6 Secrets to Evangelism as Sacred Accompaniment

Looking ahead to our 2018 Intersection Conference on Engaging Culture (May 17-19), we asked some of our writers to share their thoughts on winsomely engaging culture. Amber Noel suggests the metaphor of a musician and an accompanyist, pointing us toward a harmonious exchange of power, assistance and sensitivity when extending the gospel of Christ. 

by Amber Noel

There are countless times when, by an extraordinary sensitivity of spirit, a missioner comes alongside a local mission field with the care and carefulness of an artist. It is a beautiful thing to watch.

I think the arts provide clues to how we can approach cultural engagement, specifically in the realm of “outreach.” When a community “needs help,” and I want to help, there is a whole field of sociocultural elements at play, already present in the community, often underneath the surface, which I could easily disturb, misunderstand, or disrespect. So how, short of dismantling and rearranging an entire outreach ministry (which might eventually need to happen!)—exactly how do I negotiate power and assistance in outreach efforts?

This will be a limited metaphor, but I want to take a brief, loving look at the relationship between a musician and an accompanyist, to observe the way power, assistance, and sensitivity can operate in a healthy manner, flowing back and forth between parties to create a unique harmony in a relationship that begins with a request for help.

The arts provide clues to how we can approach cultural engagement.

Say there is this singer. There is a piece of music she wants to record, but she can’t do it alone. Her resources are limited, even spare, but she needs an accompanyist. She finds a kind one willing to volunteer. That’s me. That’s the mission.

Notice that this relationship begins with a party who’s in need, a singer with a song to perform and cannot fully complete it without a partner. We can glean six insights here for mission.

  1. The party in need has a larger vocation to fulfill, that of a singer, not merely a temporary need for an accompanyist.

Persons, communities, and nations have vocations to fulfill before God. We all need help fulfilling those vocations. Some need basic needs met in the process of fulfilling their call. But the goal is to together approach fulfilling the call.

  1. Only the one in need will be able to fully discern the need.

The accompanyist (me, the mission) can help discern what’s best in recording the song, and I will bring my skills to bear, but the singer has the best idea, deep down, of what is lacking and what she wants. She is the mistress of her own sphere. In other words, the meeting of her need is never forced or dictated, however kindly, and its end must be envisioned by her.

  1. The one in need is the one who asks for help. 

Perhaps a good missional relationship begins similarly. The party in need may not be asking for the gospel specifically, but perhaps they are asking for something—education, a business partnership, childcare, engineering expertise, friendship, coffee, funds. And perhaps it is wise to make that request the starting point. The main idea, from the beginning, is that the power belongs and returns to the one who asks for help.

The power belongs and returns to the one who asks for help.
  1. Accompaniment only works with the tacit acknowledgement that one person will do one job (play an instrument), and the other another (use her voice).

Once I am willing to help, we get together on the singer’s terms, by the singer’s invitation, and by mutual agreement. We begin with an initial contract. This fourth point is so simple and yet so profound: Our roles are clearly defined from the beginning. This is not accidentally going to turn into a guitar solo with some humming in the background. In offering Christ’s gospel of word and deed as a desired, yet paradigm-shifting accompaniment to the good a community currently possesses, the partnership, though one of help, remains in a subscribed role, and thus glorifies the unique gifts and identity of the other while glorifying God.

  1. Being an accompanyist means that my role literally only works, is only successful, insofar as I am humble, unprepossessing, and take a back (or side) seat.

Part of what’s meant by glorifying another, at the very minimum, is to not overshadow or obscure. This means that the singer and I figure out this music together on every point. There are details of our collaboration that will matter to her that I may not even know to look for. I ask many questions, take exquisite care not to stand out, and not to obscure the singer’s voice in any way. I glorify it, help give it its full tone, its full character. God’s work is already in process before help ever arrives, evidenced by the very creation, sustenance, and signs of redemption already at work in a people. It doesn’t matter how powerful, skilled, networked, corporately backed, or perhaps famous an accompanyist I am. My job is to give what the singer wants, according to the character of what she already has. I don’t import new elements out of the blue that are out of sync with the way her music, her songs, and her vision for the music work.

  1. The relationship both begins and ends mainly at the singer’s discretion.

Now we finally play. (Maybe the word “play” has some wisdom, here, too.) I apply the very best of my skills, expertise, and knowledge. But I am never here to take over the recording. I may advise, but I am not here to select the song, or even the key. As we work together, I provide help, but hope that my help is so helpful that I make myself a mere liner note. As we play, we know whether we work well together. Maybe the relationship transitions organically into a duet, a friendship, a road show. Maybe she learns the guitar or I learn to sing. Whether we do, or whether we don’t, she can choose when the relationship begins, and she has power to bolt if it starts getting wonky.

This is really just the beginning of what I confess to be a messy idea, some thoughts to chew on. But any time you’re wondering how cultural engagement could work better, it never hurts to watch an artist.

  • Have you ever experienced an organic, harmonious “performance” of evangelism? 
  • How can we, as missional leaders, ensure that the power remains with those who ask for help?
  • How can you come alongside your local mission field with the care of an artist?

Amber Noel received her M.Div. from Duke University in 2012 after additional graduate coursework in theology and literature, but she doesn’t yet need glasses. She’s worked as a teacher, writer, youth minister, and party-thrower, and lives in Dallas, Texas, where she pulls together pastoral and creative shenanigans for the good of the church. She adores hot yoga, dubstep, and bedtime snacks, as well as spending time with fine humans and animals.