What’s the best way to foster unity across cultures in our churches? According to Sandra Maria Van Opstal, an experienced worship leader and trainer, the way we worship together sets the table for Christians to relate across ethnic and cultural boundaries. In The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World (InterVarsity Press), Van Opstal (MDiv, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) explores how worship traditions from different cultures can further the connection between local congregations and believers worldwide. Richard Clark, managing editor of Leadership Journal, spoke with Van Opstal about enlarging the cultural and stylistic boundaries of worship.
How did you develop a passion for multicultural worship?
As a child, I attended a Catholic parish with my mom, my grandmother, and eventually my whole family. Then, when I was a teenager, my father moved us to a Baptist church. And when I went away to college, I ended up at an urban, African American church.
Looking back, I can see how each experience gave me a different foundation. My time in the Catholic Church gave me an appreciation for liturgy. In the Baptist church, I learned about making a personal decision for Jesus. And in the African American church, I was exposed to charismatic worship. In each case, I picked up a different sense of who God is and of the many ways we can worship him.
When did you first experience a conflict over worship styles?
Growing up in the 1980s, I can remember a generational conflict. The younger people were listening to more contemporary music. We wanted to bring some of that into the church, but the older folks wanted to continue singing out of the hymnal.
The lesson I took away is that people have strong preferences ...1