Trends In Global Worship:
Charting the Progress Toward the Realization of Revelation 5:13
Revelation four and five has some awesome statements of worship. The curtain of heaven has been rolled back and John has been ushered on stage where he sees a 5-act drama of worship at the very throne room of heaven. He gropes for language describing the indescribable, especially the final act in Rev 5:13 where he somehow hears the sounds of eternity: "every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them" (TEV: all creatures in the whole universe) singing "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever!"
History is moving steadily toward that grand symphonic never-ending worship from all redeemed creation. Recent years have seen astonishing developments in worship worldwide. There are many trends that can trace this global praise emerging from every tribe and nation. Here are a few of them:
1. Renewal Of Worship In Our Churches
Back in the 50s and 60s A.W. Tozer wrote prophetically about worship as "the missing jewel of the church." Over the last few decades the jewel has begun to take on luster. As God's people grow in their love for Jesus a renewal in worship usually emerges. In the Western world this has spawned an abundance of excellent books, tapes, seminars, etc. Hymnals, chorus books, recordings, and a host of other accessories are now available, in English, and increasingly in other languages. Courses on worship are becoming available in various Christian institutions, including a doctoral program on worship now available at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard Illinois near Chicago. The worship renewal has circled the globe and affected nearly all streams of Christianity, liturgical, traditional, and contemporary; Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant; evangelical and charismatic.
2. Reawakening Of Indigenous Culture
In the midst of the growing global family, people are longing for and discovering their ethnic roots. Believers long to express their love for Jesus in their own "heart" culture and language. Someone coined the phrase: "a person should not be expected to undergo a cultural lobotomy to become a worshiper." Wheaton College Music Chairman Howard Best describes it this way: "God wants to hear the whole world in its countless tongues and amazingly diverse musics making praise after praise. God accepts not only the offerings of a highly trained choir, but also the song of the arrow maker in Brazil."
I received some email recently from New Zealand worship leader David Garratt who shared: "A recent article in Time spoke of the revival of Celtic music in Ireland as part of a searching back into the roots of one's past. People are not going to be content with second hand music. They want their own. The same thing is happening with worship around the world."
The Garratts and other missionary musicians and missionary artists conduct workshops, training believers to write songs, play instruments, use dance and find other worship expressions that are native to their own culture.
Of course it takes much discernment in dealing with sensitive cultural issues. The Fellowship of Artists for Cultural Evangelism (FACE) reports about an unredeemable dance in Bali that depended on evil spirit possession. A believer took up the challenge to create a dance to symbolize the Holy Spirit, but using Balinese-style movement. This communicated a Christ-centered message and contributed to Balinese culture.
March for Jesus leader Tom Pelton comments, "Satan is poised and ready to exploit cultural differences to bring violence and destruction. The church must be prepared for the challenge by being a place of reconciliation that gives dignity to all peoples."
3. "Bi-musical" Missionary Musicians
Along with the reawakened indigenous awareness, a truly remarkable new breed of musicians is being raised up--the Christian ethnomusicologists, who move into unreached peoples to help these groups develop their own vernacular music and worship expressions. These music missionaries not only become bi-lingual but also bi- musical, learning how to hear, notate, and compose music in non- Western music systems. Often this means learning to play local musical instruments. SIL has been at the forefront of this, although several other mission groups are involved as well.
Sophisticated computer programs help these specialists to analyze the music down to minute details so that scale systems can be formed and eventually notated as a whole new music system. As the translators get the Word into print, local musicians take passages like the Psalms and compose their own music in their own vernacular style. The results have been startling. Paul Neeley of SIL reported about a workshop in Africa for translators and composers from Ghana, Nigeria and Togo. About 120 new Scripture songs in dozens of languages were composed and recorded. Tom Avery, another leading SIL ethnomusicologist studied the music of the Canela tribe in Brazil and eventually composed twenty original Canela hymns. One Canela with tears in his eyes shared: "The translators gave us the book which God speaks to us, and now your friend Tom gave us the songs in which we can speak back to Him." Reading several years of the SIL Ethnomusicology Newsletters leaves one breathless and in awe of what God has done through these music servants around the world.
