Praise and Worship in the Indian Christian Community
Thomas is the Worship Leader at Full Gospel Assembly of God in Toronto, Canada. He has also served as the Worship Leader at India Pentecostal Assembly of God, Waltham, (Boston) Massachusetts. He received his Bachelor's degree (Computer Science) from Brandeis University, MA, and Master's degree (Computer Information Systems) from Boston University. He is employed as a Consulting Manager at Digital Equipment Corporation. He has spoken at conventions, conferences, youth seminars, and church meetings in the US, Canada, UAE, and India. His wife, Jejee, and he has two sons, Daniel and Joel.View all articles by Philip Thomas, MS
Every believer in the Lord Jesus, a person redeemed from darkness to light, has been called to a live a life of praise and worship to God. Praise and worship is a required and joyous component of every Christian’s relationship with Jesus. Although praise and worship is not restricted to music and song, this chapter deals with the expression of praise and worship in the form of music and song amongst churches in the Indian community. Principles for successful worship ministry, dealing with disagreements, and integrating multiple languages are addressed.
The success of corporate worship, regardless of musical style, or language, is dependent on successful personal and family worship. Deuteronomy 16:11 speaks of the need for every household to worship the Lord in their homes. In many ways this family worship time is a church worship service on a smaller scale. The father, in a role similar to the pastor in the church, takes primary responsibility for the daily and effective practice of family worship in his home and leads all the members of the household in singing, prayer, and study of God’s Word. He encourages and challenges each family member to participate in the worship and to grow in the knowledge of God. A specific set of topics may be chosen for that time of prayer and each family member prays for each need, adding one prayer to another, always paying attention to and agreeing with the others. Every member will be eager to participate in the family worship time when they see that it makes a difference in their individual and family life.
Malayalam songbooks contain a section entitled, “Morning Songs.” These were meant to be sung in morning family worship times and spoke of rising early to worship God, of thanking God for His care and protection, and asking His grace for the day. The need for such dedicated family worship times has not been eliminated by work schedules, academic pursuits, and varying interests. If anything, the need is even more acute now as each family faces tremendous pressures that threaten to break it apart. The family that prays together, that worship together will stay together because they learn how to agree together. Family members who learn how to worship and agree in prayer at home will be eager to do so in the church also. Children who learn to follow their parents’ example in worship and discipline at home will eagerly participate in corporate worship in the church and follow the leadership and discipline of the pastor.
Worship Team Ministry
The selection of the Worship Team in the church is a vitally important step in facilitating worship in the church. The team should be comprised of those that have demonstrated the spiritual maturity and commitment to serve as ministers of the church. The team should not be made up of the most talented or the most recommended. It is possible for churches to create Worship Bands that look good and sound good but are negligent in the areas of discipleship, proper submission to authority, sensitivity to the Holy Spirit in the choice and ministry of the songs, and respect for the varied backgrounds of different people in the church. Worship Team members need to be growing in personal, family, and corporate worship. Otherwise the only difference between them and a secular band will be that they sing different songs.
Dealing with Emotions
Music has a way of affecting our emotions. Christian songs may cause you to weep, to laugh, to become convicted, to be distracted, or to be focused on God. Worship leaders may get a lot of attention from the people that can cause them to be puffed up. Worship teams may feel good about how they are able to get a large group of people to follow them. The danger in each of these emotional aspects of the ministry is that the focus can shift away from God and to ourselves. If our attention is not on God, at worst we commit idolatry, and at best we worship worship itself, the song and the mood, rather than the Lord. It is easy to worship Worship, to be carried away by a certain song, to applaud the drum and guitar solo, to be lost in the moment, all of which though not inherently evil are inherently dangerous because they draw you away from adoring God to adoring what you see and hear.
In many Indian churches today young people see contemporary Christian music as a church and parent approved alternative to their secular friends’ choice of music. However, not all Christian music, including Praise & Worship music, glorifies God. If the emotions associated with secular music are simply transferred over but not removed, when the secular music is substituted with sacred music, the “right” music will lead you away from God just as much as the “wrong” music.
Many Indian churches have split over issues regarding the style and expression of worship in the church. What are the biblical principles for dealing with these kinds of conflicts? If you find yourself disagreeing with a particular expression, by a single individual or by a whole group, you must examine this behavior and yourself by the Word of God. There are two ways in which you may disagree with an expression of worship. You may find the corporate expression to be godly and acceptable but feel like expressing yourself in a different way. Or you may find the corporate expression itself unacceptable and confusing.
