I am a missionary to Thailand. I’m also a worship leader and musician… in fact, music and worship ministry have become my main ministry as a missionary. I started the School of Worship, YWAM Thailand in 2004, with my wife Yam, who is a Thai citizen. We also write worship songs for the Thai church and release christian albums. Through the past 10 years of worship ministry in a foreign land, I have been trying to figure out exactly how to be the most effective “music” missionary.
Before I moved overseas and became a full time missionary in 1998, I was a worship leader. Leading worship in my own culture, own language, and for my own “Kind” became quite simple and I found that I was getting very comfortable at bringing a group of any size into praise and worship. I felt I knew the right words to speak at the right time, and I knew how to emphasize certain phrases to bring a “livelier” meaning to the worship songs. I think I knew how to “read’ the crowd, and I understood the cultural relevance of the worship songs I was leading. When I moved to Thailand, I was thrown into confusion and depression as a worship leader… I found it very difficult to sing my favorite worship songs with the same amount of passion and “connection” as I did at home. It was uncomfortable for me to worship with translated songs while trying to “compete” with the dominant foreign language, and worst of all, I found that ALL of the songs I was singing at home were, in effect, irrelevant to the Thai people pertaining to what God was actually doing in Thailand, so, even though I could see that certain translated songs were well liked by the Thai Christians, I knew that they just weren’t catching the special meaning of these songs and what God was doing through those songs in my own culture.
When I came to the understanding and acceptance that worship in missions is vastly different than worship at home, I began to see God open doors of opportunity for me to actually minister somewhat effectively in worship ministry as a missionary. So, I would like to share a few observations of mine regarding worship ministry in missions-- I would love to hear what you have to say and especially hear from those who have ministered long term in foreign nations, and what you've observed.
A missionary who desires to “build” an effective worshiping church should, in my opinion, observe some of the following points:
1. Encourage the indigenous writing of worship songs– find out who from the locals are gifted in songwriting and are anointed for worship, and support them in writing worship songs in their own language, according to what God is doing in their own lives, the local church or in the nation as a whole.
2. As much is as possible for you, do away with (or don’t allow) the dominance of translated songs. Missionaries have to start somewhere, so throughout the ages, missionaries have brought many of their own well-loved songs and have had them quickly translated into the local language… while I’m not against having translated worship songs in an international setting, I am not very supportive of a Thai local church (or any local church of non-english speaking countries) using ONLY translated worship songs… this is because God has used songs in worship throughout history to speak clearly to His people, plus a song is/ or can be a “prophetic” voice to the local people when it is written or inspired by Gods people in the land. When you take that away from the local church, it suffers.
3. Find out what is relevant to the culture and people of TODAY in the nation. How important it is to be a worshiping church that can actually create a fire in the heart of non-christians to worship our God.
4. Understand that all (or most) forms, styles, and ways of doing things are perfectly valid and acceptable when it is done with a heart of worship to Jesus. Every culture is rich with tradition, and missionaries should never take away the beauty of traditions, but should point to the redeemer and show that all things created can indeed be redeemed and used for Gods glory according to the teachings of the bible. I'm not talking about idol worship, ancestoral worship or pagan divination, or things that are clearly stated in the Bible as sinful, but I mean the arts, musical traditions and ways of showing respect/ honor can very much be redeemed.
5. As a missionary, RESIST the urge to create copies of the comforts of your home church, (which may be half away around the world). A foreign nation is a foreign nation and when you step into their church, and into their worship, it should look and feel like a foreign church to the missionary...
This post is from my blog page on my personal site: http://www.pjhudson.whitelotusworshipmusic.com
feel free to check it out-- I'll post some of my blogs here on WTR and would love to hear your ideas.
Thanks for taking the time :)