4. Worship Musicians Joining Church Planting Teams:
Along with ethnomusicologists going to various unreached peoples around the world. God is also raising up musicians and artists to join church planting teams, to help emerging groups of believers in unreached people groups develop their own worship and artistic expressions. Frontiers and Pioneers missions organizations are just two of several missions groups focusing on raising up these servants to humbly assist church planting efforts. Pioneers will soon send two families to Ghana to complete a digital recording studio to encourage and affirm African musicians coming to Christ to get their worship songs recorded and distributed to local congregations.
YWAM for many years recognized how the arts can often reach people faster than any other way and therefore added artistic training to their discipleship programs. Their University of the Nations recently combined their Fine Arts and Performing Arts Schools in a renewed effort to prepare a generation of artists to evangelize around the world. YWAM and many other groups are realizing Ronald Allen's dictum that "the arts not only reflect culture but help to shape it."
5. Globalizing of Western Culture:
Simultaneous with the resurgence of indigenous culture has also been the relentless dissemination of western pop culture that pervades much of the world today, especially the urban world. Along with British and American and Australian pop music traversing the globe there has been a vast spread of contemporary worship songs as well. For years Jimmy Owens, renowned Christian composer, has traced this with great excitement. He has described what the Beatles and subsequent rock groups did to popularize Western pop sounds as something that ultimately the Holy Spirit was allowing so that our collective ears could get tuned to a whole genre of music style (harmony, rhythm, and melody, etc.) from which much of our present- day contemporary worship has emerged. As Fuller missiologist Peter Wagner has traveled to far flung places around the globe hearing similar song structures of worship in all cultures he goes so far as to call this contemporary praise music "the international sound of the Holy Spirit."
6. Blending Of Cultures
This has naturally led to another trend both in the wider culture and also within the church, of the blending of ethnic and Western styles. Secular musicians helped popularize this cultural mix with instruments and rhythms from various countries weaved into music arrangements. Worship ministries like Integrity's Hosanna! music released "blended" worship recordings from different parts of the world. A tribal group heard an early Integrity recording. They listened over and over, learned the songs, went back to their village and made instruments to emulate the sounds on the tape. They fashioned an organ out of bamboo and put together a bottle, a can and fishing line to make something that sounded like a violin. They played every tune on the album worshiping God with their own instruments and adding their own cultural style, creating their own "blended" tribal sound.
As the world's cities become melting pots of cultural diversity, the churches in these places are beginning to reflect this rich diversity. British producer Les Moir describes the "blended" services at London's Kensington Temple and "the world sound" he hears with people from 110 nations worshiping together as a foretaste of heaven.
7. Recordings Of Worship Songs
Recent years have seen an incredible output of recorded worship music from around the world. As the cost of recording equipment and sophisticated synthesizers and other instruments has dropped, little recording studios have sprouted world wide, often in homes or churches. During the USSR days, Russian praise tapes were smuggled into Russia, helping spiritually starved Russian believers learn songs of praise. Recordings disseminated in cultures especially where there are few Christians have helped scattered groups of believers to find a common identity through the common repertoire of worship songs.
Christian musicians are at the forefront capturing modern recording technology for the Kingdom. A British musician recently prepared an assortment of songs and hymns and saved them as digital files that he then downloaded to several of us in different parts of the world. We then took those files that had been electronically transferred to our computers from the cyberworld, and played them back in worship times on our own digital synthesizer equipment.
8. Worship Is Evangelism Is Worship
While the use of music has been recognized as a powerful tool for evangelism, the Body of Christ is learning more and more how vital worship also draws people to Jesus. The Church on the Way in Van Nuys California has seen thousands come to Christ before the sermon, and following the times of worship. Songwriter Gerrit Gustafson teaches that the gospel is a call to worship and that the fruit of the gospel should be worshipers. (1 Peter 2:9, Romans 15:16). He then explains that evangelism will naturally spring out of worship (Acts 13:2) and describes worship evangelism as "wholehearted worshipers calling the whole world to wholehearted worship."
Evangelistic crusades worldwide now include extended times of worship. As unbelievers see believers responding to God in worship they are attracted to Him. They experience God present as he inhabits their praises. Sally Morganthaler, author of the book Worship Evangelism writes: "Believers in heartfelt worship can present a three- dimensional model that entertainment and apologetics cannot."
