Ericson Alexander Molano: God Moves in the Midst of Praise and Worship
Integrity, humility and passion are some of the virtues that describe this young Colombian who grew up in the midst of mission trips, Bible studies and worship services due to his parent’s pastoral work.
This conversation was conducted by Jaime Lázaro in Spanish and translated to English. Read it in Spanish here.
As soon as his career in electronic engineering peaked, he immersed himself in the recording studio in order to record the songs that God had inspired in him. The response didn’t take long. Very soon, Hispanic churches in the United States and in all of Latin America started to sing his songs.
Ericson, at an early age, learned that music is a means of salvation and motivation for people living without hope.
Ericson’s contributions encourage us to ask some questions, as detailed below:
- For Ericson being a worshipper means living in communion with God 24 hours per day, seven days per week, because it is not something practiced inside “four walls.” Is this something that we should be reminding many “worshippers” who take up the call as a simple, lucrative, artistic profession?
- The influence of rock in all of its varieties has marked worship among Hispanics. However, even though Ericson uses these rhythms, he loves to fuse them with Latin percussion. Should we do something to preserve our roots and have songs with rhythms that culturally identify us?
- Ericson states that collective worship, done in community, attracts God’s presence and creates an adequate atmosphere for people to decide to change their life. Can you imagine the church where you worship without music worship?
For you, what is the difference between praise and worship?
I’ll answer you in two ways:
Spiritually, praise is more of a celebration not only for what God is, but also for what He has done for us. The Psalms constantly speak of the victories that God gives him (David) and he praises and blesses Him.
Worship is more toward what God is, for His greatness, for His faithfulness; it is giving him tribute. Now, looking at it from a simple point of view, a practical one, the congregation distinguishes praise as the more peppy songs where they express dance and joy and jubilee, the external expression of celebration. And worship is expressed in slower songs which provide an ambiance in which they can reflect and enter in that intimate movement of the presence of God.
What do you think is the role of praise and worship in the life of the Latino Evangelical church in the United States?
I think it’s very important. We Latinos are by nature expressive and very musical. Music runs in our blood, though our veins. It’s one of the vehicles of expression. Now, I’ve understood with time that not everyone expresses themselves in the same way. So, sometimes I try to not bring praise with theology too much, because how people worship in Africa, in Mexico or even how they worship in the United States is very different. I’ve found this, that my style is a bit more Rock-Pop, Latin fusion. And there are places where they like other styles of music. But they are praising and worshiping the Lord. Praise and worship play a very important role. They’re the means through which we express ourselves. I think it’s very important for the church because, from my point of view, praise and worship are something that bring the presence of God and create the environment for the Lord to move. They change the perspective of our problem when we focus it on the Lord. And it allows us to feed our faith.
Can you see a Latino church without praise and worship?
I don’t think so. Because many of the signs of God moving, such as yielding to Him and brokenness, happen during times of praise and worship. Without praise and worship there can’t be that intimacy because those fibers which one touches appear at that time.
Years ago, when this movement started with Marcos Witt, ‘Juan Salinas people’ said praise and worship prepared the way for preaching, but what I’ve felt in recent years is that praise and worship not only prepare but rather create changes in people, often before the sermon.
What happened is that we’ve matured. In my case in particular, when I started with my first songs, what I call the age of innocence, I had a wish to praise and worship, but one matures along the way. And one starts having greater knowledge of who God is, of how He moves in the midst of praise and worship. Literally if someone is in one of my performances they receive more message from each of my songs, each lyric than if they sit and listen to a sermon for 30 minutes. Each song carries a message and has theology. Before, praise and worship were very basic, very simple, but today they have more content and message. Today they have theology. They take the person to the feet of Jesus Christ, they challenge you to change. People are transformed because we worshipers have been maturing. Many worshipers today minister; they have a pastor’s heart or carry out a pastorate.
What is a worshiper for you?
