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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Arrabon: Learning Reconciliation through Community and Worship Music (Part 1)

David Bailey is a great practitioner and leader of multicultural worship out of Richmond, VA. He has recently released his new book/CD combo, Arrabon: Learning Reconciliation through Community and Worship Music. BTSF had some questions for David, and we'll be sharing his answers with you over the next week:

  • Tell us a bit about the idea for book/cd. Why was this project important in this time?
Well for starters, the word, Arrabon means a foretaste of things to come. The word is could also be translated “earnest”, meaning I’ll put this down payment to represent something that is to come. The Church is in the world today as a representative of what God’s kingdom is like. We are to be a foretaste of what heaven will be like.

When the Apostle John saw a vision of heaven, he saw, “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (
Revelation 7:9-10)

When over 93% of churches are divided along racial lines, we are not representing heaven well at all.
At one time in our recent history (my parents generation), the division was intentional and generally racially motivated. I think today, much of the division is because of worship preferences. In the book, I make a case for why we should do songs of diverse cultures, not for reasons of preferences, but for spiritual formation, honor, and hospitality.

  • What is your vision for Arrabon in our congregations?
Biblically, a churches identity is tied to the geography, so the Church at Corinth looks different than the Church at Ephesus and the church at Laodicea looks different than the Church at Thessalonica. Each church we see in the New Testament Scriptures represented a foretaste of heaven, but yet they were unique because of their geography. I believe that our churches today should have a uniqueness because their geography. The more metropolitan cities will probably be more ethnically and racially diverse than the rural churches of the Midwest, but even the rural churches of the Midwest probably have socioeconomic divisions that are expressed culturally that they can work through.

I think one of the challenges with churches in our time face is learning how to be geography culturally unique because so many of the things that we do in church today are driven by the Christian music and media industry. Much of what people in church sing, teach in Vacation Bible Schools, and get sermon series from are the latest Christian media and music industry buzz

Please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. I’m not saying it is all a bad thing. There is a lot of quality resources from the Christian music and media industry that help ministry leaders equip their congregations, but the challenge is that many of these resources are targeted to the affluent mainstream, majority white or certain populations of black people. There are starting to be “some” resources for the Hispanic community, but it’s very little. People of other racial and ethnic demographics are not being targeted because the industry doesn't consider the market share big enough to make a significant profit from. For this reason, churches have to be creative and see what Arrabon looks like for their context. An Arrabon of worship should look different at every congregation. There should be a familiarity of the Father, Son, and Spirit, but a unique fresh expression from God’s people. 

  • What was the process for choosing songs?
I believe that congregations should sing songs that represent their theology and their culture, so when I was making song choices, I chose songs that where first, rich in theology. Secondly, I arrange songs that represented the various cultures that I’ve lead congregational worship for. Many of the songs on the CD are songs that I’ve used over the years in the various congregations and conferences that I’ve led worship.

  • How did you first become convinced of the importance of reconciliation and the role of music in it? What was that journey like?
I’m an African-American black musician that grew up in Richmond, VA, which was the formal capital of the Confederacy. Although Richmond has gone a long way in race relations, the residue of Slavery and Jim Crow is still very real. The racial division isn’t hostile, but it still shapes our city. Many of our churches are racially divided also.

My life has been like Forest Gump when it comes to racial reconciliation and music. I didn’t plan it, but the Lord has used me in ways to bring people together of various ethnicities, races, socio-economic classes, educational levels, and church traditions to use music as a tool reconciliation. 

Around the time I was 18 years old, I met a guy by the name of Bob Kauflin who is the author of Worship Matters the book and blog. He spent a period time mentoring me on how to write songs with rich theological content in a contemporary style of music. At the time, I was in a majority black inner city worshipping context, but I was taking these culturally white songs and theologians and contextualizing it for the inner-city context. The more I wrote and arranged songs this way, I began to lead worship for more multi-racial Christian communities. A few years later as I was finishing up college, I started to be the worship director for a multi-ethnic church plant and then that’s when I started to really do multi-ethnic worship. That’s an abbreviated version of my story.

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