Luis Enrique Espinosa on Commercialization generates music with “massage” instead of message.
Thousands of young people have been challenged and motivated thanks to the ministry of “New Generation”, which Luis Enrique Espinosa and his wife Nilda founded more than a decade ago.
This conversation was conducted by Jaime Lázaro in Spanish and translated to English. Read it in Spanish.
Luis Enrique, native to the city of Hermosillo, Sonora in Mexico, started his service to the Lord at the tender age of five years old, thanks to his dad’s encouragement.
The theological formation he got at Bible seminary and the leadership within the congregation that watched him develop, together with his musical talent, gave him the ability to compose and perform worship songs that express communion with his Maker. Among his memorable compositions we find: “Powerful Is Our God,” “This Light,” “Glorified Sanctity,” and “The Song of Heaven.” Together with his brother, Emmanuel, we find songs like: “I Love You” (I Exalt You), “We Will Always be Friends” and “Warriors of Light.”
Currently, Luis Enrique is pastor at the “Casa de Vida” (House of Life) Church, a congregation he founded together with his wife in September of 2007 in Corona, California where they live with their son Daniel.
Luis Enrique’s statements bring some new questions to the table that we now share:
- Luis Enrique mentions in one answer a Jesus who partakes in the celebrations of Israel, who dances, because at these parties there was almost always dancing. Besides, he was young and had the strength to do it. Given that our Latin culture is expressive and joyful, should denominations that don’t promote this type of worship be more open to doing it?
- Luis Enrique mentions the importance of worship time in churches, but also stresses that often there isn’t a strong link or communication between the pastor and his musicians. Does this distance influence the effectiveness with which the message is delivered to the congregation?
- Keep in mind that the Word is like a seed that has been planted in our Hispanic community and that this movement of praise and worship is the water that irrigates said seed, which is now germinating. Are we going to witness the largest crop of souls in recent times within the United States?
What is the difference between praise and worship for you?
Praise covers the area of the soul and emotions more. Taking into account what 1 Thessalonians 15:16 says, God wants that we be sanctified in everything: spirit, soul, and body. Praise occurs in the soul and worship occurs in the born again spirit. That is, the whole world can give praise and laud, but only the born again can worship. Further, the born again have no sin, fault, pride, etc. in their soul. That’s the difference: that praise has to do with rowdiness, rejoicing, celebration, just as it says in Psalm 95, “Come, let us celebrate the Lord with gladness, let us sing with rejoicing to the rock of our salvation.” Verse six says, “Come, let us worship kneeling and bowing down.” Worship from Genesis to Revelation is associated with bowing down, humbling one’s self in adoration.
Do you mean to say that a large group can praise, but not everyone can worship?
Normally in large groups—based on experiences I’ve had—when one is up front you realize that if those present are believers and are familiar with praise, almost 100% get involved in singing, displaying rejoicing, but when the time for worship comes, only 30-40% get connected or involved in the spirit of worship.
What do you think is the role of praise and worship in the life of the church?
I think that praise and worship are a central part that involves all of the activities of discipleship, all of the activities of following Christ. Because in the New Testament, more than 250 times, Christ’s followers are called disciples and three or four times they are called Christians. Therefore, a disciple is someone who praises and worships God, but not only in a group or in a Christian community; they not only sing and use the music, but they also love and serve their neighbor. It is reflected in their lifestyle and is complemented in worship. That’s why I think that it is very important and it involves the entire being, every activity of the disciple of Jesus Christ.
Do you think that the Hispanic church would be the same without the liturgy of praise and worship?
It would be like a world without music. In a restaurant, at the Olympics, in everything there is music. It’s impressive. It would be impossible to separate music from praise and worship within the church. It would not be church because God created music and it is implicit in the life of the church.
I see that music is part of the life of the Latino community. When you step off a plane in any country in Latin America, the first thing you hear is music played at full-blast.
It is true. We are more expressive, more effusive, and we like louder music. I think that it would be impossible to imagine a church without praise and worship. If it didn’t have music, it would mean it’s not the church…or that it’s dead.
What is a worshiper for you?
