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Bilingual Worship: Lessons I Wish Someone Had Told Me

Author – Rosa Cándida Ramírez is the Worship Pastor of La Fuente Ministries, an intercultural, intergenerational bilingual ministry in Pasadena, California.


The following are lessons that I have learned while leading bilingual worship.



1. Give up the idea of comfort.

Leading worship bilingually is hard. It takes a LOT of work to plan worship services that reflect one culture, let alone two. Doing this work has required that I give up what makes me comfortable. Sometimes, it means that for the sake of including the narratives and worship expressions of my sisters and brothers, prepping for service might take me twice as long. It also means that as a worship leader, I must also be twice as prepared in leading the worship team/choir/ensemble in understanding the “ins and outs” of a bilingual service, as they themselves can be in the midst of an unfamiliar terrain.

I remember leading a rehearsal, and after we wrapped up one song, my guitarist stopped, looked up at me and simply said “Bilingual worship is hard.” I smiled and chuckled. “Yes, it is,” I replied. It was in that moment that although we were both committed to the work, we both acknowledged and normalized how hard it was. It was also in that moment that I realized that I had not prepped my team ahead of time to think through the dynamics of leading in bilingual worship because I didn’t anticipate how hard it was going to be. I learned that for my team it was necessary for me to acknowledge and normalize the complexities that they trusted me to lead them through. For if the team was struggling, how much more would the congregation struggle?


2. Experiment

There is no “one way” to lead bilingual worship. If anything, experiment. See what works for your congregation.

At my church, it took us quite a while to figure out the balance required for us to faithfully worship bilingually. Worship today looks completely different than it did four years ago. In 2014, lyrics to any given song were only projected in one language, whereas now lyrics are projected in two languages so that all can understand and follow along with the song. As a creative person, I didn’t realize how much my enthusiasm got in the way of my being pastoral on Sunday mornings when I would introduce a new song that at least half the congregation wasn’t familiar with. Instead of saying or thinking “Oh, the rest of the congregation will eventually get it,” I began to take note of what language the congregation was more comfortable in singing out loud, and what rhythms people were actually able to follow along with a clap. I also began to ask myself the following questions: Who is excluded when we sing songs that are completely in English? Who is excluded when we sing songs that are completely in Spanish? How will I introduce a particular rhythm or melody line that no one is familiar with? What words do I need to introduce to the congregation before we sing a song so that they aren’t stumbling through the words?

My guitarist stopped, looked up at me and simply said, ‘Bilingual worship is hard.’

3. Listen intently.

In singing songs that come from other cultures, you (and your congregation or community) are embodying a way in which worship is lived out from a particular language and/or culture. Before leading bilingually, I needed to both learn and then model what it meant for me to live an intercultural life; to sit and listen to my sisters and brothers, and sit in between the tension of two different languages that have different cultural values and understandings of God.

Remember that singing songs in a different language or from a different culture means that you cannot limit your interaction with said language or culture to the four minutes that you sing through the song. If a song originates from a particular country, make friends or partner with people from said country, be an informed worship leader/pastor/director, read about what is happening in the country and have your congregation learn, pray and connect with what the people from that country are going through. I encourage you to go further and look around in your neighborhoods and begin to listen intently to the realities and tensions that our brothers and sisters from different cultures are experiencing in our own backyards?

During this season of Lent, partner and have conversations. Take note and ask what grief, lament and the season of Lent means in the two languages that you are trying to bring together. Singing and worshipping God in different languages is powerful, but as the saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility.” As a worship leader/pastor/director, make sure to enhance your toolkit by reading books like “The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World,” by Sandra Maria Van Opstal, and “Churches, Cultures and Leadership: A Practical Theology of Congregations and Ethnicities” by Dr. Mark Branson and Dr. Juan F. Martinez.


All in all, leading worship amidst two cultures, languages and traditions allows the body of Christ to experience different expressions of God. Thanks be to God for the gift of diversity and the gift of bilingualism.


Blog Author – Rosa Cándida Ramírez

Author Brian Hehn is the Director of The Center for Congregational Song

The Beginning

Negativity. Pessimism. Insults. Arrogance. Blame. Simplifications…These are many of the characteristics that are easy to find when browsing the internet, scrolling through social media, listening to the news, and even walking the hallways of our churches. But when I read the Gospels, when I look to inspirational leaders who make a difference in this world, and when I interact with many of my colleagues and friends, I find:
Joy. Optimism. Praises. Humility. Grace. Contextualization.

The Center for Congregational Song (CCS) is a new endeavor that I pray will make a difference in our churches and our communities. But that difference cannot and will not be made through negativity. Why? Because there is too much to celebrate and too much good work to be done. There is so much inspiration out there; so many people who are serving faithfully and striving diligently to enliven the voice of God’s people. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. prophetically said, “darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.” Our song must be a light. When people struggle with the darkness of despair or depression, our song must be like David’s healing music for King Saul. When our communities are invaded by the darkness of oppression or fear, we must join Jesus as he sings with his disciples in the upper room.

I hope that you’ll join us in this work. Join us by continuing to lead God’s people in song. Join us by sharing the good resources you have found with us so that we can connect others. Join us by telling your colleagues and friends about us. Whether you become a consumer, contributor, or cheerleader, we want you to become a part of The Center’s work.

As you explore all our initiatives and resources, it’s important to know that our work is guided by a series of “guiding stances.” These stances have been carefully crafted by The Center Director’s Advisory Group as well as The Hymn Society’s Executive Leadership. To read about these guiding stances, you can click here.
This blog begins with a core team of writers in place and ready to write. Each contributor comes from a different background, different tradition, and has a different skill-set. So what you’ll get by following this blog is a variety of ideas from a variety of viewpoints, and we view that as a strength. So let me introduce you to our core team:

Rosa Cándida Ramírez is the Worship Pastor of La Fuente Ministries, an intercultural, intergenerational bilingual ministry in Pasadena, California. As a second generation Latina, she is passionate about the role of language and culture in worship, and the creation of bilingual worship resources. During her time as a student, she worked with Fuller Theological Seminary’s All-Seminary Chapel in helping create intercultural worship and is currently working as a consultant with the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

Ginny Chilton is Music Minister at Church of the Ascension in Norfolk, Virginia, where she serves as organist, choirmaster, and elementary music teacher. She enjoys the variety that comes with working in a church: organ music, worship planning, choir directing, children’s music, handbells, etc. Before moving to Virginia, she had been in Boston where she completed two master’s degrees at Boston University: a master’s of sacred music and a master’s of divinity.

Adam Perez is a doctoral student in liturgical studies and music at Duke Divinity School in Durham, NC. A native of Miami, FL, Adam earned a B.A. in music education from Trinity Christian College (Palos Heights, IL) and a M.A. in religion and music from Yale Divinity School and the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. He has been involved in planning and leading worship in a wide variety of settings and styles, most recently as the Interim Minister of Music at All Saints’ United Methodist Church in Morrisville, North Carolina. Adam is passionate about vital corporate worship and is committed to helping communities and their leaders engage in worship with wisdom and hospitality.

Me! I am the director of The Center for Congregational Song and I love my job. Getting to spend intentional time seeking out and meeting people across the U.S. and Canada who are passionate about the church’s song and then connecting others to their work is a large part of what I do. I live and breathe congregational song and am beyond blessed to learn from and with musicians and pastors in a variety of contexts and denominations. I’m excited about what this blog and the entire Center for Congregational Song can and will do in the coming years to help encourage, promote, and enliven congregational song.