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Reflections on the place of music in mission

If music be the food of love, play on”

wrote Shakespeare some 400 years ago.

He knew that there is power in tune and song

in melody and rhythm’s ebb and flow.

 

A message can be told within a rhyme

and find a home in those unwelcome ears

which, were it told at any other time,

would turn away with mocking cries and jeers.

 

Jesus had an awesome way with words,

His parables and teachings have endured

as each successive generation heard

and passed them on in turn as they matured.

 

But teenagers and young adults today

have lost that cultural heritage of faith.

It’s gradually declined and gone away,

the challenge is how it can be replaced.

 

Over the last four years my role has been to use music to build links with the community, and particularly groups who are not being reached by our regular services. In doing this I have spent a lot of time working with children and teenagers and have come to recognise the power of music in breaking down barriers and teaching some of the basics of faith.

 

I run a monthly Open Mic night which attracts a large number of teenagers from local schools and colleges. I also run a school choir in a local primary school and lead the whole school singing assembly every week. In both of these music is the thing which draws in and engages the young people. It is also the medium by which I and others can “proclaim the good news of the kingdom”.

 

We get up to 100 teenagers each month to our Open Mic nights, the majority of whom have little other contact with Church. Were we to try and put a ‘talk’ in the middle of the evening (as some have suggested) the kids would both disengage with that part of the evening and also probably stop coming altogether. The integrity of the evenings would be compromised by changing the focus from the music and the performers to our agenda of teaching them about the gospel. However, there are regularly performers (myself included) who sing songs which do proclaim the good news of the kingdom. I recently wrote a song cycle of four songs which tell stories from Jesus’ life. I have performed all of these more than once and have even had a couple of them requested when I didn’t play them. The songs manage to hold the tension between teaching and proclaiming the gospel and maintaining the integrity of the evenings. It is a delicate balance and hasn’t always worked but when it does music can open up amazing doors for the gospel which would otherwise be closed.

 

My work in school provides opportunities to teach the gospel in different ways but again music, and particularly songs, holds the key to opening doors. My main role with the choir and the whole school singing is to teach songs which engage the children and help them to enjoy singing. Beyond that I have no curricular responsibilities apart from the occasional seasonal requirement (e.g. Harvest assembly). This gives me great opportunity to write and teach songs which tell stories of God. A couple of years ago I wrote a nativity play which I have now taught and performed in two local schools and which has also been performed in a couple of other schools without my involvement. I have also written several songs telling stories from the bible, including Noah and some of Jesus’ parables. Through learning and singing these songs the children are learning more about faith, this is then developed in some through our Messy Church after-school club and other church involvement.

 

In both these examples, and in other aspects of my work, music has the power to open doors and help people of all ages engage with the gospel. Religion may no longer be at the heart of modern culture but music very much is. There is great missional potential in harnessing the power of music to move and to inform and I for one am only just scratching the surface.

 

Although for centuries music’s been used

to help proclaim God’s love, we’ve just begun.

There’s so much more to learn, to see, to do,

If music be the food of Love, play on”

 

 

714 words

Richard Clarkson, 11th October 2010

 

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