Imported vs indigenous worship

Imported vs indigenous worship

We had this email from Karl Pettit, Creative Arts/Worship Pastor at First Baptist Church, Pocatello, ID asking our thoughts on translating our DVDs into Mandarin for use in missionary work:

“I cannot believe how God is opening doors in Asia right now for the Word to be shared! Especially through the medium of music. I have had the honor and privilege of working with a ‘music school’ that is working to develop future worship leaders for the church in Asia. WOW! What an experience. But they are desperately in need of tools to take with them back into their churches.

I am working with some folks to bring worship training tools to Asia (can’t say where) and have begun working with some artists’ who have product to get them translated into Chinese (Mandarin). We are in the process now of building a materials/tools ‘pile’ to take with us when we return in Dec/Jan of this year. What I’m looking for is in three key areas:
1. Any basic to advanced piano instruction for worship. Almost all of these churches has never done a ‘western’ worship service, but realizes the need to change to reach their younger generation. Most of the churches I’m working with are early to mid 30’s in age, with families.
2. Any instruction for guitar for worship. Mostly acoustic right now.
3. Vocal instruction tools, warm up tools, etc.

The trick is to get these translated into Chinese. I have some contacts that we are working with to make the DVDs happen. In addition, I also have folks to work with the ‘paper’ translation for items such as chord charts, lead sheets, etc.”

Now I’m sure many would think that this is a highly laudable request and it would make a lot of sense, in terms of the gospel, for us to give an unequivocal “yes” to the proposals. But I had my reservations. I chatted to a friend (who for many years has worked in ministry with  ethnic people groups in China and elsewhere in Asia) and together we formulated this response. We would be very interested to hear others’ views (and also of course hear from Karl – whose permission we have to reprint his original email).


Hi Karl

We’re delighted that you are being used in this ministry and appreciate your heart to serve the Body of Christ in Asia. On a practical level we’re not quite sure if you are asking us to translate our DVD courses into Manderin or if you’re asking permission to do this yourself. Please clarify, but do bear in mind our courses cover a years worth of material so either way its a huge undertaking.

However on a deeper level, whilst we love that anyone would want to use our courses we are mindful that to see indigenous church growth we need to make sure that models of worship are rooted in the host culture and are not ‘imperialistic’ western imports.

Rather than going to all the effort entailed in dubbing/subtitling how about investing the time into encouraging the young people you are seeking to help to look into their own cultures and draw on the vast depths of Chinese art, music and poetry to see God raise up worship that is truly Chinese and not of western origin?

Obviously this doesnt give you a package you can instantly hit the ground running with but the payoff in the future could help develop three crucial things:

  1. The church there would not be seen as a western import, something that could be counter-productive in the long run
  2. The church in Asia would not be dependent for it’s resources on westerners, this too is very counter-productive in the long run
  3. The things that God gently and maybe slowly raises up would be reproducible throughout the region and easily adopted without the kind of expense that translating western methods entails.

We really do appreciate you getting in touch and I’m sure none of us wants to impose any kind of ‘worship culture’ form on anyone else but we do have to be  careful that imported songs and song styles dont become perseived as the ‘right’ way to ‘do’ worship…

We also asked our friend Sue Rinaldi, who again has wide experience of worship in non Western countries to share her views. She has done so on the following blog post “Turn up the turmeric! Is worship music the latest thing to be globalized?


What do you think? D you have any experience of worship in other cultures either western-style or otherwise? Please comment in the comment box below.