A person who is in communion with God, who recognizes who God is in their life. Because it’s not just singing, it’s a lifestyle. We don’t minister within four walls. A worshiper is someone who is in communion with God all 24 hours and seven days per week, every day of the year. I can be in the shower and be in communion with God. I live that life of worship. A worshiper is someone who is sensitive to the presence of God, I love being in God’s presence. I have learned that what God looks for is worshipers. On the other hand we know in His Word that He teaches the establishment of five ministries, but we must all be worshipers. The heart of the pastor, the apostle, the prophet, the teacher, etc. must be the heart of a worshiper. The Psalmist said, “I will worship the Lord all the time.” It is a basic condition that we all must have if we wish to know God, to feel Him, to touch Him. It is the foundation because all people are called to be worshipers. That is why God seeks worshipers in spirit and in truth. It’s not only a select group but each one can polish themselves from within. I always encourage people to quicken their spirit and move it to become a worshiper.
How has the culture of praise and worship changed in the past 10 years?
It has changed a lot. For a time praise and worship were very influenced by what came out of a very beautiful country known as Mexico, through great worshipers of great renown, with whom I hold friendships. Later the influence came from some countries in Central America, which have another musical style of praise and worship, still influencing others. As a worshiper by ministry one recognizes this. Then when I get to a particular location, I know to chose certain songs with the objective of changing people, of seeing God manifest Himself and if I want to impose my style and my way, I won’t ever get there.
From the beginning I remember that you have incorporated Latino elements in your musical expression. You did not submit to following the trend of rock in Spanish.
Yes. I’m still doing it. The beautiful thing about praise and worship is having the freedom to express oneself. I like Latin fusion, the rhythm; I have percussion and trumpets. The tendency has changed a bit which used to be in a certain way (tuga-tuga-tuga) and then rock. I have taken care to maintain my style of worship. And people identify with the music, which by God’s grace, I write, and they connect.
Does our community distinguish between music for adults and for youth within praise and worship?
Yes, there’s a difference. I’d like to say that it is the same, but we have to understand that praise and worship, far more than singing, is a message. One has to understand it in that way; the objective is that God manifest Himself that you might know Him, that you might be changed. It has matured; it’s not just singing. So I can’t preach or give a sermon in the same way to a five-year-old child as to a 15-year-old or someone who is 30 or to an older person. If we want to be effective, it has to be different. Yes, there is a difference. Although there is some music that in one way or another, by God’s grace, has embraced all ages, especially in a time of worship. For example when a concert for youth is put together, the music is identified.
What are the most important spiritual aspects of public worship?
It is far more than singing. It’s important that people be aware of what they are singing about, of what they are saying. It is very important to quicken faith in them. I introduce each song, in one way or another. I sometimes tell an anecdote or I tell them scripture passages so that people can spiritually open their heart to what they are going to receive at that moment, to what they are going to sing. Then they might clearly understand what it is that is coming out of their mouths. Every time I minister I pray, so that people might feel the Lord and that the church might be sanctified, and so that God might be glorified where there is holiness. People don’t even know, but through the words through which I guide what they say, I am helping them sanctify their life from so much pollution. Not necessarily from sin, but from the spirit of fear, of unbelief. One guides them through the words to sanctify their mind and so they can receive the fullness of what God has for them.
Are Latino people in the United States a bit more receptive to hearing the message and expressing their joy physically? Does the Latino community have more means of expression?
I think one can say yes to that. I would not say that they are more receptive, given their experience. Because if all they did was shout and express themselves, but there was no change in their life, then they did not receive the message. Sometimes I have finished my performance, and I have left that place frustrated because I felt that they did not receive, that they were indifferent. Then people approach me, especially in American churches where there are also Latinos who have lost their Latin expression over the years, and they say: “Ericson, what a beautiful song, what a beautiful message, what beautiful ministry.” I see that their lives have literally been changed. But yes, a Latino is more expressive, given our culture. In our culture we hug one another, we give a kiss on the cheek, and we move. Others are limited to their culture and have not learned to express themselves. As a worshiper I can get frustrated and even strike out with my words: “Lift your hands up!” or “Do this!”, but I know them, so I can handle different crowds.
Do you remember a phrase from people who have attended your ministry?
