La Adoración: What's Going On In The Spanish Singing Churches?

Posted by Maicol Umana on 28 April 2015

During the late 70’s and 80’s the Holy Spirit ignited a global movement that changed the manner in which the Church used music to worship. Worship leaders like Graham Kendrick in the UK, Darlene Zschech in Australia and many others in the USA and beyond were part of a seismic revolution that saw traditional hymns played with traditional instruments give way to contemporary rock played with ‘evil’ guitars and drums.

These changes weren’t limited to the English speaking world. Around the same time, in the Spanish singing churches, God was using a pioneering young man called Marcos Witt. The son of North American missionaries, born in Texas and raised in Mexico, Marcos began playing the piano and performing music that was considered unacceptable by many church leaders at the time.

Because Marcos was bilingual he understood what God was doing in the Anglo-speaking world and was able to introduce it to the Spanish-speaking context. God used Marcos to compose music that brought people ‘closer to God’; songs that gave people the opportunity to have intimacy and tenderness with the Lord. Although Marcos and many others believed in the importance of hymns (so much so that they included hymns in their albums), their ‘simpler music’ tried to help people experience and ‘fall in love with God again’.

Perhaps unintentionally, this excluded the fundamental doctrine and theology that had been found at the heart of hymns since the Protestant Reformation. Sadly, many worship leaders, songwriters and composers misunderstood the intentions to move away from the doctrinal and theologically charged songs. In the last two decades worship has been more about the experience of God rather than the adoration of God. It might be because of the ‘latino-blood’ factor, but the worship movement has been guided mostly by the emotions and the experience of God rather than by the Word of God. Guided by the feeling of the music, rather than the theological content of its lyrics.

In the past (and still today) many missionaries translated hymns and songs into Spanish that were charged with powerful doctrinal and theological truths in order to evangelize and communicate the Gospel. Nowadays, as Spanish worship music has developed, most of the songs revolve around familiar lyrics: ‘You rescue ME’, ‘save ME, ‘loved ME, ‘I was down, you lift ME up’, ‘your love for ME’… you get the idea. This leaves things‘a mile wide but an inch deep’, with lots of people coming to church but suffering from dangerously weak theological foundations.

Interestingly, God is using the phenomenon of globalisation to change things around. As worshipers from different places share their music many Spanish speaking worship leaders are realising that they need to go back to the Bible in order to really worship and sing ‘Hallowed be your Name’. Thanks to everything from immigration to the internet there are a lot more bilingual churches that understand the importance of finding a common expression of worship.

Hillsong, Israel Houghton, Martin Smith and others now sing in Spanish (with an accent of course!). Some ask ‘why?’ Do they want to sell more albums and ‘colonise’ the Spanish market? I don’t think they have the need for that! I think it is because they understand the effect of globalisation that God is using today, uniting His people in worship with a common theological message across the nations.

Today a new generation of worshippers with new expressions of worship are coming up. They are seeking to dig deep theologically in order to go beyond their simple emotional and experiential songs. And God is challenging these new worship leaders to get deeper in the Bible in order to respond in worship, unifying their voices in their own expression to the global message that God is giving to his Church.

The only concern is that this new generation will simply sound like Hillsong or any other artist that they like. The Spanish Church must seek its own expressions of creativity, and it must learn to listen to the creativity of the Holy Spirit to express things in their own songs, with their distinctive Spanish flavour.

Does this mean that the Spanish Church should be worshipping playing salsa and flamenco instead of slow rock? No. Context is what determines each particular expression of worship. Worship needs to be culturally relevant, as Paul reminded us with the words “I am everything to everyone.”
The Spanish church is learning to adapt its expression of worship to the culture in order to reach people for Christ. Not all of them are using Latin sounds and rhythms in their churches, but what the Spanish Church is doing is contextualising their art for the people that God has given them.

And if that includes more Latin rhythms and sounds, let them resound for the sake of Christ and his gospel!

Maicol is a charismatic church leader and music producer from Colombia currently finishing his theological studies in London with the vision to plant churches in Spain. @MaicolUmana

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