For a while now I have been involved in intercultural worship – where people from various backgrounds learn to worship God using one another’s languages and cultural styles. But back when I was just a few months into it, the novelty began to wear off and I found myself questioning how necessary this practice was for someone like me (a second-generation immigrant brought up in this country).

I am part of a group that works to equip churches in intercultural worship, and when we visited churches, I was tired of the members there stating that my English is very good or telling me how they have links to a certain country which neither of my parents are from. But I smiled politely and continued practicing intercultural worship.

As I did my own research, asked questions and prayerfully reflected upon the answers that I found, I began to see that worship in this way was not only beneficial to myself and others, but even essential. I discovered that the root of it is love, the fruit of it is mission and the image it bears is of heaven. When worship is intercultural, different parties share with one another – there is relationship, mutual understanding and blessing. Intercultural worship paints a picture of people who are diverse yet united in one song.

"I discovered that the root of it is love, the fruit of it is mission and the image it bears is of heaven."

The root is love

Romans 12:9 – 13

Romans 12 speaks of being devoted to one another in love, honouring one another above ourselves and practising hospitality.
We shouldn’t just welcome people into our churches, we must love them sincerely and allow them to change us in ways that honour God. When we worship, it should transform us. It fuels us to love God and love our neighbours. If our neighbours change, so does our worship.
Each person lays down their preferences in order for their brother or sister to connect with God in their heart language – and soon enough everyone is also able to worship God in each other’s languages, as a new worship culture is birthed.

The fruit is mission

Acts 2:11

Music and language connect to the heart. At Pentecost, a crowd of people from different nations heard the wonders of God declared in their own tongues, drawing them in.

Our church regularly participates in street evangelism, where we have the honour of playing Christian worship music in the languages and styles that are most represented in Harrow, North West London. It is not unusual for people to stop and look incredulously at us, as they hear the name of Jesus in their own language, in a style that they’re familiar with. This leads to conversations about the gospel and provides a fresh new take on what is presumed. By worshiping in different languages and styles, we’re saying that they are valued, their culture is God-given, and the gospel is for them.

An image of heaven

Revelation 7:9 – 10

John’s vision in Revelation shows every nation, tribe, people and language worshipping God together. We experience a foretaste of heaven when this happens in our settings today. But more than merely celebrating with each other are the relationships that are formed between people which enable this. In order to bring unity where there is diversity, a community must work together as one body. There must be relationships. There must be reconciliation.

The cross brings reconciliation between us and God, and also reconciliation between one another.

I was serving in a Chinese-heritage church, where the congregation was made up of people whose mother tongues were Cantonese, Mandarin and English. I wrote a song in all three languages in the summer of 2019 – during the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. I wanted church members to be able to connect with God in their heart language, but also to unite people in one song. Although there were political tensions between these groups outside of the church, I wanted to explore what it would it look like to be reconciled inside of these four walls and for that to overflow into our communities.

But I also believe that we can find reconciliation within ourselves.

"As we strive to create a loving environment for both Christians and non-Christians to enter in, we are met with challenges. It isn’t easy to consciously choose to lay down preferences, and it isn’t comfortable. But God never called us to be."

People like me are called BBCs – British-Born Chinese. I have a bicultural identity and growing up I had many identity struggles as I wasn’t British enough” or Chinese enough”. I was made very aware of my difference, and I tended to want to hide my Chineseness”, just so that I could fit in.

At a typical white-majority church in the UK, I would be singing English songs and would be able to easily assimilate into the dominant culture. But imagine if I was invited to a church where we would sing in different languages and styles, including in Cantonese Chinese, which is what I speak at home. 

The language and culture which I have often tried to hide is being used to worship God – and now I know that I don’t have to shut out this part of myself which is ordained by God. In fact, participating in worship like this is a healing experience. When others who are not Chinese are singing in Chinese it means that people are connecting to God in my language! I know that I no longer have to be ashamed of it.

My journey with intercultural worship has led me to discover more about myself, how I relate to God and to others. It unearths assumptions and biases, pushing me towards addressing these as I continue to explore the topics of culture, identity, race and faith.

As we strive to create a loving environment for both Christians and non-Christians to enter in, we are met with challenges. It isn’t easy to consciously choose to lay down preferences, and it isn’t comfortable. But God never called us to be.

To find out more about intercultural worship, visit songs2serve​.eu