Life + Culture

The Next Worship: Glorifying God In a Diverse World

Colorful book cover of 'The Next Worship'

Our God is a multicultural God. Our worship in heaven will be multicultural. In his time on earth, Jesus consistently sought out multicultural settings. Shouldn't the worship in our churches be multicultural as well?

But diverse worship is often counter to our instinct and our cultural inertia. It is easier to just stick with what is familiar and not challenge our personal or communal norms. Sandra Maria Van Opstal's new book The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World is designed to help communities take those next steps to broaden the musical worship in their settings.

Van Opstal asserts that "it is no longer a questions of whether we like or want diversity. The church is diverse. And congregational worship should reflect the diversity of God's people, even if a local congregation itself is not diverse" (14). Thus, it becomes  imperative that our churches adopt a multicultural approach to their music if they are to live into the mission of doing God's work.

The Next Worship walks readers through the the theological and sociological rationales and strategies for diverse worship music noting that "multiethnic worship acknowledges and honors the diversity of people in the local and global church, and teaches congregations to understand and honor that same diversity." (16) Worship is an essential vehicle through which we build community and form the inclusive body of Christ. Van Opstal invites us to move from simple hospitality, to solidarity and mutuality in our worship.

Video: Sandra Maria Van Opstal
talks about The Next Worship

The book also explores what we mean by culture. In chapter two, entitled "Is PB&J Ethnic Food?: The Myth of Normal Worship," Van Opstal observes that "the biggest barrier Christians face is developing communities hospitable to people of every ethnicity and culture is their ignorance about their own culture. We are unaware of what it means to be us and hyper aware of what it means to be them." (40) Van Opstal talks about "the joyous discomfort of encountering God in new ways" and encourages Christians to "practice the discipline of acknowledging difference while suspending judgment." (99) Van Opstal also offers a rich appendix of resources that can point practitioners to practical resources to use in their own settings.

This book delineates common models of multiethnic worship, along with each of their strengths and weaknesses. It notes that "as the church is led in worship, they will internalize values based on the model presented," and thus "it's all about intentionality!" (109) Van Opstal helps the reader to understand their how each model for worship facilitates different goals and how to counterbalance our inevitable tendencies toward the familiar and the comfortable.

Van Opstal devotes a great deal of time to the subject of worship leaders and leadership development. This effort reflects how essential intentional and well-supported diverse leadership development in our churches. She offers strategies to encourage leaders from many backgrounds and leadership styles. Van Opstal invites us to dream: "imagine if each of us considered working ourselves out of a job by training leaders who could succeed us." (173)

Sandra Maria Van Opstal leading worship at Urbana12

Each chapter of the book includes an outline of the key concepts covered, as well as questions for both personal reflection and for group discussion. Each chapter also concludes in a prayer, driving home the idea that this work is holy work, and will only succeed when we call upon the Lord to offer guidance and encouragement to our worship teams.

The seventh chapter closes with the following prayer that I invite us all to pray this week:
"God, humble us. Give us eyes to see the gifts you have given our fellowship. May we be able to give honor to those who have gone before us and creatively dream about where we are  going. And move in our midst that we would be open to grow in our worship of you, the God of all peoples." Amen.

Like what you see here? Check out The Next Worship and then stay tuned for an upcoming series on BTSF called #AllPeoplePractices that will explore lessons about worshiping together in a diverse world uncovered at UM Church for All People (which is one of the churches featured in Sandra's book!). 

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