Artist Spotlight: A Journey of Worship and Justice, Part Two

In our NG.AC community, we want to highlight stories of people courageously answering God’s call to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

Daniel DK Kim’s journey of worship and justice has led him and his family to commit themselves to fighting human trafficking in Mexico City for the next two years. They left today (with answers to prayer from the very start). Read the second part of our two-part interview with DK:


What is the connection between releasing your new EP thefirst and your family’s commitment to fight human trafficking in Mexico City?

This EP is my first-ever studio project and I am still baffled and dumbfounded that it is complete, in print, on sale and in the hands of people who love it. It has been a dream come true and the way it happened was so sudden and unexpected, I can once again say that it’s because of God’s goodness this came about. It’s nothing short of a miracle.

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Artist Spotlight: A Journey of Worship and Justice, Part One

Daniel DK Kim just gave up his dream job.

As the worship leader at Newsong Church in Irvine, California, DK has been living out a personal dream.  And yet, on June 15th, DK, his wife Sadie and their young son Micah will be moving to Mexico City for two years, “to do our part in the abolition movement while working with and raising up a generation of indigenous artist/activists in the city to lead the charge… until we see the end of slavery.”

In our NG.AC community, we want to highlight stories of people courageously answering God’s call to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.  As you can see from DK’s story, which we will share in two parts, this awakening to the intimate connection between worship and justice is both beautiful and challenging.


How would you describe the connection between worship and justice in your life? What have been some pivotal moments in shaping your understanding of worship and justice?

Photo by Scott Hodge at The Idea Camp in Irvine, California

I’ve been a worship leader since I was 15 years old, but it wasn’t until recently, in 2007, that I began to feel discontent in the way that I viewed and experienced worship.  So much of our worship can become self-focused and self-indulgent if we forget about the call beyond the mere words of any song. I began to discover the synonymy of worship & justice in a few key passages of Scripture.

Isaiah 58 is a huge one for me: the challenge to consider what true fasting is made me think about what true worship is. “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the chords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”

I began to see that my worship was just ritual if I didn’t take it outside of a fifteen-minute set list.  I wanted desperately to do something about this unfolding realization but didn’t know where to start.  All I could do was pray.

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Asians And Hip-Hop Culture

Hilarious video from Nokia proposing a whole new origin of hip-hop…

What is the attraction between Asians and Hip-Hop? Furthermore, do our churches reflect this?

Is this further evidence that Asian American churches equate Christianity with Whiteness, whereas Asian Americans who are more self-aware of their social circumstance as minority identify more strongly with the urban art form of hip-hop?

Maybe it’s just that Asians have bought into the veneer of “niceness” that churches portray, but there is a whole other side of the immigrant experience that we suppress and  fail to vocalize. I wonder if it’s more than just hip-hop is cool…maybe it’s an attitude that attracts young Asian Americans, something we would like to have, but don’t. I wonder if the church could address this…is there an anger here that can be channeled as creative expression? Or is this an opportunity to heal and care for our young souls?

I think it’s unusual that Asian youths in church listen to David Crowder, but Asian youths who don’t go to church often listen to hip-hop…so the music they associate with worship is White, the music they enjoy or would rather listen to is hip-hop or urban, even though many of them live suburban lives. What a strange world in which to worship in. Perhaps we don’t even have a strong theology of worship? Or maybe our sense of worship is just as mixed as we are…

Black And White Keys…Or What About Yellow, Brown, and Red?


h/t to Kye S. Chung for this video from Catalyst Conference.

I don’t know what to make of Andy Stanley’s rendition of “Chopsticks” following the performance and saying that it was composed only on the “white keys”. I guess it’s funny at the time and less funnier afterwards, but this type of dialogue often simplifies the racial dynamics in America and where the church is…

I’m no ethnomusicologist, but I wonder if Asians have something to offer here. What are the yellow notes?When I was learning to play tabla, I thought that tala was a fascinating way to look at rhythm that was not 4/4 or 3/4.

Perhaps it’s too early to cite references of art reflecting a holistic, communal, global aspect of the Gospel, but it’s something for our generation of artists and creatives to think about.

