Using the Nairobi Statement in Worship Planning

by Andrea Baxter

As a music educator and children’s choir director, I know that it is very important to expose children to a variety of repertoire. Variety means ensuring that they are singing in different modes, meters, and languages. It means including something that was written generations ago, as well as something that is newly composed. It means exposing children to rich, poetic texts that need exploration to understand and texts that are simple and repetitive with the potential to easily remain with them during the week. Not only does variety in music selection keep things interesting, but it ensures a curriculum that weaves a thread of connection to different times, places, and styles.

I have come to understand that taking this same approach to the congregation’s song is equally important. Compared to the children’s choir, however, making music choices for the congregation in worship is a little more complicated. In addition to the musical factors, there are influences ranging from logistical concerns (will I have a choir scheduled on the day I want to introduce this new hymn?) to thematic factors (in what direction will the preacher go?). Sometimes the number of parameters in play can make it difficult to make any decisions at all!

There is a tool that I have learned to use that doesn’t necessarily simplify the task of choosing music, but it helps me to get above the analysis paralysis. The Lutheran World Federation’s Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture addresses the relationship between worship and culture, categorizing the relationship in four different ways. While the categories relate broadly to all worship components, we can use these categories to help reframe and guide decision-making as it relates specifically to music in worship.

Worship is Transcultural. Worship transcends culture in that the great story of our faith and the actions that help retell the story are in some way above or beyond culture. When I plan for worship that is transcultural, I include music that unites us across time and place, has stood the test of time, and can potentially be heard or recognized in other churches around the globe.

Worship is Contextual. Worship reflects some of the local cultural flavor. In my context, Harvest Home is a tradition in autumn that includes a liturgy of thanks for the harvest, the hymn “Come, Ye Thankful People Come,” and a gathering of food items to share with the community. If you are reading this and have never experienced Harvest Home, you’ll understand exactly how worship is sometimes contextual.

Worship is Counter-Cultural. We are called to be in but not of the world, and so worship is different than the culture in which it exists. Hymns and songs in worship that address themes of equity and social justice can provide counter-cultural moments in worship. Allowing a time of silence following a musical offering or in preparation for worship can be counter cultural as well.

Worship is Cross-Cultural. Elements in worship that are cross-cultural are those moments when walls are torn down and we connect to our Christian siblings in other parts of the world. Respectfully singing a hymn from another culture reminds us that we are one small part of the body of Christ.

There are so many factors involved in choosing music for worship. The gift of the Nairobi Statement is its ability to help provide a big-picture perspective so that we ensure that worship is both local and global, both transcendent and relevant. Used as a regular lens, this tool and its checks and balances can help ensure a rich and healthy approach to music in worship.

Posted on Mar 7, 2024 9:00:00 AM
Filed Under: Music Ministry, Filed Under: music, Filed Under: culture, Filed Under: worship, Filed Under: Cultural,

Andrea Baxter

Written by Andrea Baxter

Andrea Baxter currently serves as the Director for Worship Renewal at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lansdale, PA, where she has oversight of the graded children’s music program that she has built, and directs youth and adult choirs in addition to planning worship for Trinity’s three weekly services. She holds a Bachelor of Music in Music Education from Susquehanna University and a Master of Music in Choral Conducting from Carnegie Mellon University. She is on the faculty of the Choristers Guild Institute (CGI), a three-year certification for children’s choir directors, and she has served as a curriculum writer for Growing in Grace, a scripture-based music curriculum for children’s choirs. Andrea resides in Lansdale, PA with her husband and their three sons.