He was given authority to rule, and glory, and a kingdom; so that those of every people, nation, and language should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will not be destroyed. – Daniel 7:14
Worshiping in a different language is beautiful. I did not understand the words, but I understood who I was worshiping in that service. In my lifetime, I have worshiped in an American Latino church and in a Central America (Honduras) church. Both experiences taught me that the verse above is accurate. But there’s another culture we tend to ignore–each other’s tastes of how we worship in the American church.
Bring up carpet color or music style in any church in America and you will get an argument, even a debate. You are tampering with holy ground so to speak. If we are truly accepting of different countries worshiping our God in their heart language, then we should not worry about what music is playing. It should not bother us that one person sings hymns while another one is contemporary. With over 300,000 churches in America, all one needs to do is drive down the street to find the service that fits their cultural tastes. The traditional, blended, and contemporary kind of services are a culture of its own. Each service has a different way of speaking into a different kind of generation. I call it a heart language, though heart language is mostly used with international workers when explaining a worship of God in other countries.
For instance, a tribe of people I read about in the Perspectives course once heard western style music and thought that was heresy. Their tribal music was discordant and (I’m sorry to say) awful, but to them this music was a holy way to worship a holy God. International workers worship with them even if the music isn’t to their tastes. As Christians yearning to be one church, we should mimic how international workers worship and serve in foreign countries, patiently and lovingly standing with our brothers and sisters in Christ in spite of our music preferences. After all, we go to church to worship and fellowship together. Why should we let something like music divide us?
It’s interesting to note in a book I recently read called, A Wind in The House of Islam, how Muslims do not generally accept teachings from people outside their Muslim community. This is why some indigenous believers use shadow pastors to mentor them as they reach out to their people with the Gospel. Western churches in the area fearful of repercussions were said in the book to turn away seekers from the Muslim communities. This caused many Muslim-background followers of Christ to form their own house churches. In thinking about the trending topic of Millennials and how to reach them, the church simply needs to find common ground, mentor millennials, and/or shadow pastor a millennial to send out and start a church made just for their tastes of music and culture if a church is unable to adapt. Another fascinating highlight from the history of people who reach out to unbelievers globally is how the most successful church plants in foreign fields were those who adapted to the culture and used it to share the Gospel. They tossed aside their unsuccessful western approach and acclimated to the culture.
So, when I think of multi-cultural approaches to sharing the Gospel in an American sense, I see churches in the culture and language of the people group they represent, including music and teaching styles that are in English. As a church, if we claim we are multi-cultural and embrace the worldwide spread of the Gospel in its different formats and styles, why do we find it so hard to accept people who are different from us in our own American culture? Why aren’t we more intentional in our approaches, deliberately putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations for the love of our neighbor? Even if I don’t understand the language, I deliberately use a Bible version (youversion.com) in that language and use this opportunity to immerse myself in another culture for the purpose of understanding and love.
And while it’s painful, I also sit in more traditional services on occasion so I can be with new and old friends, because that is their heart language of worship. Many of them have positively influenced me as a new believer.
How do you worship? And do you serve cross-culturally as defined in this blog post? What is your favorite music and why?