What would it look like for us to join together in worship, in celebration and in unity to honour the one true God? What would it look like for us to experience praise that breaks beyond traditional and cultural borders?

Defining Christian worship

Christians all over the world have developed and honed their own way to worship – for many, it is witnessing a symphony of multiple instruments, perhaps a seven-piece band with a stage full of energy and fire for the gospel. For others, it is the gentle sound of a soloist singer accompanied by the whispering chords of an acoustic guitar. However we choose to worship, we should be aware of the huge influence of surrounding cultures.

Often, when the word worship’ is mentioned, most of us jump to the definition of worship through music – but that is not the only way to worship.

Our love and adoration for God can be expressed through the reading of scripture, a written or spoken message, teaching, the giving of our finances and time – even through the celebration of holy, historical moments such as the birth and death of Jesus Christ. People often choose worship through the culture in closest proximity to us – whether that be through their indigenous language, specific art forms like music and dance or even through the sharing of traditional foods and communal celebrations.

"If we are not careful, our worship styles may only ever reflect the dominant culture in our church or leadership team."

Intercultural worship with music

Whether churches choose to express their worship through older hymn styles, liturgy set to music, Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) styles, Christian hip hop, or the broad use of gospel music – the list of ways to bring God glory is filled with a variety of rich cultural history that should be used to bring people together with a common goal. We see worship depicted throughout the Bible in many ways, and music is just one of the ways we can show God that we are thankful – David essentially used it as therapy to process his own struggles before God as well as connecting with others.

The purpose of intercultural worship, specifically, is to create a space that encourages people of all backgrounds and nations to join together to thank God for who He is through their own cultural practices or traditions.

In Revelation 7:9, we find a scene of praise beyond borders: After the vision of these things I looked, and there was a great number of people, so many that no one could count them. They were from every nation, tribe, people, and language of the earth. They were all standing before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.”

Essentially, the more we understand about each other and our unique ways to worship, the more we can learn to embrace these differences in serving, honouring, and representing a unified kingdom of God.

Sharing the good news beyond cultural borders

So, you may be wondering: why are Christian worship and culture so important in sharing the gospel? How we share the gospel often stems from our own perceptions of God which are usually based on our own personal and cultural experiences. This is why it is so important to immerse ourselves within a melting pot of cultures – it not only dismantles this notion that there is only one way to worship but also improves our vision, enabling us to see God through the eyes of another culture or community.

Building a picture of how diverse cultures worship can help us see when our work is being valued or when they are showing someone appreciation for their service. One culture may use hospitality as a way of thankfulness and worship. For example, they may invite a guest speaker to stay with their family in their home and provide them with a home-cooked meal the day before a conference; another culture may simply present them with a thank you card and a gift basket. However one chooses to worship through serving others, it does not need to be the same — just from a pure heart with the picture of unity at the forefront of our motives.

When we invest time into learning about other people’s worship practices, we can reflect upon what we are naturally drawn to. If we are not careful, our worship styles may only ever reflect the dominant culture in our church or leadership team. It is about being intentional with our desire to represent multiple communities in our congregation and not just engage in our own personal worship preferences.

So, how can we begin to engage in more intercultural worship practices? We can simply visit another church group, event or conference that uses different practices than we are used to. We can begin to explore a host of new worship music that uses different instrumentation, varied languages and encourages other styles. Expanding our idea of what normal” worship looks and sounds like are just a few ways of learning to celebrate the creative differences (and similarities) in our worship. 

"Christians from other cultures may be able to bring different insights about who God is and play us a different melody than what we are used to."

Music that brings healing amongst the divided

We are reminded of how important it is to expand our vision beyond what is often right in front of us and join with others in worship. What’s interesting is that the Bible portrays just that – it shows us how we can often be the answer to one another’s needs when we step out of our own environment.

1 Samuel 16:14 – 23 tells the story of Saul who finds himself troubled by an evil spirit. The great thing about this story is that Saul’s servants notice this and suggest this:

Give us the command to look for someone who can play the harp. When the evil spirit from God troubles you, he will play, and you will feel better.’

So Saul said to his servants, Find someone who can play well and bring him to me.”

The great takeaway from this story is not only that David’s reputation travels far beyond his own location and home; it is also not only about his own talented ability to play the harp so beautifully. David is brave, bold and courageous and filled with a godly nature that gave him a willingness to travel, make new connections, seek the healing power of God and use this to be a blessing to another group of people outside of his own circle.

When the evil spirit from God troubled Saul, David would take his harp and play. Then the evil spirit would leave him, and Saul would feel better.”

This story is an example of what it looks like to call one another when we are having issues with our faith or spiritual walk with God. Sometimes we may face issues within our own communities and church circles that require us to reach out to neighbouring communities and seek external support or guidance.

Christians from other cultures may be able to bring different insights about who God is and play us a different melody than what we are used to. We should be open to this making room for other groups to feed into our own and let them give us a unique perspective into who God is. You never know, this may be the very thing that shifts the church’s vision.

We were never called to do this journey alone, and more so, we were never called to do this journey amongst people who have seen, heard and experienced everything we have. Even Jesus engaged in a relationship with a range of people, ethnic groups, personalities, and professions. He showed us that there is more that unites us than divides us.