Heart Music

by Ian Collinge

Heart music is amazingly powerful and a core concept of multicultural worship. So what is it?

Heart music to heart worship

The lights went out in the middle of the rehearsal. It was a power cut in Nepal and I was playing the Himalayan lute in a community song and dance troupe. As candles were lit, people sat round tables (it’s not wise to dance in the dark!) and a song rose up, emerging from somewhere very deep. The emotion felt like Christian worship (it was not). Then I realized: this is their heart music.

Later, I connected the dots … younger people chose this style when they wrote songs to Jesus after believing. Their heart music style was becoming their heart worship style!

Heart worship is a biblical aim

Paul says,

“Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19).

What does “from your heart” look like? Next to language, heart music is pretty important …

Let’s be honest, it is really difficult to sing from your heart in another language and style. I worshipped for several years with locals in Asia. It was a great experience but it takes years to be truly free in another culture. And this is what it is like in our churches for many people from other cultures!

Heart music is like an old friend

When you’ve been overseas, it’s wonderful to return home and sing in your own language with familiar words and melodies! You feel you can properly worship from the heart. It doesn’t take great effort – like catching up with an old friend. Making new friends is great, but with old friends, the years drop away and you can relax and be yourself. Heart music is like that old friend.

Heart music evokes special memories

Music therapists and psychologists tell us that music that is deeply familiar to us (our heart music) creates an instant physical response: it reduces our heart rate. These are the musical sounds we grew up with (from before birth) to our late teenage years.

Music we listen to later tends to reinforce these instinctive responses (negatively and positively). So heart music has a profound impact and significantly affects how people respond to music chosen for worship.

What is your ‘comfort music’? What do you listen to when you feel ill or down? This is quite a good test of your heart music!

Heart music expresses the real “You”

I have seen it time and time again. When people sing, pray and worship with their own songs, the level and depth of worship visibly increases. This is another sign of heart music. People feel they can be their truest selves, on their own, before God and with others.

What music helps you really express yourself – especially on your own?

It’s a no-brainer, really: using our heart music helps us sing “from our heart”. It’s also why choosing someone else’s heart music has massive potential to release them into deeper worship. This way I love my neighbor as myself – while my own worship horizons are expanded.

Heart music makes your heart soar

One day, I was sitting reading and listening to an instrumental track. Pretty soon that music triggered a reaction: it awakened my soul! It was not Christian, but something about it connected musically with a deep place in my soul and made me want to worship God. What does that for you? For people in your church?

I love it but it is not my heart music

When I lived in Asia I spent years learning the music. It was fun; it drew me into friendships; it helped me understand their culture and values. I played and sang it, I even wrote songs in this style. I absorbed myself in it. I can worship in it. But here’s the catch: It’s not my core heart music. Occasionally I really want to worship Jesus with these songs but even that’s pretty rare.

This tells me that we can enter deeply into the heart music of others and enjoy it. But it still lacks something. In the end, it is still somebody else’s music.

Heart music helps us worship together more equally

Worship leaders, this is why we need to know the heart music styles of our worshipping communities. It is the Christ-glorifying, people-honoring way to worship Jesus!

For this, I recommend a simple three-question survey for your people. Do this yourself first and then try it in small groups:

What is your comfort music?
What is the music that expresses the real “You”?
What music awakens your soul and makes your heart soar?

Ian Collinge
Resonance, the cross-cultural arts ministry of WEC International


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