Taking Worship to the Nations:
Three Biblical Principles to Guide Us Into Worship Renewal Among the Nations
The tears flowed freely as we entered into the presence of the Lord that brisk January morning. Outside the snow played among the pines surrounding our conference center nestled into the rolling German coutryside just outside Frankfurt. Inside were gathered 150 thisrty, battle-worn EFCA missionaries from all over Europe, the former Soviet Union and England. These dear saints were hungering and thirsting for the presence of God in worship in a way I hadn't experienced previously.
I was anxious after our meeting adjourned that morning to inquire what it was they were experiencing and why they seemed so unreserved in their response to the presence of the Holy Spirit among us. "Oh," said one, "we were just so starved to sing praises like this in our own language, with our own 'family' in our own style. I couldn't hold back the tears of joy! After two years here I can still only comprehend about 40-50% of what is said or sung in our small church service and the music is like a funeral durge." Others chimed in that it was the first time they'd experienced the presence of God in worship since they left for the field.
As the week went on and the need for gifted worship leaders on these church planting teams was expressed again and again, the Lord planted a seed, a vision for seeing an army of worship leaders mobilized and empowered to take worship to the nations.
Today, God is transforming this vision into reality as He has begun to fulfill in our generation what He promised in Is. 61:11, where He vows that in His sovereign power He will "make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations." From every corner of the earth the Lord is calling people forth with this same vision (see Frank Fortunato's article in this issue, p.20).
But how shall we go about this monumental task? What foundations can be laid at the outset to assure that we establish an adequate substructure upon which to build? Here are three biblical principles, three cornerstones if you will, that I believe will be vital to the success of building this vision for the glory of God.
Cornerstone #1 - Worship Must Be Central
Worship: "The mother of paradigms." In his recent address given at the International Workshop for Pastoral Care and Attrition in London, England, Director of World Evangelical Fellowship's Missions Comission, Dr. William Taylor, reminded the over 100 world missions leaders present that worship is the "Mother" of all paradigms."
I remember a few years back, at a National ACMC Conference, being greatly impressed by a chart that was distributed in one of the seminars entitled, "A Paradigm Shift in the Church." The chart handed out appears below
The idea of putting missions in the middle seems, at first, a very biblical view (especially for a room full of zealous missionaries). The Scripture is replete with reference to God's heart and passion to reach every tribe and tongue with His redeeming love. However, upon further reflection and study the temporal nature of this paradigm becomes apparent. Missions is for the here and now, worship is forever. John Piper in his excellent book entitled, "Let the Nations Be Glad," puts it this way, "Missions exists because worship doesn't. "
A truly biblical paradigm for ministry looks more like the following diagram that appears below.
It’s what’s at the core that counts
A quick word search for "worship" in Exodus will tell you that the reason for God's redeeming work transporting us out of the Egypt of our sin and into the Promised Land of His forgiveness and grace is that we might worship Him. "Let my people go so that they may worship me" (Exod. 10:3, NIV). Worship, if it is to have its proper home, must rest at the core of our reason for existence and our motivation for ministry. Should it be replaced by anything else, no matter how noble or good (even the Great Comission), it is unbiblical.
Cornerstone #2 - Worship Must Be Biblical
Biblical Worship encompasses the full range of human expression.
Imagine for a moment that you are a painter. Though you are a good artist, you decide to take a class to improve the depth and quality of your talent. Now that you and your fellow students are seated and the introductions have been given, your instructor hands out the palette you'll be using during the course along with the acrylic paints required. Immediately upon receiving your paints, you flag down the instructor and ask, "Are these all the colors we're going to work with, blue and yellow?"
The instructor elucidates, in a rather condescending tone, that these are the only colors he's ever used and that he's happy with the finished product in his paintings. "But that's so limiting," you respond, "There are so many more ways I can express myself in my painting than with just these two colors!"
I trust that the "picture" I've used to illustrate my point finds a nitch on your mantel ...uh, I mean mental . . wall. Why is it that we've been so "color blind" when it comes to cross-cultural church planting? Maybe it's because many of the churches we've been sent by have used the two color approach to worship for so long we forgot that God gave us a palette-full of expressions with which to worship Him. Is it any wonder that we've been unable to see the unique colors (expressions) of the cultures we're trying to reach, many of which don't even exist on our western cultural palette?
