Music is a regular and integral part of our Christian lives. Yet, when it comes to local cross-cultural ministry and mission, the role of music is often neglected. What if we could shape our music so that it enhances and serves our mission better? And what if, in doing so, it enriches the local body of Christ? What an opportunity for us!
Worship is, of course, not solely about corporate worship and music, though in this article that’s what I’m referring to. Multicultural worship is corporate worship that reflects the musical and cultural preferences of more than one single culture. Often this can be multilingual, featuring more than one language.
Why consider doing multicultural worship in your church?
So many reasons! Here are just a few…
First, it helps mission. Imagine trying to reach the local Polish population with the gospel: when a family visits a service, lo and behold, one of the songs is similar to their musical style and even has a line of Polish!
Secondly, it helps discipleship. When Poles come to Christ, the Polish-style songs help them to praise God from the heart and remind them that they don’t need to swap British culture for their own culture now that they’re Christians.
Thirdly, it helps the local church to grow as the body of Christ. In appreciating other people’s cultures and being open to change, the whole church body learns to love sacrificially.
Fourthly, and most importantly, it glorifies God. Psalm 88:9 is seen in action!
Now for some practical steps…
Before we move on, we must pray! If we have been worshipping in our churches for a number of years in the same way, we need God’s help to move our hearts to bring change. Speak to your church leaders and pray together. Pray for unity of spirit and God’s guidance as you consider what multicultural worship could look like in your churches; pray for openness and great wisdom.
‘Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain.’ Psalm 127:1
When we are thinking about multicultural worship, it may be helpful to form a working group to head this up. If it is possible, have a group consisting of different backgrounds and cultures to help think through and understand the different variables in worship.
- The service order
- The way we pray and sing
- The language we sing in
- The instruments we use
- The type of songs we sing
- Is the worship led by one person, band/group, choir/congregation, and/or call and response?
- Does worship encourage an individual response? Or a communal and corporate response?
- Is our setting like a concert, where the ‘action’ happens at the front and the congregation is more like ‘an audience’? Or are we all integrated together, singing one another’s songs?
- Does our corporate worship include dance, poetry, meditation or celebration?
With these variables in mind, reflect on the following:
- Describe the current worship culture of your church (i.e. from the list above).
- Decide which other cultures you want to reflect in worship, for example:
- cultures among your congregation that aren’t reflected in your current worship culture.
- cultures in your neighbourhood that you would like to engage with.
- Get to know the worship styles of those other cultures. Worship cultures vary because different cultures express and emphasise different aspects of music and theology within their worship. For example (very broad brush and simplified), here are some different cultural foci: African: dance and corporate worship; Chinese: poetry, suffering and mission: Latin American: celebration; Western: doctrine and personal response. To get to know these different styles and foci, you can speak to people of those cultures and use the resources at the end of this article.
As you prepare, share with the congregation the reasons for multicultural worship, giving regular Biblical teaching (relevant passages include Psalm 86:8-9, Acts 2:11, Acts 17:26, Revelation 7:9-10, 15:2-4).
Make it gradual and repeatable. Change rarely happens overnight, but comes in small doses. Avoid introducing songs in bursts. Introduce a new song (whether in a different language or not) and sing it again in the following few weeks. This will help to draw people in and make it an enjoyable experience! It is also helpful to have different people lead the new songs, showing the congregation that this song is not just for one particular person or people group, but for the whole church.
If singing in a different language, prepare translations either on-screen or in service sheets, so people know what they’re singing about! It is also important to learn the correct pronunciations from the beginning. Ask someone who can speak the language to teach either your team or the congregation. The last thing you want is to have different pronunciations from different worship leaders! This will lead to frustration and confusion.
Consider varied ways of introducing words in different languages. For example, you could sing only one line, or a whole verse, or a whole song, or alternate verses. You could also try taking an English song-line and repeating it in several languages (everyone should be able to follow this easily). Another tip is to let one person sing the song first, and then sing it as a congregation the following week.
Go for it!
Have a go at introducing new songs, styles and/or instruments though it may be scary at first. We are creatures of habits, but have a go! Not everyone will be on board from the beginning, and that is normal. For example, try a new song in Hindi and, if people struggle, give it some time and then try again. Enjoy worshipping God in a different way.
Like a garden filled with beautiful varieties of flowers, shrubs, trees and grasslands, growing side by side towards the sunlight, our congregations today are made of a colourful group of people looking to Christ – people of different genders, ages, generations, stages of life, occupations, hobbies, interests, nationalities, cultural backgrounds and ethnicities. Whether our congregations consists of one or two or all these differences, we gather together, created in His image, worshipping one Lord and Saviour.
Jesus Christ is Saviour for all people, transforming and transcending all people and cultures. As we think about multicultural worship, our view of God and our love for people will be enriched, bringing glory to Him.
Get people in
- Arts Release (artsrelease.org/en/music-worship) is a wonderful ministry encouraging congregations to think about multicultural worship. You can invite the band to hold workshops or worship at your church or local gathering.
All Nations Christian College holds two workshops a year:
- Multicultural Worship Day (https://www.allnations.ac.uk/courses/short-courses/world-worship-day)
- Music and Global Worship Week (https://www.allnations.ac.uk/courses/short-courses/music-and-global-worship-week)
- International Council of Ethnodoxologist (https://www.worldofworship.org)
- Multicultural Worship Leaders Network (multiculturalworship.org)
- Multicultural Hymns of Praise (ethnicharvest.org/links/music.htm)
- Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture (http://worship.calvin.edu/resources/resource-library/nairobi-statement-on-worship-and-culture-full-text)
- Heart Sounds International (http://heart-sounds.org/)
- Josh Davis and Nikki Lerner, Worship Together in your Church as in Heaven,
- John Danso, Join in: Breaking Tradition, Embracing Culture: Styles of Multicultural Worship, 2009.
- Charles E. Farhadian, Christian Worship Worldwide,
- James R. Krabill, Frank Fortunato, Robin Harris and Brian Schrag, Worship and Mission for the Global Church: An Ethnodoxology Handbook, 2013.
Songs and Song Books
- All Nations Christian College, Mosaic CD – https://www.allnations.ac.uk/support-us/mosaic-cd
- Heart Sounds International Songs- https://www.youtube.com/user/HSIOM
- South Asian Concern, Aaraadhanaa ho CD – http://southasianconcern.org/product/aaraadhanaa-ho/ Songs and lyrics booklet in Hindi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Tamil and English.
- Geoff Weaver, In every corner sing – Songs of God’s World, RSCM – https://www.rscmshop.com/d0209.html?___store=german (99 songs from around the world, with audio backing tracks.
- John Bell and Alison Adam, Sing with the World – Book and CD–http://www.giamusic.com/search_details.cfm?title_id=9519
Thank you to Ian Collinge from Arts Release WEC for his insights and advice.