Why was it that, having just heard an enthusiastic man speak passionately about selfless people who take enormous risks to share the story of Jesus in communist countries in Asia, I found myself cringing at a photo showing a person playing a guitar in front of a small congregation of people?
Up until that moment all I had was admiration for their courage, their sacrifice and determination to go to people living in inhospitable conditions and share hope and initiate life-transforming projects amongst the poor and marginalised. But as I saw the guitar something dawned on me – this popular instrument is responsible for the globalisation of churchianity as I currently know it. We all know that guitars in most church contexts are only used to perform 4 chords and to rendition the obligatory middle-of-the-road soft rock/country tones of the evangelicals, and I knew that this small group of people who were journeying into faith were, in all likeliness, singing the same songs and tunes sung in churches all over the world. And a little tear formed in my heart.
The guitar is a weapon of Christian globalisation – it is a powerful leadership tool that commands respect and attention, that dominates its context and imposes and controls what people are expected to do. I am sure no well-meaning gap-year student or long-term missionary has any desire to unleash such arsenal, but I wonder, if guitars and Western songs, even historical hymns, were banned when sharing the Jesus-story in pioneer contexts, what beauty and culturally-wondrous worship would emerge? Would local people cease to follow the flute of the pied piper and, instead, create their own songs and expressions of worship and wonder?
Contextualisation is a loud cry of the missional and incarnational church movements … and the humble guitar is, in my humble opinion, one of its greatest enemies. There are few places yet untouched by this globalised worship. Perhaps mission agencies have a responsibility to create nature reserves around such peoples, protecting them from further unnecessary pollution and disturbance and enabling the story of Jesus to emerge from the cultures that already exist?