A worshiper is a person who has commitment—in love—with God and with what He commands. I think that is a worshiper, whoever includes celebrating the presence of God within their life, worshiping Him, and singing to Him. And they do it any chance they get. Also it’s someone who is committed to the mission of Jesus Christ who said, “Go and make disciples.” Also he said that the harvest is ready. Gathering people isn’t hard because you can attract them, and more if there’s music. The issue is that those people who come and decide to follow Christ must be discipled. I think that a worshiper is someone who focuses their life on the mission of Jesus Christ which is also the mission of the church.
I understand that Jesus was born and raised in a culture that practiced worship a lot, right?
Partiers. And as a Jew he would have partaken.
Jews really did it with joy right?
In fact I have always imagined Jesus dancing at the six or seven parties that the people of Israel held every year. Their parties always had dancing. I imagine him happy, dancing. When the Bible mentions that He went to this or that party, being a Jew, He would have participated in the festivities of His town. Besides, He was young and had the strength to dance and jump, etc. As Zephaniah 4 says, God rejoices among us, sings among us. I imagine Jesus celebrating the presence of His Father and rejoicing in the celebrations of His town.
Because the Word speaks of rejoicing, which means an expression of extreme gladness.
Yes, in fact the definition of worship is something that is expressed, and rejoicing means to light one’s self and to change one’s facial expression. It has to do with the attitude of a person before a king. In those days you could not be sad or contemplative because they’d cut off your head. You came off as suspect of plotting something. But joy is implicit in the life of every human being because we all rejoice. I have been in places where there are a lot of young people who are very orderly and methodical. They had established that in places where there was no clapping and no other form of outward expression. They classified music that we were going to perform. But when it was over they all had a very serious attitude. However, when we were leaving and greeting, they rejoiced and said, “Hey, it was nice listening to you, come back soon.” At first I got a little confused, but I understood that what they expressed is reverence. Now, reverence is not at odds with rejoicing. We should be glad, with fear and respect.
How has the culture of praise and worship changed in the past 10 years?
On the one hand the change I have noticed is that it has benefitted the church in as much as it has, on the other hand, hurt it due to the way in which it has commercialized praise and worship music. I think it has affected, on the one hand, that music can reach more places due to social networks. But before this and to this day, music has been very commercialized and has come to portray a mistaken image of what praise and worship are. When young people approach us they associate what we do with the “glamour” and they associate it with what non-Christian singers do. But they don’t associate it with being a worshiper who is committed to God and His mission.
Is it that they make music with rhythms that will sell and with lyrics or key phrases that they know will have greater commercial acceptance?
It’s music meant for motion instead of music for devotion. I think that due to the constitution of our brain and the way in which humans are made, we need phrases that repeat, and constant rhythms. This isn’t bad. I think that there is a time for everything. If a song cheers you up, as in the story of Josaphat when the Lord said to them, “Let the singers go first and say, ‘Glorified be the Lord for in His mercy is forever.’” All they were doing was repeating something. I think repeating with a rhythm in a period of worship is very good because your mind can’t keep up with too many lyrics. I’m talking about economic commercialization. I think that this has had an effect. I am not totally against it. This change has cooled the approaching movement a little, but I also think that God has led us to an understanding that praise and worship should not be focused on men and on the singers.
Is there a difference in the way worship is laid out for adults and young people?
I think it is clear that music focused on young people is dominant because the majority of the Latin American population is young, both in Latin America and here. I don’t know about other cultures, but the average of Latinos in the United States is 27 years of age among Hispanics in this country. In Latin America it’s even lower. I think that this is an influence on making more music of this type. I also see that there is a lot of variety. There is a lot of music according to the types of congregation and age. It’s something that every praise director should respect.
What are the most important spiritual aspects or elements of public worship?
Spiritual, ethical, moral, and integral commitment in those who make up the praise and worship team. This is a very important factor. It is a fundamental element that those who lead the people of God in praise and worship be honest people. Not perfect, obviously, but honest, focused on the commitment that they have of coming before God. They must consider it a privilege. I think that is a defining factor; it is a very important element. Another aspect would be teaching. That is, that the congregation have a notion of purpose so that people never fall into routine and religiosity.
Have you seen this happen in our Latino congregations in the United States?
