Leading Praise and Worship

Leading praise and worship is commonplace in churches across the world, but it seems to me that there is a question of culture?  Namely, whose?  Yours or mine, western or eastern, local or something imported from America or Australia?  Do people from Western culture have the right to impose our cultural values on your congregations?


The big challenge to worship leaders across the world is whether they should reproduce the songs just as they are on the CD, or whether they should adapt them in some way to express their own local culture.  I want to examine 3 areas which, if you are leading praise and worship in your home country, I think you need to pray long and hard about!


  1. The Lyrics


I have heard time and again English songs being sung in English despite the fact that many locals do not speak the language.  I understand that English is the trade language, and also the language of TV and movies, and that many young people want to speak it, but does the average member of a congregation understand what they singing about?


Across the world there are many countries who speak multiple languages, and I think the churches in places like Malaysia and India have a great idea.  They might sing a song 3 times, and mix English with the local language on different verses.  This keep the original flavour of the song, but still provides a way for locals to understand what the song is talking about.


  1. The Style of Music


There are many styles of music in the world, and we westerners don’t have all the answers.  Why not modify the song style to suit your local congregation.  If you are in Africa, and reggae music is number one, then modify the style so your people enjoy the song their way!


There are even unique styles of singing, such as Tongan choirs or Indian singing, which might not be a western person’s cup of tea, but they may be perfect for the people of your own culture!


  1. Instruments


Many cultures have their own, unique instruments, and I think introducing them into worship is a super cool idea!  Drums can make a song African, while cymbals might offer an Asian feel.  I know the Chinese have some pretty amazing string instruments, while the Indians have sitars.  If your culture has unique instruments, find a way to use them to praise the Lord when you are leading praise and worship in your own churches!


Leading Praise and Worship in Your Culture


So, if you are leading praise and worship do it within your own culture, and do it so your people can understand and relate to what is happening.  I don’t believe that imposing western culture and ideals is the best thing, and I do believe that a blend between the two can provide a valid way forward for those grappling with this issue.


Leading praise and worship needs to be about leading your people to a closer relationship with the Lord in a way they can understand, not changing how they worship to make it like a western church!

If you are involved in leading praise and worship in a non-westernized society, you may be facing the question of whether you should modify your worship style to fit your culture. Most of the styles of leading praise and worship are heavily influenced by the church in the developed nations, and if you are in an emerging nation it is important that you do not reproduce what you hear on worship CDs, but start leading praise and worship within your own culture.

Leading Praise and Worship is About the Lord

Contrary to what you might believe, leading praise and worship in a developing nation is not about westernizing your church! Admittedly, there are many wonderful praise and worship songs that have been beautifully produced by the Western Church, and it is tempting to play and sing the songs exactly the same way that you hear them in recordings, but I do not believe that this is what should be done.

Leading praise and worship in church is about pointing people towards the Lord, and I believe that the Lord wants to meet people where they are at and in their own culture to impact their lives. If we continue to use music as an excuse to introduce Western culture, and we are conveying to the people that the Lord commanded us to worship in an exclusive way, the way of the developed nations. If you are leading praise and worship, this is your opportunity to show people that God is relevant to them in their culture.

Leading Praise and WorshipLeading Praise and Worship is About the People

As I write this article I’m sitting in a room in northeast India, where these beautiful Indian people are singing songs that I recognize but in their own language. Some songs are in English, but many of them are in a language that the people understand best, and this is part of leading praise and worship in your own culture. This style of music and worship, however, would not be out of place in any American, English or Australian church, and this way I feel that those leading praise and worship are misled.

One of the great difficulties facing the early and medieval church was that much of the original writings were in Latin, a language which the common people did not speak! However wonderful a worship song is, if the people have no understanding of the meaning behind it is practically useless! If you are leading praise and worship and you want to make it relevant to your culture, one of the first steps is to translate the words into a language that your people will understand.

Leading Praise and Worship is About Expressing Your Culture

However, leading praise and worship in your own culture needs to go beyond simply the words. Most cultures have a specific way of expressing themselves musically, and I believe it brings great joy to the heart of God when he hears people worshiping using their own cultural instruments in their own cultural style. For some strange reason, those leading praise and worship seem to always want to make the sound more Western, rather than embracing the music and style of their own culture. Perhaps there is a mystique to Western culture, but when you are leading praise and worship you have an incredible opportunity to blend the Western sound with your own cultural instruments and style!

So if you are leading praise and worship in your church, and if you live in Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia, India and South America, please try and express your own culture in your worship. This will bring much joy to the heart of God, and also to your people and your country. Western music is attractive, especially to young people, I would suggest the two blamed on the styles of your own culture with Western music to create a unique expression of worship the Lord.

If you are leading praise and worship, you are in the perfect position to blend words and music styles to create a form of worship unique to your culture.