A key ministry theme this year for United Adoration has been to see increased understanding, collaboration, and healing in relationships between pastors and artists. Sergio Villanueva will be speaking on this topic at United Adoration’s upcoming webinar. Villanueva is a pastor, artist, and songwriter at Iglesia del Pueblo, the Hispanic congregation of Wheaton Bible Church in West Chicago, IL. He also leads Gracia+Verdad Musica (Grace and Truth Music), a ministry that provides new songs for the local church.
In a speech given at UA Global 2018, Sergio encouraged songwriters to approach writing songs with the vision of an apostle, the mind of a teacher, the voice of a prophet, the heart of a pastor, and the passion of an evangelist. As I listened to his speech on YouTube, a recurring thought came to my mind: The call of the artist and the pastor are one and the same – we are called to worship God.
But worship God how? Shall we worship him in Spanish or English? Contemporary or traditional? With the organ or the guitar? Villanueva advised we instead begin our conversation with God: “The pattern of worship is God reveals himself and man responds to that divine revelation. Worship is primarily the offer of our total selves to God.” This pattern of revelation and response should guide our worship and inform our songwriting:
If we start talking about worship from the standpoint of response we’ll start bringing preferences, styles, context, culture. And then of course if I’m from a different culture in a different context and I have a different expression than the one you have, we may say ‘we’re not worshiping the same’ because we’re talking about worship from the response standpoint.
The songs we sing on Sunday mornings also start with us. Pastors and artists alike are called to live out a life of daily worship. When he was an 18-year-old living in Mexico, Villanueva experienced a crisis of faith centered on this life of daily worship. He shared his story in a 2016 interview with his church:
People would come to our church and give their testimonies. It seemed like the more spectacular your testimony, the more the people wanted to hear you. Ex-cartel members and people who had been in prison would tell their salvation stories. When I heard them, they really made me wonder what my testimony was.
About that time I read a book that said Jesus gave everything for us and He deserves 100 percent from us. That rang true to me, but when I looked at my life, I knew I wasn’t giving 100 percent. So I kind of gave up.
I was neglecting my time with God and Scripture and even lost the joy I had found in music. So I told my dad, who was our pastor by then, that I needed to stop leading worship for a while. I kept going to church because my dad was the pastor, but I didn’t feel God’s presence.
One night I came home from church and went into my room. The lights were out, and I dropped a cassette into the player. I didn’t know which cassette it was, but it turned out to be Michael W. Smith’s i 2 (Eye).
The last song of side A is called “I Miss the Way.” Michael W. Smith was singing, “Once you were a true believer. Once there was a fire in your soul. . . .” And then the chorus: “I miss the way His love would dance within your eyes. I miss the way His heart was the soul of your life.” But here’s the part that really got to me: “Somewhere in the saddest part of heaven’s room, our Father sheds a tear for you. He’s missing you, too.”
When I pictured God weeping for me—missing me—I felt so selfish, so focused on my little doubts and neglecting Him. A conviction came to me that moment that I was not going to follow God out of feelings. I was going to follow God out of conviction.
At the same time, I imagined the enemy laughing at my doubts. And that made me very angry.
So I got on my knees and said, “God, forgive my selfishness, my coldheartedness. From now on I’m going to follow you regardless of how I feel.” It’s a walk of faith, not of feelings, and I told the enemy “You’re never going to laugh like that in my life, because I’m going to hold on to the Lord.”
Our weekly corporate gatherings are not a show to produce, but rather the assembly of the body of Christ to practice the story of God as revealed in Scripture and respond to God’s divine revelation. Taking this into consideration, Villanueva’s approach to songwriting is pastoral. Speaking about modern songwriting Villanueva wrote:
I think that a lot of worship music today is being written to record—not written with the church in mind. But the ones that really resonate with the church are the songs that have been written for the church—not for the next concert tour or for a music video. As I’ve been writing with that approach, thinking of the congregation, those are the lyrics that another church identifies with and embraces.
I have a friend who writes his sermons thinking about the people he has served that week. He prays before each sermon. He thinks about people in the congregation as he writes. When engaging this method of praying and knowing the congregation, artists congregation artists can communicate the Gospel as both with the heart of the pastor and voice of the prophet. Our study of the Word, alone and with others, will help us to grow as disciples of Jesus and our work As we study the Word, we can be creative in how we teach our congregation. As we grow as disciples of Jesus, we can grow with the passion of the evangelist to proclaim the redemption story.
I have a friend who writes his sermons thinking about the people he has served that week. He prays before each sermon. He thinks about people in the congregation as he writes. When engaging this method of praying and knowing the congregation, artists can communicate the Gospel with the heart of the pastor and voice of the prophet. Our study of the Word, alone and with others, will help us to grow as disciples of Jesus and we can grow with the passion of the evangelist to proclaim the redemption story.
“Prophets were poets,” Villanueva said in his 2018 speech to United Adoration. The prophet’s art conveys truth and beauty in a way that ‘pierces the heart’. “So write songs in the power of the Spirit,” said Villanueva. “This is very difficult to do when you want to do it on your own.” Collaboration is at the heart of songwriting for the local church, and it is at the heart of God’s vision for building up the Kingdom. And it starts with us: you and me, artist and pastor, working together with God to create art and lead God’s people in worship with the vision of an apostle, the mind of a teacher, the voice of a prophet, the heart of a pastor, and the passion of an evangelist.
Sign up today to hear Sergio Villanueva speak at a live webinar hosted by United Adoration on October 25, 2021 at 7pm CST/8pm EST.
[by Catherine Miller, Online Team Leader]