At the end of January, I had the privilege of attending the Calvin College Worship Symposium in Grand Rapids. I went because of the global focus of the conference. I came away with more tools in my tool belt in regards to global worship. I also realized how much I have to learn. I will probably be unpacking what I took in for months to come and incorporating it into what I already know and what I will continue to learn, so let me highlight just one thing.
I attended a Vespers worship service and a workshop entitled, “Learning from Passionate Korean Spirituality and Worship,” led by Jaewoo Kim. Both were basically a summary of the history of Christianity in Korea through music. I learned about the missionary in the late 1800s who prophetically prayed that the spiritually barren wasteland of Korea would become a major player in missions—now South Korea is the 2nd largest sending country in the world! Sadly, however, the first missionaries to Korea also told the new Christians that their music was unsuitable for church. In their rule-oriented culture, this created a legalistic tendency against traditional Korean music. To this day, most Koreans (especially the older generations) will not use traditional Korean music to worship God. Because of this, the heart worship of Korean Christians is 18th-20th century Western hymns, and interestingly, Korean churches are ahead of Americans in introducing new Western worship songs—for example, if Chris Tomlin releases a new song on Tuesday, they will probably be singing it on Sunday. Churches have also developed a blended worship style similar to ours—to bridge the gap between the older and younger generations. Yet, although Koreans have all but dismissed their traditional songs in worship, other aspects of Korean worship are very Korean—blessing songs, corporate-yet-individual, passionate prayer, an emphasis on God’s transcendence, and an emphasis on devotion and commitment to the point of death.