Praise in the Scriptures (a word that in the Hebrew connotes setting something up high where all can see, boasting of God's glory and righteous acts) is expressed by speaking (Jer. 31:7), shouting (Ps.95) , singing (Ps. 69:30), with raised hands (Neh. 8:6), with the heart (Ps. 9:1), dancing (Ps. 149:3 - let's not forget that the Hebrew root word for praise means literally, "to spin like a top"), walking and jumping (Acts 3:8), playing musical instruments (I Chr. 23:5) and so many other ways! All our modes of expression and communication (musical and artistic) are to enter into the act of praise and worship.
Biblical worship is from the inside-out, not the outside-in.
The worship leader who wrote Ps. 95 makes an important contribution to our understanding of worship. After inviting us to come into God's presence with singing, shouting, and kneeling, he qualifies all the above external forms of worship by giving a stern warning: "Today if you would hear His voice do not harden your hearts..." (vv. 7-8, NIV). The message is clear. Worship that God accepts is worship from the heart. External forms of worship, as exuberant and passionate as they may be, are not enough. In fact, if it is not the heart that primes the pump of worship expression, the well is sure to run dry. Our hearts will "go astray" (v.10), and we will not enter the rest found only in His presence (v.11).
This biblical concept of worship coming from within goes far beyond just the individual and corporate worship expressions of the body of Christ to embrace the remotest unreached people group and their culture. Not only must worship come from within the heart of an individual, it must come from within the heart of a people.
Is. 61:11, quoted in part above, says: "For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seed to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all nations." I don't believe it is in any way doing injustice to the text to say that the praise that "springs up" (literally 'breaks forth', cf. Is. 58:8) is indigenous praise, not some western import. Is the praise God intends to bring about among the nations planted, fed, fertilized and watered in some foreign land, then transplanted? No! It is something that God desires to be both part and produce of the soil from which it came.
In discipling worship leaders indigenous to the peoples we are evangelizing, it is important that we be biblical in teaching them how to appropriately express their praise. God says it will spring up from within the culture of that people, not from without. The worship leader's responsibility is to facilitate this indigenous praise as they nurture their disciples in the foundations of the faith, including a biblical theology and philosophy of worship. The third principle or cornerstone is an outgrowth of the second.
Cornerstone #3 - Worship Must Be Intelligible
It's Sunday morning. All the family routines have gone fairly well today. The kids didn't engage in too much sibling rivalry during breakfast, your youngest didn't scream as though her next breath depended solely upon your presence when you dropped her off in the nursery. Because your church is well known for it's worship, you're anticipating a great time in God's presence. But this morning as the music begins; you're dumbfounded. For the life of you, you can't figure out what they've done to the musical arrangements and selections. You recognize none of the melodies, and all the accompaniment sounds strange. Like some middle-eastern repetitive chant ... or something! Can't relate? "Nothing like that ever happens in my church," you say? Well, you can rejoice, but only in small measure, because this Sunday all over the planet this musical and artistic worhsip scenario is being played out thousands of times over. Though the words are in the language of the people, the sounds, harmonies, rhythms and melodies are foriegn. The apostle Paul addresses this issue of intelligibility in I Cor. 14:23-25. The passage speaks of someone (either an unbeliever or unlearned new disciple) coming into a worship setting where everyone is speaking in tongues. Their response likely will be " . . . you are out of your mind" (v. 23, NIV). But if that same person comes into the same worship setting and everyone is prophesying, he will be convinced of the fact that "he is a sinner, and his conscience will be pricked by everything he hears." (v.24, LB)
The one question too few are asking.
Paul is not preaching a sermon on tongues and prophesy as much as he's making a very important statement about one of the most vital questions we must ask ourselves every time we plan or lead worship; i. e., "Is all that happens in this service (the preaching, music, testimony, drama, etc.) understandable to the average person in attendance (both believers and non-believers)?" If this one question were asked and answered with creativity and biblical and cultural insight and discernment, I believe it could literally revolutionize our churches and more specifically our cross-cultural church plants.
Paul gives us a glimpse of this worship revolution when he continues, "As he listens, his secret thoughts will be laid bare and he will fall down on his knees and worship God, declaring that God is really there among you" (v.24-25, LB).
Worship in these emerging churches in other cultures must be intelligible to those we're seeking to reach in order that worship's role of evangelism can be fulfilled and those who have trusted Christ can experience uninhibited worship. Worship that is biblical and intelligible; worship that flows from the very center and core of their being and culture. Worship that "springs up" . . . from the heart.
Dave Hall, M. Div., is International Worship Leader for PIONEERS. Dave oversees a new ministry for PIONEERS called, Worship to the Nations, the purpose of which is to mobilize and empower worship leaders to glorify God by serving existing PIONEERS teams and discipling worship leaders among the unreached. He can be reached at 1 (800) 755-7284 or on line at 76543,[email protected]