Coming Back To A Heart Of Worship

Something a close friend, who is a worship leader, and I have been meditating upon and wrestling with is dynamic expression of worship. It is an exploratory exercise that reacts to a certain term I’ve heard my friend Peter Ong use to describe a great deal of worship I see in the church today: “worship karaoke” – where the band plays our favorite songs and we follow the words on the screen.

We have come to question the machine, that is to say, the industry of the Christian contemporary praise/worship distribution that licenses and markets this music to us. I don’t dislike all this wonderful artistry or musicianship, but the solutions that buying a “worship leader’s guide” has created new problems.

Ironically, the song, “Heart of Worship” by Matt Redman is a great example of this. The song was born under the circumstances where his pastor was discouraged when he saw that worship became too performance-oriented, and thus banned the band. “When the music fades/ and all is stripped away…”

Everyone was questioned as to what it was they brought for their offering – the musicians, the songwriters, the congregation. “I’ll bring you more than a song / for a song in itself is not what you have required…”

And in the midst of uncomfortable silences and new creativity, there was this return to worship, an acknowledgment that the music was secondary to the act of worship. “I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it / It’s all about you, Jesus”

When the “Heart of Worship” has been made into a cliche hit for years now, it can often have the opposite effect of the very spirit in which it was written. Familiarity, as has been said, can indeed breed contempt. And in the spirit of confession, I re-wrote the lyrics to that song to reflect how many of us at one time or another have felt during worship. Continue reading

Worship Distilled

At a recent invitation by MrPages at the Wonderful Pages blog, I’ve been asked to participate in a blog carnival re: worship. Woot! One of my favorite topics.

While I’m a bit late in joining the discussion, the first question is intriguing and a wonderful starting point: “When you strip everything away and get to the essense, what is worship?”

I’m not sure that I’m qualified to answer this question at all, but I’ll start of with this:
Worship begins when I see where I end and God begins. Worship is the response borne out of the understanding that I have no leverage with God, that he is holy, and that every breath, every motion, every small of creation that I can muster up to express that sentiment was itself a gift of grace from God. And I am awed that the Giver is amazed when the gift is returned in my voice, my words, and my actions. The Giver has made me a giver; and in essence, worship is the act of taking on the image of God as one who gives without fear of unrequited love.

I am most moved when I read some of the responses of those who have no leverage before God and yet are unafraid to bear the consequences.

In Daniel 3, when the Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago are challenged by King Nebuchadnezzar to worship his likeness or be thrown in the fire. The king finishes with a most megalomaniacal question, “If you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”

Their response is unbelievable: refuse by saying, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

“Even if he does not”? Wow. That’s worship.

Or check out Job, after the tragedies have beset him, he still has the faith to say, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him”. That’s an attitude of worship.

As I view worship, there is this crazy notion that my trust in God, my hope in God, my love for God is so real and palpable, I don’t even care if God doesn’t acknowledge it, because he’s still worth it. He’s that worth it. In my mind, it’s very similar to the cliffhanging that love is between my wife and me. I had no idea how this was going to turn out, but there was a point in our budding relationship, where I didn’t even care if she loved me back. I loved her so much that it was no longer dependent on her reciprocation of it.

Sound stalker-ish? Maybe. But I had the right heart about it. I didn’t want to possess her or control her. I love her, and in my mind and heart, she didn’t have to love me back, it wouldn’t change the way I feel. That’s when I started to get a glimpse of how God loves us. And that’s where I get the notion that I could love God the same way.

Repentance is worship. A life of repentance is synonymous with a life of worship.

In Judges 10:11-16, there is an interesting story where God plays coy: “You have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you.  Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!”

The response here again is remarkable about how strong the conviction is to repentance: “‘We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.’ Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the LORD.”

That’s the essence of worship to me: an admission to God that this is where I end and He begins. Even if I can’t earn his favor, he is worthy of worship and I’m learning to live with any consequence to that.

re:charge in Chicago area – June 9

Asian Americans and their churches have often unknowingly worked against the purposes of the Gospel. Instead of unity, the habits borne out of the immigrant experience have led to divisiveness. Instead of rest for the weary, it has led to burnout for both laity and clergy. Instead of building bridges to other communities, often we have remained in a state of navel-gazing.