What should you do if you attend a church where everyone else is joyful, singing songs of praise, dancing and leaping, and you feel like weeping? Or what if everyone else is crying and you feel like laughing out loud? Ask God if what you are experiencing is because you are focusing on personal anxieties or triumphs, self-centered concerns or desires, or conviction of secret sin. If you are dealing with purely self-centered issues ask God to deal with them without any distraction to the others. Keep in mind that these personal concerns are the very things God deals with us in personal worship. And although a measure of personal worship is a part of the corporate worship we should be laughing or crying for our own needs in our prayer closets before coming to the church. Personal expression that is in contrast with corporate expression may indicate a paucity of personal worship and not the superior spirituality of the individual to hear a different message from God than the rest of the church. Grow in the discipline of personal and family worship so that when you are worshipping with others you may be a complementary part of the corporate worship, in agreement with your brothers and sisters.
As a pastor or elder in the church if you find someone expressing worship that is in marked contrast with the rest of the church or in obvious violation of Biblical standards, approach that person discreetly and determine if they should be ministered to personally. Do not publicly rebuke what you deem as inappropriate unless it is very clear that a public censure is absolutely necessary. The seemingly inappropriate behavior may be a cry for help and understanding.
What should you do if you feel uncomfortable, unwilling to join in, or that something is wrong during corporate worship? Ask God if your feelings are based on personal prejudice, ignorance, or hardness of heart. We cannot express true worship without discerning the attitude of the heart, worshipping God in truth, and ensuring that we worship the provider and not the provision. Similarly we cannot decide to refrain from an expression of worship, however, new or different it may be, without discerning the true attitude of the heart. If God provides the peace that what is being expressed is from Him; then join in agreement with the church. If you have no peace, seek out someone from the church that can answer your questions, preferably an elder or pastor, and ask them to explain what is happening on the basis of the Word of God. Understand the heart attitudes of the church. If the church’s expression of worship is according to the Word of God, join them. If you are still unsure or uneasy, leave. From that time forward pray that God would show you clearly what His truth is. There are no gray areas with God. There is only absolute light. If what you witnessed was done in the light, ask God to shine that light into your heart. If it was not, pray with love, compassion and godly concern that every expression of worship in that church would be of God and to God alone and that any falsity would be totally removed. Pray against every work of Satan that will try to deceive many and counterfeit the truth in the church. Pray that the leaders of the church may be sensitive to God, have a teachable heart, and accept correction. Pray in faith without condemnation that the next time you visit them you would be able to fully participate in their corporate worship.
Ministering in Multiple Languages
Perhaps the most obvious issue that faces Indian churches is the selection of language for worship and preaching. In the case of worship, it is even more difficult than preaching since translation is not an option. It is very important to take specific steps to incorporate multiple languages into the service. If possible, the worship leader should lead in multiple languages. Songs in multiple languages can be chosen to follow each other or even intertwine while maintaining tempo and key. Since it is difficult to lead in multiple languages the more likely scenario may be to have multiple worship leaders, one for each language. Different worship teams may not be necessary unless different instruments, singers, and ministry focus are required. Even when multiple leaders or teams minister there must be a strong synergy between them. Song lists must be chosen together, the teams must practice and pray together, and they must spend time with the pastor to be discipled in worship.
• Here are some rules for effective multi-language ministry:As far as possible use the language visitors and most people in the church would understand. Provide instructions for worship in both languages so everyone understands what is happening and how to participate. Do not separate worship ministries by gender, age group or music styles even when multiple worship teams are used. Do not let one language or musical style become that of the older people and another language or musical style that of the young people. Provide translations and/or transliterations of the words of the songs.Encourage each person to learn songs in the language that they do not know that they may worship together with the others. Guard against any differences in worship expressions being used by Satan to bring division in the church.
Using Musical Instruments
Musical instruments must be chosen and used with care, so as to facilitate worship and not impede it. The focus should never be on the music itself no matter how talented the musician. The choice of a particular instrument must never distract anyone from worshipping God.
Musical instruments must also be chosen based on the number of people and the service format. A prayer meeting with a smaller group of people may require only one instrument such as a guitar or keyboard to aid worship. A large worship service with many people may be greatly blessed through the use of many instruments and even an orchestra. The choice must be made by knowing how much instrumentation is just enough to facilitate worship and not how many instruments you can possibly use at any one time. The quality and quantity of musical instruments will vary from church to church based on resources and the availability of anointed musicians. True worship will not come because you use the latest keyboard or electronic drums. It will come as musical instruments are dedicated for and used solely for the glory of God.
Indian churches are generally small in size and limited in resources, which necessitates being industrious in planning and conducting worship services. The two things to ensure when establishing the right environment for corporate worship are availability of the lyrics and the ability to hear and follow the worship leader and team.
