the front?
What a glorious vision for the church or for a christian organisation we get from thinking about what made this concert so magic. Can we imagine a church that looks like this? A church that has a diverse leadership team with a talent for collaboration that is backed up by people with tradition and knowledge. A church that acknowledges its western and age group biases, that is characterised by generosity that allows diversity to flourish. A church that is known for its joy and is fun to be a part of. Can we work together with the Holy Spirit to build this church?