Brokenness Is an Important Element in Worship
The Rev. Hugo Molano and his wife Nubia founded Salem International Ministries in their native Columbia in 1979. They continued expanding their work with the planting of new churches in Venezuela, Peru, and Mexico, until reaching the United States about 27 years ago.
This conversation was conducted by Jaime Lázaro in Spanish and translated to English. Read it in Spanish here
In the U.S. they began the church that carries the same name as their first ministry, located in the city of Long Beach, California. Salem International Ministries is a congregation committed to the teaching of the word of God and its application to everyday life. It is a congregation that hosts people from many different cultural backgrounds. “A church, a family, a place of belonging,” reads the slogan of this congregation that strives to be a fountain of help, support, and hope for its community.
This conversation raises these interesting questions:
• Pastor Molano believes the job of worship director is supremely important. Could it be that the individual who leads worship, apart from his or her musical talents, should also have as much spiritual preparation as a pastor?
• During the interview, Molano states, when describing some worshipers, “there is not a commitment of true love for God, but rather a sense of God needing to submit to us.” Does this perspective impact the formation of believers?
• For Pastor Molano, brokenness and its physical expression during worship is very important because that is when one enters the presence of God and his or her faith can grow and be liberated. What happens when the worshiper does not have an outward expression of brokenness?
Here is the interview:
One of the reasons I came to interview you is because this is a church that has brought much importance to musical worship. Can you explain why?
From the time we began the ministry, we saw the need for ministering through music. That’s why we cared so much that our children start studying music at a young age.
Why do you think that music is important to Latinos?
A Latino has music in his or her heart. He or she loves music. Praise and worship motivates, inspires, and opens his or her heart. And as we know, the heavens are opened and bring the presence of God, because people become receptive, they are inspired, music prepares their hearts and souls for when the message arrives; the atmosphere is nice and the presence of God moves. That’s when people become emotional and spiritual. Through music people find peace because worship brings a message or word of advice. It brings brokenness because it is through this time that we can work in the hearts of others.
Do you believe that we were created to sing?
Of course! The Lord says that we were created to praise and worship him, and there are many ways to do this for God. We find that God loves to be praised. There are many passages in the Bible in which we see this. We see David who was in accordance with the heart of God, for many reasons, including the fact that he sung to God.
Why or how is it that these things happen in the lives of people who worship?
We have realized that within worship, there is a special moving of God. For this very reason, in our groups, the first thing we do is sing and then move on to the devotional. We seek that each song be prepared in a way that allows people to enjoy its melody, lyrics, and music. Then, people have the liberty to praise and lift up their hands. They feel shaken up. They cry. We have seen miracles in people of the church and in people who have visited us for the first time. They are touched. We see and feel the presence of God through worship.
Has there been a special event that has marked your life as a pastor, in seeing something extraordinary occur in the midst of worship?
Yes, there have been people who come to share their testimonies in which they have described the feelings they get during worship. They have said that they have felt fire inside themselves, have begun to shake, have fallen from their chairs, and begun to cry after feeling healed and liberated. These individuals have attested that their lives were changed. This is why we take those minutes of praise at the beginning of our service so seriously.
Are you particularly careful with the lyrics of the songs you choose to play in your church?
Yes, of course. Since my children are musicians, pastors, and are involved in the ministry. They are in charge of selecting music that can really touch the hearts of others. We even select the music that we will play during worship according to the themes of the sermon. It is like an operation. There is precise pre-op preparation that is necessary for the surgeon to have success during surgery.
Do you think that worship is a part of a complete package regarding church services? Or does it have lesser or greater value than the sermon?
All of it is a package. From the beginning, every moment, every minute, every part of the service plays an incredibly important role. This functions like a clock where even the smallest screw is essential for the clock to work. Everything has its due importance, so everything has to be done well.
I imagine that at the time of worship, you have a list of songs you intend to play. Do you sometimes not sing all of them or add other ones to the set list?
The “Team Levites,” as we call our group of musicians, prepare all of the music for our time of worship. It is during their rehearsals that we minister to them, explain the importance of their work, and take care of their spiritual lives, so that when they go to minister, they can begin by bringing down the presence of God so that it may bless the people of God. There is spiritual work that is done with them before the service, and we plan the musical program for the entire month, regarding the songs that will be played each Sunday. But within the service, there may be changes made according to the movement of the Holy Spirit. So, there can be small changes.
How do you teach your congregation that the Holy Spirit descends? Or do you teach that it is always present?
Well, we know that the Spirit is there when we arrive, but it is felt when we begin to worship. People come from outside our congregation with their struggles, their loads, their battles, etc. Then, when a person starts to sing, closes their eyes and raise their hands, that is when you start to feel the movement of God.
So, figuratively the Holy Spirit is called upon, but what is happening is that the believer is appropriating God’s presence that was always there. Right?
Yes. One can enter God’s presence through worship.
How important is worship in the formation of your leaders?
It is very important. We have what we call Life Groups or Meetings, where we also worship, but it is much more casual since for it is held in homes. It is very important that people go to learn to worship God. We do this so that people can experience God’s blessing in these meetings. It is very important to us.
