so that by all possible means I might save some. – I Corinthians 9:22
On a mission tour to Taiwan, I worshiped in a Chinese-speaking church. Could I truly worship there? Yes, because I brought God my heart, mind, and soul and presented them to him. But I could not sing the songs in Mandarin or understand the pastor’s sermon. I could pray during prayer times, but I could not understand their spoken prayers. So I worshiped God personally, but I could not be taught or convicted by God’s Word because it was presented in another language. To stay in Taiwan and continue to go to this Chinese-speaking church, I would have to learn their language. Otherwise, the language barrier would have caused me to dry up as a disciple and forced me to find an English speaking church. Yet in our own churches, we often accuse those who fail to participate in unfamiliar styles as spiritually immature or narrow. For this reason, many call blended worship the “equal opportunity offender.” The truth is that we must meet church members where they are because most people will remain primarily immersed in the particular culture where God has placed them.
This brings us to the issue of heart language. All of us have a cultural context in which God has placed us. But when life “rocks our world,” we turn to our God-given heart language to express our deepest feelings. For instance, when you lose your job, how do you express your emotions? When a loved one dies, what music do you listen to, what phrases do you say, and what comfort foods do you eat? Those things that express your deepest feelings in moments of deepest emotion are your heart language. If we really want to connect people with God in worship, we must offer them that opportunity in their heart language. It stands to reason that to move people to a change of heart we should communicate the gospel in their heart language. We must learn the heart languages of the people to whom God is sending us.
Many times, leading a worship song and looking across the congregation, I have seen couples standing there looking at me in total bewilderment. They might be wearing jeans and T-shirts in the midst of folks in dresses, coats and ties and singing hymns. Or they might be wearing dresses, coats and ties in the midst of the flip-flop crowd who are rocking along with a praise band. It’s obvious that they have come to church expecting one style of worship but find themselves in a totally different culture. Both are obviously caught in a worship language disconnect. Is the couple to blame? Are they being narrow and spiritually immature? No, they are demonstrating the innate characteristics of cultural context and heart language. Again, we cannot expect people to connect best with God in a cultural language that is not their own. God created cultural variety on purpose, so we need to celebrate it and use it to connect people with him. (See previous post: https://goingfullcircleblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/10/why-in-the-world-did-god-place-people-in-cultures)
What is your cultural heart language? How does yours fit with those who are in your church? How does the heart language of your church compare to the heart languages of those who live around your church? Where are the disconnects and what can we do about them?
If you and your church need our help with *starting new services to reach new people*, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. — Mark Powers