The Red Couch: The Next Worship introduction


My 5-year old daughter, whose ears are always itching to hear my childhood stories, recently asked me,
“What was your favorite thing about growing up?”

I couldn’t think of much at the moment, but after some reflection, I now know what I would’ve told her. My happiest times as a kid were going on Band tours with my small Christian church school…

One memorable year, our music teacher Mr. Knight asked the girls singing group from my predominately African-American church to sing a few songs on the tour. I appreciated his intentional effort in bringing a multiethnic experience to our concerts, even though he wasn’t perfect at knowing how to make that happen very smoothly. For example, at the beginning of the concert he tried to pique the interest of the audience by announcing:

“And we also have an Authentic Black Gospel Choir with us today!”

Authentic? We didn’t know why he chose to use that term. But we also knew Mr. Knight well enough to know that he was well-meaning and sincerely excited about having an “Authentic Black Gospel Choir” as a feature on the tour. Despite the initial awkward introduction, he learned how to introduce us in a way that provided context and meaning. It was an amazing experience because our contribution communicated a message to everyone that he valued our unique expression of faith.

In Sandra Maria Van Opstal’s The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World, she passionately addresses this very topic of multiethnic worship. Van Opstal has fifteen plus years of experience in leading diverse congregations in multiethnic worship services. As a student worship leader for InterVarsity, she watched the college movement grow into a more diverse makeup of students during the Urbana Student Missions Conferences. She draws from her own experience, other seasoned worship leaders, and quotes from a myriad of scholars.

Ron Man, the director of Worship Resources International describes diversity in worship as:

“The mixing of historic, traditional, contemporary, and global expressions of worship into a diverse mosaic of praise with the goals of glorifying God by encouraging the united participation of believers across demographic and generational lines.”

In eight simple chapters, Van Opstal uses the analogy of hosting a meal to explain the why, what, and how of multiethnic worship. In the first three chapters subtitled, Challenges and Opportunities in Diverse Worship, The Myth of Normal Worship, and Reconciliation in Worship, Van Opstal argues that our world is becoming increasingly diverse and our worship services ought to reflect that diversity. What is beautiful about this is that there are different approaches to what multiethnic worship looks like in a given church based on the goals for that particular congregation.

According to Revelation 4 and 7 “…those from every nation, tribe, people, and language will be worshipping God singing Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” It’s important to embrace multiethnic worship diverse because our worship on earth is a reflection of what our worship in heaven will be like.

She also speaks of Jesus’ example of reconciliation and how a worship service that embodies hospitality (we welcome you), solidarity (we stand with you), and mutuality (we need you) makes the most powerful impact on a congregation.

Van Opstal digs deeper into specifics of what it takes to create powerful worship experiences in the next 3 chapters on Shared leadership, Models of Diverse Worship, and Components of Diverse worship.

She highlights that it’s not only music that matters, but other components that make up the entire worship service that flows together in a themed program. She includes an appendix of a powerful worship program titled Blessed are the Persecuted where scripture readings, songs, prayers all tie into the theme of the global persecuted church.

Creating Culture Change and Training Worship Leaders are the topics of the last two chapters. According to Van Opstal, when creating change, worship leaders must consider the historical roots of a given faith community and how that influences their modern expressions of worship. I resonate with this because my church is both intergenerational and multiethnic. Our worship team is now working on choosing songs with a mix of hymns and modern praise song that reflect the diversity in our local church.

Ultimately, Van Opstal’s stories and insights cast a vision of what powerful multiethnic worship can look like in your own congregation. More than that, she provides so many resources and tools to make that happen. If you are passionate about reconciliation with all believers, join me in catching a vision and being empowered to worship in a way that reflects the diversity found in our local and global community.

How have you experienced multiethnic worship in your church or faith journey?

We will be talking about this book all month long over in the Red Couch Facebook page. We hope you’ll join in the conversation! And come back here at the end of July for a discussion post led by Melissa Joy Powell.