March 17, 2010

Let's Climb Out of the Box

2010 1508 page31 capHILE ATTENDING ANDREWS UNIVERSITY SEVERAL YEARS AGO I SANG IN A student chorale. It was an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life.
The group wasn’t an official school ensemble. Our director was not a faculty or staff member, and we didn’t have music majors among our ranks. However, the choir provided a spiritual outlet for students and an opportunity for fellowship. It was a wholesome distraction from the rigors of academic life.
However, some members were unhappy. Even though we had a wide-ranging repertoire, the opportunities to perform were limited. We couldn’t sing for Friday night vespers or Sabbath morning worship services. Those venues were reserved for music majors. That’s where the official choruses, orchestras, and some selected groups performed by special invitation.
Our ensemble was restricted to a few student-sponsored programs and a couple local Adventist churches. The concern among the singers weighed heavily on the director.
2010 1508 page31Fortunately, the group’s leadership team put their heads together and, in a series of actions, altered the group’s focus, with exciting results.
The change started with an invitation to sing in the Sunday worship service at a Lutheran church a few miles from the university campus in Berrien Springs, Michigan. The experience gave the students a rare opportunity to share their faith in a different Christian culture. Without realizing it, the students became de facto ambassadors for the university. The reception also showed just how highly Andrews was regarded within the local community.
We then entertained more than 200 students at an inner-city high school. Though prewarned that the audience was hard to please, the power of sacred music won the hearts of the kids and captured their attention. A few weeks later the choir traveled to Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to participate in that school’s Black History month festivities. This was another opportunity to interact with students and witness through song.
The crowning event of our school year was an appearance on a live performance on the CBS television station, an event that brought unparalleled exposure and more recognition than any of us realized.
What changed the group’s experience? Focus. While we enjoyed each other’s fellowship, witnessing beyond university walls brought unimaginable rewards. New relationships were formed and new potentials were envisioned for the choir and the university. Some old walls of misunderstanding and prejudice were torn down and replaced by bridges of understanding and respect.
That experience many years ago taught me a valuable lesson. Adventist churches do a great job of providing the best for their members. We have scores of talented musicians; we cook healthful, nutritious food; we offer quality education for children as well as a litany of youth activities. In many churches you’ll even find active senior ministries and special programs for singles.
Unfortunately, most of these ministries are just for us. What a difference we could make by being more intentional about sharing our gifts with our communities. We might find a world that’s longing for the gifts and blessings we take for granted.
Does your church have a Pathfinder Club or a Vacation Bible School? Open the ministry up to community children. If your church has physicians and nurses, they can provide free medical screenings for a clinic for the neighborhood. Most of our churches hold potluck dinners; why not organize a dinner for a homeless shelter, senior citizens’ home, or halfway house?
It doesn’t matter if your church has a choir singing classical anthems, a contemporary worship team with a praise band, or just congregational singing—your congregation has something to offer the community. Your church has something unique that only they can provide. Why not share it?
Let’s climb out of the box. 
Carlos Medley is online editor for the Adventist Review and Adventist World magazines. This article was published March 17, 2010.