How do you think Latinos picture God?
Well… I’m not sure how to explain it. But we speak of God in so many different ways.
That’s an answer!
Because one can give someone an idea, and this idea is created and pictured. But, every person needs to learn and understand that God, even though we cannot see him, is a real person, supernatural, marvelous, majestic, beautiful, someone who is worthy of being praised, respected, and revered. That a person may understand that God is a loving and kind father that is waiting for an open heart so that God may enter in one’s life. Some people can get an idea or a picture of what God is, because we always want to imagine what a person is like, but it is very difficult to understand.
I imagine that in the midst of worship, God is a father, a friend…
God is everything. God is a counselor, a companion, a provider, and a sustainer. Yes, that is how faith grows in people because God comes to occupy everything.
Speaking specifically on undocumented immigrants, do you think that an undocumented immigrant clings to God even more, waiting for God to take them out of that difficult situation?
In this time of so much trouble and so much violence, people have lost faith in God. In times past, even though people were in an incorrect doctrine, they clung more to spiritual things. Now people have lost interest in that. So, the church has the responsibility to develop their interests and help them understand the need to worship God and why it is that society is like this.
And worship helps in this?
Worship helps in this, especially since Latinos like music. Everyone has their own rhythm; everyone has their songs, because they love music. Then, in the church, they are taught to view music in the correct way.
Do you think that emotions play an important role in worship?
Of course, when we enter into worship, it is appealing to emotions. We are trying to reach the hearts of individuals so that they may feel God, and the person may open his or her heart to allow God to perform miracles.
Is it because people are emotional?
Does the Holy Spirit utilize emotions to guide a person to where it wants them?
Sure. It is in that moment that miracles can happen, because that is where faith grows; one opens his or her heart and experiences brokenness. It is as if one is now ready for the operation and the Holy Spirit is allowed to enter.
How do you get the message expressed in worship to remain engraved in the hearts and minds of the people?
We do several jobs. One is discipleship. We explain that living the Word and walking in the presence of God isn’t limited to this temple. It is here where we are filled with God, but they must leave with the Lord hand in hand. And it is outside where they will show that God is with them and they are with God. We also encourage that they attend seminars of “Consolidation” that we host. This way we help them retain information and better their lives because if there is no discipleship, Sunday service would not be enough to feed from.
Is Sunday service the day that you remind everyone that this is a lifestyle, and that every day must be lived this way?
Yes. Correct. We advise that they stay pure, avoid music that does not edify because chores and battles of life can dislodge someone. We encourage people to come pray, read the Word, listen to music, share, and attend meetings at the church. That’s what keeps them going.
So, there isn’t a sense of church being the only place in which one can worship? Right?
No, no. A person can worship in their house, their car, everywhere. It is a relationship with God, because the Lord tells us in the Word that we must teach all things commanded to us and God guarantees that God will be with us always, until the end of times.
I understand that you teach that worship is not just about singing, but that is a lifestyle.
It is a lifestyle, because worship comes through praise. The worship is through the service, through offerings, through serving others. Sometimes we get confused and think that worship is only singing, but that is not the case. Through music in our services, we open the blessing so that people can enter the presence of God.
Do you look for God to mark the lives of people during worship?
Yes, of course. It is the supernatural and special touch of God that keeps people all week long.
Is it okay for a person to come to church with the willingness to receive but not to give?
If the person comes with the willingness to receive, it depends on the presence of God and how we operate, so that God may touch their hearts and teach them to give. Ninety percent of people don’t come to give, instead, they come to receive. As God says in his Word: “If the Lord does not build a house, then those who build it work in vain”. Therefore, to those who are taught, the Word of God enters and the Holy Spirit handles that the Word come alive.
Because a high percentage of people who come to the church, do it out of a necessity…?
Yes. I was preaching about this recently in a sermon called “What does God ask of you?” Because from the moment we get up in the morning, we begin to ask God for things. We go about our days asking, we go to sleep asking, every day of our lives. But we never ask ourselves; what does God ask of me? God is constantly giving to us, from the air we breathe, to the food we eat, to the life we have, to our families. We need to learn that what God wants is praise, love, and service. These are small things that bring us great blessings when we do them.
Who is the first to benefit when you live a life of worship?
The person that is living a life of worship is the first to benefit.
How do Latinos imagine God, as a being that is in the heavens or in a temple enjoying his praise?
They perceive God in many ways: That God is in heaven, that we open the heavens, that God is in the temple, that God is present in the time of worship, that God is always available with arms wide open. Some believe that God would be at home if we would just let God in, because we know that God wants to enter the home of every person, but people just won’t let God in. We need to understand that God wants to enter into our hearts, into our homes and bless our families. The words that the apostles tell the prisoners were, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” And the blessing was there. When God enters a household, changes start to occur, miracles and supernatural things happen. But it is the person who has a relationship with God who is responsible for carrying the blessing.
Is the worship director the one who leads people into the presence of God?
Yes. That person has an extremely important job to fulfill which is to animate the team so that they can do well.