Unfortunately, where I have gone, there is a general complaint from several pastors with whom I’ve had contact. But I also see that perhaps it’s due to not having time or disposition, neither have they invested in taking the necessary time with their team and kept them close to them. I think that it is an important factor, that God guide the pastor to find the right person to take up such a great commitment in the congregation and that they stay close to them and to the team so that together they can walk and flow in one same feeling.
Is the participation of a good praise and worship director almost as important as that of a pastor in a church?
(Sighs). Yes. Yes it is. I was in a meeting with a group of 500 pastors and one pastor said, “Some have said that it is 50% praise and 50% preaching. But I’m going to tell you a secret and don’t tell everyone. It’s 90% praise and worship and 10% preaching.”
Especially in the Latino community because we are a very musical community.
The man speaking was Anglo-Saxon*. It is very important to keep that in mind, because pastors would like for a praise and worship team to function in its fullness. But it takes time, prayer, teaching, and effort to filter those who would be part of it, even if they have a salary. Choose those who will be there well.
[*this is the common term to refer to English-speaking white people. A dynamic equivalent might be “Caucasian.” White alone doesn’t cover it.)
If a new believer asked why the worship services are of vital importance, what would you answer?
Because it’s a characteristic that the church has had from the beginning. In Acts, chapter 2, in the last verses it says that believers were together and that they praised God and had favor toward His people and that God added to the church those who had to be added. A church that worshiped, a church that praised God, a church that was positive, enthusiastic, animated. Praise means to laud, to bless, to exalt. That word offers the idea of someone who raves about something. Just as when you find a good sale and you go and tell your people, “You have to go, you’ll find this and that,” people say, these folks have something different. Public praise is important, first because it’s part of your life as a disciple of Jesus Christ. You can’t live a Christian life estranged and alone. It’s as if you had the final in a soccer match or of the Olympics in a stadium all by yourself. It’s the same; you have to find others who share your faith, who share what you believe and who want to praise and worship that God.
Because God made us to live in community and it is in community that praise and worship are expressed.
It’s because we are a family. God wants us to be like a family, sharing blessings and worshiping God together. That’s something that He wants and teaches. As the Psalmist said, “I will praise Him among all peoples, among the just, among people.” Because it’s something so great that it can’t be contained in a single person.
As far as the content of the lyrics go, do you think they are delivered in a different way, compared to 10 or 20 years ago?
I think that the church has now understood that the love of the Father toward us must be reflected toward others. God is patient with us, he is good. He does not pay us according to our iniquities. I think God has led us to understand that we cannot judge anyone. And that facet of God, reflected toward others, is spreading more and more.
It’s true, there aren’t songs anymore which say something like, “Sinner, come to sweet Jesus.”
Fortunately there is a sector in church for whom it’s clear that the blood of Christ and the cross are the Gospel. That the Lord came in the condition of a man in order to suffer and die. And that the blood of Christ is what cleanses all sin. I emphasize a lot the way in which we see and accept people, and I can feel it in different places and situations. To be able to love as the Father loves us, to accept, to tolerate our own brothers in the faith, and to grow together, to strengthen the weak is important.
So, have we evolved in terms of judging less, are we more loving?
I think so.
And as a musical expression?
It also reflects this. There is a good balance in the movements that have come up. Especially in the ministry that we all recognize as Hillsong, which has come to refresh the world in that aspect, with Christ-centered messages, based on the love of God.
Do you write your music taking into account the social reality of immigrants in the United States?
Not directly. But we pray and work a lot along those lines. I was just touching up lyrics to a song that says, “I can feel pain when seeing man being unjust against his brother,” referring to the injustice of men.
Which in a certain way is what we live with as immigrants in the United States.
In fact, it’s indisputable that it is unjust. Although it is the nature of a man who doesn’t have Christ. The same happens when our Central American brothers cross into Mexico, or in our countries when we discriminate against the most defenseless.
Have you ever let your political convictions show up in your songs?
No. When I was younger, I was interested in politics to the degree of buying political magazines. But in the last 20 years I got disillusioned (with politics). Now I prefer to invest my time in other activities.
But have you ever expressed something about social justice and equality?
Well, this is explicit in the Gospel. I don’t think I do in my songs, but I think that equality and human rights are something that every inhabitant should have.
