Saturday, October 31, 2009

Adoption, Ethnicity and Worship- Part 2

Alright, I admit it! I bit off more than I can chew in the last post. It seems that most of you agree with me, as I don't see any comments or feedback below. However, I do want to push forward on this theme, mainly because I think the implications for the church today are desperately needed, as are the implications for Christian families seeking to model the Kingdom of God (or better stated, living out the Kingdom of God through family). I realize that I am insufficiently equipped to unfold all of the answers to the questions I raised, but I hope to at least lay some foundation that we can toss around and build on. Let me begin my just talking about our church here.

Kasana Community Church is truly a unique church both in Uganda and in the world at large. At one point last year we had men, women and children gathered in worship of God from the United States, Canada, England, India, Kenya, Rwanda, Congo DR, and Uganda (including over 14 different tribes represented). It is quite an incredible sight to see that kind of ethnic diversity gathered together in one place! It is incredible that the English language is able to act as a unifier of such vastly different people-groups. It would be easy for us as a church to simply adopt ONE new worship expression using ONLY English as the dominant language...but what would be lost would be the HEART EXPRESSION of the individuals represented. Let me explain.

As Westerners here in Uganda, most of us have grown up in the context of Western worship. Regardless of whether we are singing songs in English or Luganda (local language here), the style is different, the length of songs, the instruments (most Westerners struggle with the electric keyboard!), etc., even if we are singing familiar songs. But we adjust.

I can remember during our first year here when we were struggling to adjust, missing our "familiar" worship style, a team came on a short-term trip. One of the team members was a gifted worship leader in his home church, so our church leaders decided to allow him to lead a portion of the worship. He stood in front with his acoustic guitar and the second he began leading I felt my heart come alive. Both Laura Beth and I LOVED that short 15 minutes of worship that we had, yet towards the end as I looked around, most of the Ugandans were quieter and obviously NOT enjoying the time as much as we were. Then something incredible happened. The man sat down and our Ugandan worship leader came forward. The second he started in with a song in Luganda, the place about came apart! It was like they were waiting for what was familiar to them. I looked around at the Westerners and they looked very much like the Ugandans had during the "Western worship" time. They were enjoying the time in worship, but not like before.

What I came to understand at that moment is how important HEART EXPRESSION is for those engaging in worship. I enjoy singing in Luganda, or singing the Ugandan English songs that we sing, but I typically find myself coming MORE alive when we are singing songs that I have grown up singing. It's the same with each nationality and people group represented in the church. Our Ateso brothers and sisters enjoy singing in English and Luganda, but something happens when suddenly an Ateso song gets thrown into the mix- men who were standing and clapping before can be seen suddenly jumping high into the air, up and down, up and down, throughout the church (which is how the Ateso worship). The same could be said for each ethnicity represented.

If this were simply a context where Western missionaries were co-existing with people from the Buganda tribe, good missiological practice would call for the Westerners to simply die to their own cultural worship expression and integrate into the larger culture here (which is how many Western churches function when it comes to cultural integration). I have no problem with this in our context, especially in the light of the past missionary practice of simply establishing/imposing Western practice and worship in other cultures (at the expense of local culture and expression). But when it comes to other tribes within Uganda who are gathered here, the answer is not so clear-cut.

It is great that the churches planted within various tribes each have their own unique expression of worship (non-Western), but now that tribes are beginning to mix in both the city and even within different tribal territory in larger towns, what is the way forward for the Ugandan church? Is the answer to follow the common US pattern of keeping different ethnic groups separate in their worship? Hopefully our response is a resounding: NO! It would be a shame for it to be said here in Uganda that the 10am hour is the most segregated of the week.

How awesome to see our church here as a rallying point for the different tribes, intentionally seeking to bring the various ethnic expressions out in the context of our worship service, instead of forcing everyone into ONE "common" expression that in essence is the expression of none, or perhaps one dominant group. I see this as the beauty of the Bride of Christ gathered around His throne in Revelation 7, from every nation, tribe, people and language, singing out "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" Granted, we don't know if in heaven those in Rev. 7 were singing in ONE language or each in their own, but down here on earth where the curse of Babel is brought back to blessing for the nations through the unifying Gospel and the gift of the Holy Spirit, when the nations and tribes gather together it is as Jesus said in John 17, "I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me."

I think it is in the context of where the Ugandan church stands today, and the way forward that God is calling His church to, that will serve as an example to the direction that the Western church needs to pursue if it is indeed to be a true expression of the Kingdom of God.

Before I move forward, I'd love some feedback here. Thoughts?