I’ve never been to Nairobi, but I’m hoping we can take a quick trip there together … right now! The Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture came out of the third international consultation of the Lutheran World Federation’s Study Team (1996), which met in Nairobi, Kenya. It teaches us that worship is transcultural, contextual, counter-cultural, and cross-cultural. The full text of this statement can be found on the website of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, which is also where the quotes in italics are from.
Worship as Transcultural: Certain elements of worship and our faith are shared across the entire world. Even when in a place where we might not understand the culture or language, we can recognize Christian praise and prayers, Baptism, Eucharist, a sermon, etc. “The use of this shared core liturgical structure and these shared liturgical elements in local congregational worship -- as well as the shared act of people assembling together, and the shared provision of diverse leadership in that assembly … are expressions of Christian unity across time, space, culture, and confession.”
Worship as Contextual: Just as Christ lived and ministered in a specific time and place, we do as well. Methods of contextualization allow us to express elements of worship in our language and culture. Such expression of our faith allows us to shape our worship and ministry in a way that honors who we are as a congregation and meet the specific needs we identify within the community around us. “In contextualization the fundamental values and meanings of both Christianity and of local cultures must be respected.”
Worship as Counter-cultural: After staying in a hotel as a guest, my grandmother would clean the room reminding us to always leave things better than we found them. Christian worship should confront us, challenge us, and leave us better than it finds us. We should not always “like” or “enjoy” worship. If we do, we’re missing out on critical growth as a people, as Christians. We are doing something wrong. “Christian faith and worship necessarily involves challenging all types of oppression and social injustice wherever they exist [sinful, dehumanizing, and contradictory components of culture] … It also involves the transformation of cultural patterns which idolize the self or the local group …”
Worship as Cross-cultural: “Jesus came to be the Savior of all people.” We often understand this fact theoretically, but living it out practically is more of a challenge. Our power, comfort, and preferences keep us divided and oftentimes minimizes the love and unity Christ demands of his church. Worship should propel us into relationships with other cultures, but also with individuals who are not like us. This is why Andy Stanley rightly said, “people who were nothing like Jesus, liked Jesus and he liked them back.” This is the Jesus we are called to be regardless of the other’s race, culture, religion, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and/or ability.
So, CLC family, my question is simple. Where do we excel and where do we have opportunity? Is our worship transcultural, highlighting the reality of our unity with the church of all times and all places? Is our worship contextual, honoring our Christian and local values? Is our worship counter-cultural, challenging the oppression and social justice in our small part of the world? And finally, is our worship cross-cultural, driving us to build deep and meaningful relationships with those who are not us? The crisis of the global pandemic is an apt opportunity for us to evaluate the patterns we formed previously and make whatever adjustments are wise and necessary. Yes, it is natural to want to return to the comfort of what we knew, but we have the opportunity to grow and form newer and healthier approaches … to become a better version of who we are. Let us not waste this crisis.
Minister of Music