How do you usually describe the presence of God in your songs?
Basically as majestic, glorious, and holy.
Far or near, up there or down here?
Totally near, yes, because Christ has brought us close to the Father, has brought us close to His heart. And having the notion of a far-away God prevents us from enjoying His company. I always thank God for having been taught as a child to enjoy that God is not far; he is here at every moment. That is the way in which I know and describe the presence of God.
What is the difference that you hope to foster in the life of the believer?
I would like for every believer to commit to being a holistic worshiper. That means sharing Christ at every opportunity and taking new believers and investing time in them so that they might be discipled. I would love to see that, because Jesus himself said, “Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.” Worshiping and serving Him are implicit. It is a consequence because if you worship God you will serve and if you go to serve Him you will serve your neighbor. That’s what I would like to happen, that people not only come and have a great time in public praise and celebration and sweat from expressing themselves so much, but that it only be the beginning to fulfilling the purpose of being a worshiper, which is to serve God and others.
That it transcend into the streets. Have you seen this among Latinos?
I think so, that the growth of the church in Latin America in recent years is due to the fact that the Word is like a seed that is sown and that movement of praise and worship has been like the water that came to sprinkle that seed. And it started to germinate. Now, in these days I think that all of that must be complemented with a commitment from each believer to be a disciple and a disciple maker.
What do you mean by this, that we have evolved in the content of our lyrics. Because before and even now we worship a King God, sovereign, who is in heaven, but recently we sing to a God who is nearer. And we express this singing, “You who are the air, you who are the sun, who are my breathing.”
I think so. And it is reflected in the songs, in our relationship with Him. I just recorded a song that says, “Here in your arms I find the rest that your eyes give me, Jesus, and all of my aches have gone away, Jesus. There is none like you, none like you.” Someone who doesn’t know Christ will say, “In his arms, how; looking at Jesus’ eyes, how?” But when you are in the intimacy of worship, there is nothing like expressing it. Being in His arms we think him close enough that he is touching us. There is a spiritual perception of the genuine reality of God’s presence. How do you express it? That’s where creativity comes in. That’s why songs reflect said intimacy. I think that the church has evolved undoubtedly and now God (before He returns) will take all of us who are focused—aside from worshiping and being in intimacy with Him—on striving for as many people as possible to come to have intimacy with Him.
We are returning a little to the worship in the Psalms—worship that implied drawing nearer to a more distant God—which has been practiced for 2,000 years.
That type of worship which a man like David or Assaf could give, or the very prophets. I think that they were limited, compared to us, because now the Spirit is among us. And when we gather in community it is deeper. Because if a people humbles itself before the Lord in worship, as a single body, that’s when extraordinary things happen, because that is God’s environment. I think that the people of God in antiquity were not as blessed as we are today. And the church, I think, has been discovering this and is practicing it.
Machismo is a present element in our community. At some point has your music challenged the macho mentality?
Very good question. I’d have to think a little. I have two romantic songs, which I recorded with my wife. Having had her ministering with me, in certain denominational sectors, it can be a challenge for the church, because for many it’s not allowed for women to minister. Personally I am pro equality and now as a pastor I emphasize it. God created us and blessed us because we were created in his image and likeness. But due to a question of order, man is the head of woman. Not because he is better than woman, but just due to order. I tell the congregation that I am a pastor not because I’m better, but due to a matter of order. The only way in which I have displayed this is in sharing with my wife in preaching. I emphasize this a lot, because it is an evil in our community.
Let’s talk about common rhythms. We know that what we use in most songs is rock in Spanish. Do you think that we should be open to other musical expressions or to include Latin elements in the instrumentation?
Yes, in the Caribbean for example, salsa and merengue. In Colombia, cumbia, the rhythms are more adaptable, and catchier. I think that there should be as much expression in praise in terms of rhythms as there are different cultures.
Have you seen this here in the United States?
Most common is rock in Spanish, but I’ve heard rhythms like cumbia. On that topic, there is a church once per month that plays only cumbia, and that’s when the most people show up. I think that as Latinos we should use more of our rhythms and adapt them for the people whom we are trying to reach.
Perhaps including musical instruments used in Latin America?
Yes, of course. I have seen percussions, congas, bongos, etc. used.