Many times I’ve been told, “Ericson, I could see God,” or, “I could feel God.” That is another message for those of us who lead, to be sensitive to that and to be able to guide them.
If a new believer asked you, “Why are worship services so important,” what would you tell them?
Those who surround us take us to success or to failure in life. Often times we are surrounded by a negative environment. Bad news everywhere, death, violence, homes in crisis. And when we gather we do it with people who, despite their circumstances, dare to believe that the best is yet to come, that God exists, that even if the hard times come, there is a purpose for everything and what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. And we gather to nourish our faith, to know God more, to celebrate not what He has done today but what He has done in our lives and that is enough to know that today will be different. It’s important. If you want to get ahead in life, you have to leave your negative surroundings and surround yourself with people who believe in God, who fight for something better and who aspire to have communion with God, and who need it.
Do you think that the Latino community is worshiping more than before?
I think so. It has evolved, we have matured in understanding that God speaks through praise and worship, that lives are changed, transformed. Often times I have not had to have an altar call, people come up and give their life to Jesus Christ because I sang a song that touched them. So, the church has understood that it has to give praise and worship its place.
Then worshipers have played an important role in the growth of the Latino church in the U.S. right?
We worshipers have been busy. One of the five ministries is that of evangelist, which is the anointing to capture the heart of he who doesn’t know Jesus Christ, of he who rejects the Lord. We are being that instrument which, through collective worship, is generating faith, changes, miracles. Those who don’t come to a service are doing it. We are reaching multitudes.
I have been able to witness when someone invites a family or friend, a person misses that type of liturgyand suddenly they find themselves in the midst of hundreds of people who are singing and worshiping passionately. That person is overwhelmed by the presence of God by the expressions of people.
We always have visits in the church for new people and I love, when the service is over, to go and greet them and ask them how they felt. They answer, “Young man, we feel something different since we entered the door.” Because worship is collective, it creates that atmosphere. The Word says that God inhabits the praise of His people. This has changed lives in a great way.
In terms of the content of lyrics, do you believe that God is portrayed in a different way today compared to the lyrics used 10 or 15 or 20 years ago?
Yes. A closer God is portrayed, more real, more relational. Like I said, we have matured. With time God removes veils and gives more understanding of who He is. And I don’t imagine Adam and Eve, prostrating, always on their knees, saying, “Your Majesty.” I imagine them walking with God, I imagine Adam holding God’s hand. God says, “Come my son, look at this tree, at this little animal.” I imagine that communion, but for a long time that’s what’s been taught. Praise and worship in some way break those barriers, where I can be a child in the presence of God, where I can know him as Father. I think that the image of who God is is getting clearer because for a long time His image was foggy, God was so high up that I could not get close to Him. God is great and powerful, but is so close that He is inside of me.
And was that well-known? Because if someone had said that from the pulpit they would have been a heretic.
Oh, of course! I say this because the enemy is very cunning and knows that a person who doesn’t manage to have intimacy and communion with God will live a mediocre life. For a long time he (the enemy) has tried to veil this, but thanks be to God he has raised people who have brought that revelation.
Yes. A much closer God than we had always thought of is being portrayed.
Of course, because a person may come who has never heard of God or even an atheist. And to say, “Now I know who God is, I believe, I feel.” Before that couldn’t be done because theology was so important.
Do you write music considering the social reality of immigrants in the United States?
I have to say no. I write my music thinking of the spiritual condition of people. I have partaken in meetings with businessmen in places where people are financially poor. Obviously I want everyone to succeed in life, but for me their spiritual condition is more important. Then, when I write, I do it more based on the spiritual condition than on what we are living. For example a song I wrote says, “I turn to you, prostrate at your feet I find myself, I admit that I have failed.” Some tell me, “Pastor, have you failed God?” No, I answer, what I do is to put myself in the place of someone who has lost their communion with God, be they rich, poor, or whatever color they might be. We can all fail this way. I write more aware of the spiritual condition of people.
Have you ever allowed your political conditions to show up in your songs?
There hasn’t been that mix. My message is very Christ-centered in that sense.