When people are invited to participate in corporate worship it is essential for them to have the words to the songs. The use of songbooks and printed handouts is sufficient for most settings but where space and resources are available the use of an overhead projection system is an invaluable tool. Songs can be prepared on transparencies or slides and projected onto a screen or wall in the front. This allows people to look up, to keep the worship team in sight while following their lead, and allows voices to project better than when heads are buried in hymnals. The use of a single set of overheads also means that corrections and additions can be made just once. A portable overhead projector, a screen, and overhead transparencies can be easily obtained from any office supply store.
Once everyone in the room is able to see the words to the songs the next step is to set up a sound system so that they can hear the worship leader and team. The goal is to allow people to clearly hear what is going on so that they can fully participate. Determine the minimum components you need to meet that goal. A smaller room and few people may need very few items. Add system components as your church grows and your needs change. If you have insufficient funds to purchase new equipment, you will find used equipment in good condition at many music stores. Resist the temptation to spend money on the latest technology unless you absolutely need it. The money may be better spent in other areas.
If you use microphones and electronic instruments, they should be connected to a multi-channel sound mixer. Sound levels for all the instruments and microphones should be set so that from anywhere in the church, even in the front, the vocals can be clearly heard. The vocals need to be louder than the instruments to allow people to focus on the words, inspiring them to meditate on God and on His promises.
An area that many Indian churches ignore is that of obeying copyright laws. Most music, lyrics, and other materials used in churches are copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without permission. Songwriters, many of whom make their livelihood through their ministry, receive royalties when copyrighted materials are used with permission. To disregard this law is to disregard two important principles that God has given us. First, God has commanded us to obey local laws and to render taxes and fees to the government (Romans 13:1-7, Titus 3:1). It is impossible to worship God in truth if we are in obvious violation of federal laws. Second, God has instituted for ministers of the gospel to make their livelihood through the incomes from their ministry (1 Corinthians 9:14). Singers, musicians, and others who supply us with anointed worship materials are ministers of the Lord. We support them and encourage them to continue their ministry when we obey copyright laws.
Tracking down publishers to gain copyright permission for every song, and attempting to pay fees for use of copyrighted materials would be an absolutely impossible task for most churches. The solution is to make use of a resource such as Christian Copyright Licensing Inc. (CCLI). This organization performs complete copyright administration for members and currently serves more than 100,000 churches worldwide. For an annual fee based on church size, an average of $100-200 per year for most churches, CCLI provides a legal license to reprint the words of worship music in songbooks, in bulletins, on overheads, and on slides. Copying song sheets and some recording of songs is also allowed. For more information and application forms contact CCLI from the United States or Canada at: CCLI, 17201 NE Sacramento Street, Portland, OR 97230-5941, USA; Toll Free Phone: 1 (800) 234-2446; Web Site: http://www.ccli.com.
Indian churches in the United States and Canada face a number of challenges in trying to integrate multiple styles, interests, languages, and purposes in their regular worship services. However, the various styles, languages, and purposes that lead to these challenges can be “worked together for good” such that the best of each is retained and expanded on. Our goal should be for Indian families and churches to be places where people from different generations and cultures come together and stand on common ground as they worship God. With study, prayer, wisdom, teachable hearts, and humility this goal can be realized so that Indian churches grow and flourish as places of true worship in the Spirit unto God. True worship in our churches will allow us to usher in the presence and glory of God, receive healing, deliverance and power, and be equipped to go out and minister to a world that desperately needs to know to praise and worship their creator.
Jack Hayford, Glory on Your House (Kingsway Publications Ltd., 1991).
Jack Hayford, John Killinger, Howard Stevenson, Mastering Worship, Christianity Today, Inc., 1990.
Cindy Jacobs, Possessing the Gates of the Enemy (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen Books - Baker Book House Company, 1994).
Doug Hanks, “Ten Practices to Vitalize Your Worship Services.” Worship Leader (Nashville, TN: CCM Communications, 1993).
Chuck Smith, Jr., “Releasing People to an Encounter with God.” Worship Leader (Nashville, TN: CCM Communications, 1992).
Dorothy Mathieson, “Worship: to soothe or disturb?” Renewal Journal # 6 (Brisbane, Australia, 1995), 12-15.
Ron Allen, “When the Psalmists Say, Praise the Lord!” Worship Leader (Nashville, TN: CCM Communications, 1993).
Jeremy Sinnott, Worship (Toronto, Canada: Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship).
Gerrit Gustafson, The Worshipper Vol. 1.1 (Mobile, AL: Kingdom of Priests Ministries, 1995).
Bruce Leafblad, “Recovering the Priority of God.” Worship Leader (Nashville, TN: CCM Communications, 1992).
Geoff Bullock, “Beyond Self-Centered Worship.” On Being (Sydney, Australia, 1995).