How do you choose a worshiper for the team? What do you see in that person?
We have a director that looks at their spiritual lives, their commitment to God, and their faithfulness. They are invited to meetings, we explain things to them, and they commit. Also, we look at their process of growth because there are many who can sing and play and want to participate. We tell them that we are sorry, but they have to complete the necessary steps. They think that talent and ability is all they need, but that is not the case.
Then, can a worshiper be added to the team if they are an integral individual and follower of Jesus, but lack musical talent?
Yes, because we can train them.
Do you think that during worship the God that is presented is different from the God of a few decades ago?
I think that worship is being distorted. It is being distorted with lyrics, music, and rhythms. This will be detrimental over time because there is not a commitment of true love for God, but rather that God must submit to us.
Have there been some improvements in lyrics to present a closer and more accessible God? Some worshipers sing that God is a child in the street, ill and hopeless; others sing that when they look in the mirror, they see God. What do you think?
Yes, there have been improvements in presenting a God that is closer. One of the things that the church has lacked is service outside of the church building. The church has been locked in four walls. Churches with 300 members have stayed inside for many years; meanwhile, people outside of the church have been without care. That is why evil has grown, because the responsibility of the church has not been met.
Can we use the word worshiper as a synonym of disciple?
Yes, that’s it, because a worshiper is a disciple.
What is time of worship like in your congregation?
We have certain forms of worship. In terms of the music, we have Worship of Revival and Worship of Praise, which is where the ministering occurs. The Revival is when people can enjoy themselves, raise their hands, clap their hands, jump up and dance. There is joy because God’s presence is moving. The lyrics inspire and motivate. After that comes Praise which is where we begin to approach a feeling of closeness for the sermon. It is in worship that we prepare our hearts which is praiseful to God. Both of these parts of worship are different. The second one is when a person is prepared to receive, because one is about joy and the latter is about brokenness. The mixture of both of these is very important.
Is brokenness an important element in praise?
Oh, yes. It is very important.
How do you describe it?
As individuals, as they worship, as they surrender, as they close their eyes and lift up their hands, as they enter into the presence of God, they are touched because it is a work of the Spirit.
Is this brokenness a surrendering of one’s self?
Yes. Here comes the time of repentance, reconciliation with God, and recognizing if you have done wrong to someone. It is the moment in which a person enters the presence of God in a way that causes them to cry, throw themselves on the ground, and kneel down. We ourselves have experienced these things. I stand up front, raise my hands, and I emphasize this as a need from the pulpit.
What good does this time of brokenness bring into the life of the worshiper?
Spirituality. Because at that time the person becomes ready, feels peace, and understands the importance of being close to God, their faith grows and their heart will be more willing to listen and obey.
Can one also be released of feelings of guilt?
Yes. This is when liberation occurs.
Because that is a part of our Latino culture, right?
Yes. We have reunions that we call “Encounters” which are retreats where we show two kingdoms: the kingdom of God and the spiritual kingdom of the enemy. We teach that through liberation a person can be freed.
In the church, we use terminology that describes God as Father. We always refer to God as a man. What are your thoughts on this?
The Lord says that in heaven, the angels have no gender. So, we believe the same about God. We cannot assume that God is masculine.
But that is how we teach it, is it not?
We teach it this way because of the how the general vocabulary is managed in the world just like in the church, but this is not the case. God has no gender.
In this generation, suddenly we see women that are executive, engineers, and doctors that have feminine dignity. They say that spiritually speaking, God has more female elements than male. Do you work in that area to try to balance this perspective during worship?
People ask questions, very few, but these types of questions are asked in reunions or seminaries. The Word says that secret things belong to God. We can offer someone an answer if it will fill their heart and give them tranquility, but in reality, only God knows the truth.
What do you think of external singers who do not do a job that contributes to the establishment of the kingdom of God?
When it comes to worshiping God, it has to have been made for God because sometimes there are singers that record certain music with feelings towards their wife or children. These songs can still be sung at church at a certain time, but it would not be a regular occurrence but rather for a special event. But in the church, in order to take people to the presence of God, it has to be music made for God. Lyrics that were inspired for God, that have content because there are lyrics that can be interpreted as Christian, but really have absolutely nothing for God. There are songs that have nice lyrics that can be sung at social events, but not during a time of worship.
What do you think of incorporating arts during the time of worship?
It can be done in the way Jesus did it with the use of parables. We use this during Christmas, Easter, and we use this as a “fish.” We commit the church to bringing guests, and through the use of artistic expression of the message, people begin to cry and are touched by the Lord. In our church, we have a lot of people who have reached families through our events.
Does worship work as a tool for outreach?
Yes, it does.
Do you have to be a believer to be touched during the time of worship?
No. This is the moment in which God touches an individual and saves her or him. In past times, the church has only focused on blessing those within it. Now we must practice prudent and wise evangelism, prudent and wise Christian events. If we try a different strategy and appeal to the needs of the society, we can reach others.
So, are you careful in that your lyrics connect with the culture that surrounds you?
Of course, because our job is to reach souls and begin the process of discipleship.