How do you tend to describe the presence of God in your songs?
Because it’s something tangible; it is real. Because it can be communicated. I can talk to Him and He can talk too. While I’m worshiping something happens that we call “a new song,” or “spontaneous song,” which is the moment in which we share what God is placing in our hearts. Praise and worship directors let that flow. God places the words in us as we go. Sometimes that gets people more than the repertoire that has been programmed. It is when we share that God is real, that He is close, that He is powerful.
Do you think that praise and worship plays as important a role as preaching or more?
Both are very important. And we are speaking from the point of view that we have matured. I know that there are people who sing neither content nor a message. They don’t produce change; they only make people jump. But where there is a level of maturity, both are important. If the Lord guides you toward only having the Word, then the Lord will move within His Word.
Often I think that the Latino is more willing to receive a message with music that connects with them than with a spoken message.
Yes, because it runs in their blood. If you go to Latin America, people wake up with music. You get off the plane and into the vehicle that will take you there and the taxi driver is listening to his Salsa, his Merengue. Even at funerals, seriously. Because we tend to connect the reality of the culture or the message through music.
Do you know that machismo is a present element in our community because it’s cultural? Have any of your songs defied the macho mentality?
Yes, in the sense that “men don’t cry,” that they don’t express their feelings. If they can see themselves that way, when a man sings, “Jesus, my love, my song, my passion, you live in my heart…,” that breaks their macho framework. The “macho” man rarely says to his wife, “I love you.” At most they say “I like you,” or “Dear.” So we are teaching them to be expressive.
So you think that in some way it breaks the framework so that they might be more expressive with their people?
Yes. And even though the Latino is more expressive, he’s not that way with the family. A father often doesn’t hug his son, or he teaches his son not to cry, because he is a man. So, I think that praise and worship in certain ways shatter this framework, because we show God as a father. There is a song I wrote which says, “You are my father in whom I will trust, you have loved me like no one else in life…” That breaks the framework of the man who has children and then leaves them. God is my Father and I also have to be like Him.
Has worship evolved musically?
Yes, because there is more excellence, greater quality. The productions released these days are recorded with symphonies, with virtuoso musicians. That has opened the door so that Christian music can be an influence in non-Christian media.
Danilo Montero told me that the church has contributed to tuning the ear of Latinos and to teach them to sing better.
Of course, we are teaching people to sing for half an hour to an hour at each gathering. And we sing in tune. There are certain places where people are more so. For example in Mexico people are well in tune. It has evolved. There is greater excellence and that’s important not only for the sake of the testimony that we give outside, but because in having excellent musicians we can project melodies that broaden the ear. If it pleases the ear, the message enters easily. And you learn to sing better.
What we sing here is basically rock in Spanish, which is a strong trend. But, what do you think of the inclusion of native Latin American elements? People take to them.
People love it because we all want to celebrate in one way or another, and if you hear music that has a little bit of tumbao, of Merengue, or Afro-Cuban, it turns you on, it makes you move, you like it. In my case, in particular in my music, I include a lot of that fusion, that percussion.
And Colombians are excellent fusionists.
We love that. We combine rock guitar with the accordion. People love it. I know that people who lead praise will read this. It has a lot to do with who you are as a director, how you move on the stage, what you live, what you feel. You could have the happiest song, but if you are dead, it doesn’t mean a thing.
Are Latinos willing to follow any rhythm that fits with the congregation’s roots so long as it is delivered with excellence?
Excellence is a great factor. It could be said that yes, this is true. I have been in churches that have a more northern sound and that’s their form of expression. Then one has to include an accordion and they like it. I know how to pick songs in order to deliver the message that God granted. But I have to know how to speak through my songs.
If we could summarize and explain to a non-Latino how it is that we Latinos worship, what would you tell them?
We are very expressive; it’s as much about having a relationship with God as it is about knowledge of Him. I don’t need to know all the details, but I want to know that He loves me and that I can express my love to Him, and that He is real in my life. And if praise and worship can reach those fibers, we can minister to the heart of the Latin American church.