David Gate has written a couple of posts urging the church to move beyond mere functionality in songwriting and McWorship and towards creativity, awe and wonder. David has written many incredible worship songs. His song, “Led to the Lost,” includes one of my favorite lines in any song (“worship” or otherwise) — As we follow Your heart, we are led to the lost.

His most recent album, Unapproachable Light, is well worth picking up, particularly if you’ve had enough of the radio-ready, adult contemporary, borderline-country, “modern” praise songs that fill the shelves at the local Christian bookstore. David writes:

Today it is possible to walk into a church in Sydney or London or Dallas or Vancouver or Johannesburg or Phuket or Sao Paulo or Helsinki or Belfast or almost anywhere that is connected to the rest of the world, and to sing the same songs. And more than that, to sing them in the same way. The music has resembled little else but Middle of the Road, American, radio friendly hits. It is full of common denominators, not a crime on its own, but its exclusion of other forms is concerning.

While I have experienced first-hand the joy of worshiping together with believers in faraway places through common songs (singing “Shout to the Lord” in a bamboo hut in a tiny Philippine village — in English, no less), I find it hard to believe that there are no songwriters who can express what God is doing in their particular community. I just met a pastor here in Dallas who spent close to three years in Russia, reaching out to college students. He shared about how amazing it was to sing the same songs with them (translated into Russian, this time) and how connected he felt to the global body of Christ. I believe it is important to have world-wide anthems that proclaim God’s renown to the ends of the earth. But I also believe that there are certain things that God is doing in local gatherings that can only be expressed through new songs rising up from these communities.

This is not only an issue for the global church — this relates directly to what is happening in many Asian American churches today. I can’t think of a single Asian American church I have encountered that did not have either a youth or English-speaking adult worship band. Most often, these churches have both. And yet, there has been a conspicuous lack of songwriting. Usually, we end up with a really great sounding cover band.

David Park tackled some of these issues in his post, “The Search for Asian American Worship.” I would love it if we could express something of our unique context in our music — I don’t know what that might look like, but what a glorious sound that would be! At this point, though, I would be satisfied with any songwriting. I have encouraged many students to write their own songs, but their fear of failure (truly Asian American youth) and lack of role models kept them from really pursuing this.

I’m not advocating a ban on Hillsong United or Chris Tomlin songs in our churches, though this could potentially yield some incredible results. We live in a time of unprecedented availability of worship resources and we would be foolish not to tap into them. But it seems like it would be a more faithful response from our churches if we balanced this use of outside songs with songs that rise up from the hearts of our people in our specific setting. Or, as DM says, we need to, “get the balance right.”

Incidentally, I was this close to purchasing this t-shirt until my wife reminded me how off-putting it would be to see a big guy like me walking around in a DM shirt. Next thing you know, she’s going to be rescuing me from mowing the lawn in a sleeveless undershirt, shorts, dark socks and slippers. So much trauma for so many Asian American youth, and all from how their dads dressed!