Russia witnessed severe censorship of music during the 70-year era of the Soviet Union. The government sought to promote only certain kinds of music. Artists could sign with a state-sanctioned music label, and the state decided what was fit for the ears and hearts of the people.
Vladimir Lenin once wrote:
“Every artist, everyone who considers himself an artist, has the right to create freely according to his ideal, independently of everything. However, we are Communists and we must not stand with folded hands and let chaos develop as it pleases. We must systemically guide this process and form its result.”
Once the Soviet Union fell in 1991, western pop culture swept over the country, both inside and outside the church. Churches that had previously known only organs and pianos now had to accommodate for the sudden flood of interest from young people intrigued with western pop music. What took 60 years in the West regarding music style only took approximately 15 years in Russia, thus intensifying the clash of generational preference dramatically.
With this backdrop, Gerry and Marla Schroeder moved to Moscow in order to train churches in the worship arts. Since then, they’ve experienced the tensions of how to encourage young people to explore new ways of creating worship, while also appealing to older generations.
“We help young people do pop music well. We also teach the value of embracing their heritage and possibly creating it in a new and fresh way,” said Gerry.
Leading from the Middle
The Schroeders are committed to teaching a strong biblical theology of worship that transcends personal preference. More than that, they are training worship leaders with the talent and technical skills necessary to improve the quality of the Christian music scene in Russia. The Schroeders, along with their team of 25 Russians, work in three main Moscow churches, each with an attendance range of 75 to 250 people. They also have frequent dealings with up to 12 other churches.
The influence of these churches is far and wide, as the worship music helps approximately 2,500 churches. The Schroeders describe their role in ministry as leading from the middle. Without completely taking control, the Schroeders have capitalized on mentoring other leaders to help churches improve their worship.
“The biggest challenge has been learning to take things slowly because of Russian culture, and yet finding a proper balance of gently leading church leaders forward,” said Gerry.
The Schroeders’ background has helped them be successful leaders in Russia. While on staff at two different churches in Dallas, Gerry was the music director and oversaw the audio, video, and lighting areas. When he visited Russia for the first time, he immediately felt the need to help and encourage the Russian church leaders musically.
“As we built relationships and learned the language and culture, we began to see how God might use us in the Russian church,” he said. “We discovered a huge lack in training and worship resources.”
Russia’s Premier Christian Music Distributor
One problem the Schroeders noticed right away: Russians didn’t have any kind of distribution method for their original songs. Russian musicians would translate the same English worship songs over and over again because no network was in place to share translations. Another challenge the Schroeders have faced is how to legally protect songs written and produced by Russian artists. They created a nonprofit organization in order to distribute and gather music, hold conferences, and collect donations. All songs are protected under U.S. copyright law, and listeners can find them on LifeWay Worship.
Over the past eight years, the Schroeders have created a central source and website for the distribution of music. Now, major music publishers—including Integrity Music and WorshipTogether.com—look to the Schroeders’ music label for the correct Russian translations of songs.
“There’s no one doing what we’re doing in Russia,” said Gerry. “We’re carving out a path so that Russian church leaders can have the resources to create inspired worship experiences for their congregations.”
A huge part of their ministry, according to the Schroeders, is their annual Soli Deo Gloria conference, where Russian worship leaders learn from top-level worship songwriters, including recording artists Tommy Walker and Steve Hindalong, and Christian Dove Award producer and songwriter Greg Nelson. Joe Horness, former worship pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, has taught workshops on how to create God-centered worship and how to build worship teams. In addition, the Schroeders run an arts day camp for children.
“The Russians are highly talented people but they don’t have all the opportunities we see in the West, especially in Christian music,” said Gerry.
WorldVenture missionaries are engaged in music as ministry around the world, including Ken and Bola Taylor serving through black gospel choir music in Japan, and Megan Wright, who does ethnomusicology and music ministry in Uganda.