Illustrations abound to confirm that. Over the last fifteen years Michele and Tonio Romeo have planted 25 new churches in the harbor town of Naples. In the first phase 15-20 people enter the area to hold worship services or simply make music in the piazza with no sermon. After two months they add preaching and friendship evangelism to the gatherings, which has led to the planting of the churches.
Leighton Ford describes workers with the India Evangelistic Mission ministering among tribal groups. They would often ask neighbors if they could use their homes for a time of worship. Instead of preaching to them they held worship and prayer services, which deeply impressed the families and opened them to listen much more readily to the presentation of the gospel.
For over twenty years the OM mission ships have held International Nights using drama, music, dance, mime, and preaching in a great multi-media celebration of God's grace. Large numbers of people have come to faith in Christ who were attracted by the power of these "festivals of praise."
9. Networking Of Worship And Arts Ministries
Recent years has given birth to a variety of ministries whose purpose is to partner with other ministries to make the greatest impact for the Kingdom. Fellowships of musicians, painters, dancers, actors, have formed on several continents. One example is the Creative Arts Europe fellowship, which helps Europeans develop Biblical perspective on the arts and ways that the church can be salt and light on a post- Christian continent. Artists are realizing the potential of networking as stated in the Singapore '89 Manifesto: "for the sake of the lost...we have dared to pray and dream of what might happen if autonomy of churches and ministries could be balanced with significant partnership."
One of the newest partnerships is the AD2000 Worship and Arts Resource Network (Track). Realizing that the goal of global evangelization is to present worshipers to the Lord from every people group, the Track seeks to serve existing ministries and initiatives by promoting an international network of information and resources on worship and artistic communication to the Body of Christ. Building on the AD2000 motto of "a church for every people and the gospel for every person" the Track has a vision to see "a worshiping church for every people."
10. The Global Marches For Jesus
One of the most exhilarating snapshots of global worship has been the Marches for Jesus that now cover most of the earth. The Marches call Christians of all denominations to unite and take the joy of knowing Jesus beyond the church walls and into the streets with prayer and praise. The marches are described as "joyful and extravagant celebrations" to the Lord Jesus. Only Jesus could be worthy of such a worldwide offering of praise. The Marches help to demonstrate that the Body of Christ is made of many congregations but is truly one church.
Starting with one small band of believers from a London local church the Marches have grown in size to millions that cover the earth. At one march in Sao Paulo, Brazil 2,500,000 marched!! In Russia many people reported that they were healed of heart diseases and other ailments during the Moscow March. In Rwanda, members of the warring Hutu and Tutsi tribes marched side by side carrying banners that read, "No divisions in Jesus--We are all the same." In Argentina a national radio network broadcast the three hour event to the whole nation. In New Caledonia people were marching who had just become believers at the Billy Graham Global Mission. They were "joining in with the family of God in another worldwide event that was bringing His people together in unity."
British worship leader Graham Kendrick, who led the original March back in the 80s shares of a vision he had during a time of worship in London. "I saw the earth as if viewed from space, spinning on its axis, its continents, oceans and islands clearly defined. But then hundreds of threads, each a different color, appeared from out of the nations, arcing out, upward and around the earth, converging about it. I looked to see whether a design had emerged out of the weaving of the threads. To my joy, on the underside, visible from the earth, was the face of Jesus. I knew immediately that the multicolored threads represented worship rising to the Lord from believers of every nation, people, tribe and language. The different colors represented the unique gifts of worship that flowed from the nations, a beautiful variety of expressions. The love gifts of millions of hearts lent color and distinctiveness by the contexts of vastly different cultures."
And so the crescendo of global worship continues to build, foreshadowing that moment when we will join the great multitude of Revelation 7 "that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb...And they cried out in a loud voice...and fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God..."
Frank Fortunato is the music director for Operation Mobilization as well as coordinator of the Worship and Arts Track of the AD2000 and Beyond Movement. You may use the response form on the cover to indicate your desire to use your music skills for missionary work or you may contact him directly at
Operation Mobilization PO Box 444 Tyrone, GA 30290-0444 or call (770) 631-0432 x252 FAX: (770) 631-0439 Internet: [email protected]