Jaewoo Kim describes himself
as a Glocal Worshipper
and a Third Culture Creative.
He’s a director of Arts in Mission Korea
and on staff at Proskuneo Ministries
Read more about Jaewoo
An Evening Everything Came Together
It was intense. It was long. And it was a powerful evening.
On the evening of October 16th, 2014, more than 2,000 Koreans gathered at a church in Seoul, South Korea for the live worship recording event by Anointing Ministries. Anointing Ministries has released more than 20 worship albums over the last ten years and the songs they’ve produced have a huge impact over Korean churches in Korea and also Korean diaspora churches over 170 nations around the world. (Yes, Koreans are everywhere!)
My friend Josh Davis, who was one of worship leaders of that night, and probably the only white person in that room asked me how I felt after everything was done.
“Everything came together”, I answered.
Yes, everything came together that night. Some may have wondered, “Why did we bother to sing in Spanish, English, Arabic, Lingala, Haitian Creole, and Swahili when there were only Koreans in the room?”, and “Why have four worship leaders lead together instead of one main guy leading using his own original songs as people would typically expect?”
Worship in My Own Bubble
For a long time, my spiritual formation and practices were shaped in only one cultural setting. As a Korean, I come from a very strong monocultural background. Many people enjoy Korean food and praise Koreans for being hard-working and polite. But, Koreans in general do not mingle well with people from other cultures.
That was me too. I came to U.S. as an immigrant and soon after I arrived I felt like people treated me as an invisible person in society. Here I was, a real, existing person and yet, due to my poor English and also my lack of social involvement, I became invisible to the people around me.
So, I responded by hiding inside my own culture. My circle of friends and my worshiping community were made up of people who look like me and think like me. I was safe in my collective, top-down, high context, honor and shame driven Korean culture. Without realizing it, I began to treat non-Korean people as if they were invisible to me as well. I was in my own cultural bubble.
Meanwhile, as an Korean-American I was enjoying worship and CCM music produced and distributed among predominantly by white American Christians. I loved the music of Don Moen, Tommy Walker, Paul Baloche, Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Matt Redman, etc. These were part of my own worship bubble.
As a worship leader and a songwriter, my worship songs and leadership
were modeled after them. I still have respect for them but now I’m aware how this worship and CCM industry (usually led by American, British and Australians) is only a small part of the global worship movement led by God himself.
The Power of The Other
Henry Cloud says:
“Change is depending on ‘the power of the other’ more than you realize,”
and I agree. On my journey toward multicultural worship, the influence of others has been so vital. One by one, God sent multicultural worship leaders and ethnodoxologists who went before me in this path and they started to have a significant influence on my perspective on and practice of worship. I became aware of my own cultural bubble. I became aware of how the mainstream worship leaders and worship industry that I considered to be the standard also had many limitations and excluded many people. And then I started to have this irresistible and ever-growing desire to experience cross-cultural and diverse worship for myself.
Do you have someone guiding you through your multicultural worship journey?
You need one. Are you the one helping someone to start this journey? God is using you to help change their perspective.
You are There for a Reason
When my vision became clearer and conviction became stronger, I wanted to leave my Korean church altogether. It seemed that multicultural worship would never happen in that environment. What do you do if you are a worship leader with a growing vision for multicultural and global worship, but you are located in a homogeneous and monocultural church? It’s a big question which demands and requires a time-consuming answer. But I believe you are where you are for a reason. The gospel can never travel across cultural boundaries if there is no bridge-person in between. It may be that God has strategically placed you where you are in order for you to be a bridge. You may not be the one to enjoy the fruits of your hard labor, but your role may be planting seeds by casting vision, training people, and blazing a trail for others to follow.
A couple years ago, I got an invitation from Anointing Ministries in Seoul to be the worship leader for their 11th live worship recording project. “How can I contribute uniquely and meaningfully as a bilingual and bicultural worship leader?” I started to ask this question and pray. I was happy to serve Korean churches but I knew there could be more.
After thinking and praying, I made a request to have multiple worship leaders for this project to demonstrate that worship is a communal and mutual process and event. Multiple leaders collaborating and leading together is still an unusual picture in top-down Korean culture. We made sure to include a female leader and also a non-Korean leader. I jokingly say that this is because in Christ there is no male and female, and no Koreans and Gentiles in Jesus. My American brother Josh was happy to be the “Gentile” worship leader this time. Together all four of us worship leaders met over Skype (since we live oceans apart!) for several months to pray and write songs together.
A New Song in Korea
Ethnodoxologist James Krabill was a Mennonite missionary in Ivory-coast and did his own research on the music development in many sub-Saharan African faith communities. And he came up with 6 stages of music development.
Stage 1: Importation — where hymn tunes, texts, and rhythms all originate with the Western missionary
Stage 2: Adaptation — where imported hymn tunes or texts are in some way “africanized” by rendering them more suitable or intelligible to worshipers in a given setting
Stage 3: Alteration — where some part of the missionary’s hymn (tune, text, or rhythm) is replaced or otherwise significantly modified by an indigenous form
Stage 4: Imitation — where tunes, texts, and rhythms are locally composed or performed, but in a style that is inspired by or replicates in some way a Western musical genre
Stage 5: Indigenization — where tunes, texts, and rhythms are locally produced in indigenous musical forms and styles
Stage 6: Internationalization — where tunes, texts, and rhythms from the global faith family beyond both the West and one’s own local context become incorporated into the life and worship of the church
These stages also reflect the development of hymns and contemporary worship songs in Korea. More than a hundred years ago, songs were brought into Korea by western missionaries. In more recent years, through CD’s and other means of media, songs were imported, then translated, adopted and altered. And young people started to write songs imitating sounds of Hillsong and Passion. But for this specific project, we wanted to go further. So together we wrote new songs which deal with the current struggles and issues Korean churches face.
We also included a portion called a global worship medley. We celebrated the global Body of Christ with diverse rhythms and languages, and lamented over persecuted churches in other parts of the world. We also recorded a very well-known Korean worship song which captures the vision of Revelation 7:9 and we asked non-Korean worship leader Josh Davis to sing one verse of that song translated into English.
It was surely a special and powerful moment. When Josh sang this Korean heart song but in his heart language, we Koreans felt honored. Throughout the history of my nation, I think we were always the recipients of worship, not the contributors to the global body of worship songs. We were always busy translating songs originally written in English into our language and we always imitated the sound of Western worship songs as if those were superior and more spiritual songs than our own. When this non-Korean leader led a well-known Korean song in his heart language, I realized that every culture, including mine, can uniquely contribute to the global table for the feast.
Moving from monocultural to multicultural worship means moving to mutuality and eventually to reciprocal contextual collaboration. It might be a long and painful process, but wherever you are in this journey, you are there for a reason.
Someone in your monocultural community will get it,
because of you,
because you are there building bridges.
Watch Anointing Global Worship Medley:
Purchase Anointing 11th Live Worship Recording
Read 6 Stages of music development by James Krabill