John Lee is one of the ones who’s not willing to let the status quo remain.  In our conversations, he’s been hungry to see churches unite, to see exhausted leaders refreshed, and worship leaders given the opportunity to share. To that end, he’s started re:charge and their first event is June 9th in Wheeling, IL. If you’re in the area…check it out and be blessed. This is just the beginning, but I believe that it’s great vision that God has given my brother and I love being a witness.

Check out their mission and vision statement:

The People:
We are a like-minded group of individuals from local 2nd Generation Asian (meaning that our parents immigrated to North America from Asia and we were born and raised in the U.S.) churches in the suburbs of Chicago.

The Problem:
Burnout is a common occurrence among those who serve in the 2nd Gen church. While 2nd Gen ministries in Chicagoland are abundant, most of them are small in size (ranging anywhere from 10-100 people). However, these ministries are often primarily fueled by passionate people who willing sacrifice their personal time and resources. Great need and a lack of manpower combine to create this snowball effect called burnout.
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The Search for Asian-American Worship

Wanted to share a piece that I had the chance to read by Russell Yee. Make the worship yours…and ours.

by Russell Yee, Oakland, California, USA

    From Chinese Around the World, #185 (June 2004),
    Chinese Coordination Centre of World Evangelism, Hong Kong, pp. 85-90

In 2003 the first Chinese church in America marked its sesquicentennial. San Francisco’s Presbyterian Church in Chinatown was founded in 1853 and continues active ministry with Cantonese, Mandarin, and English speaking congregations. In a century and a half, Chinese-American believers have now multiplied across the nation. In 1996, one study counted 158 Protestant Chinese churches in the San Francisco Bay Area alone. Meanwhile, many Chinese-Americans can be found in Asian-American churches alongside Japanese-Americans, Korean-Americans, and other Americans of Asian descent. And Chinese-Americans and other Asian-Americans have come to dominate many campus ministries. For instance, the students in the University of California, Berkeley chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship are overwhelmingly Asian-American.

God has been gracious from generation to generation to call Chinese-Americans to Christian faith and ministry. Nevertheless, despite this considerable history and heartwarming vitality, there remains a critical missing piece in Chinese/Asian-American Christianity. That missing piece is an “indigenous” form of Asian-American worship.
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Worship In Both Directions: A Chat

My friend, Jason, is a great example of brains and heart to me. Yesterday evening, we had a short conversation on worship that, with his permission, I’d like to share here. Be sure to check out his notes…Enjoy~

Jason: hey david… if you’re interested… here are some notes from small group the other day [On the topic of “Worship as Remembering”]

me: hey thanks i’ll check it out…great opening quote…really nice notes. are these notes prepared b4 the meeting or afterwards? what was some of the feedback you got back?

Jason: mostly after

me: very cool. interesting exercise. i would like to read over it again when i have more time

Jason: sure

me: do you think there’s something particular about asian american worship?

Jason: sorry.. i’m in a seminar, doing some work, and pondering the uniqueness of asian american worship….my initial thoughts have been that there is, but i feel like i don’t know enough about “our” culture to talk about it. i think most of my thoughts on the subject come from conversations with you 🙂

me: right…i know we’ve talked about this before but i know that you being in kind of an active worship leader role. just wondered if that had shaped your thoughts more

Jason: i guess i have some trouble figuring out what is the distinguishing feature of a group that sets it apart from another. two places where i have led worship lately are at aacf and at our belmont cell… now, i wonder if the differences i observe there in worship are due to cultural differences or just the fact that belmont people are.. you know.. belmont

me: 🙂 valid question. perhaps you should increase your n [sample size]

Jason: i notice at aacf, people seem to like more organized and structured worship. i think that relates to one of the points in your worship manifesto post

me: to be more disorganized?

Jason: yeah.. more free. people get uncomfortable when there aren’t words to be sung
(in bewteen songs, etc.)

me: yes, i know. i don’t know why

Jason: and that’s not the case at belmont cell

me: sure

Jason: in fact…. those seem to be the best times of worship

me: hmmm…interesting

Jason: now.. is that something that is “wrong” with worship at aacf? or is there something there that can be cultivated from this need to be “prepared” (verse, chorus, verse, chorus x2, bridge, chorus!). when i went to church with amanda at belmont united methodist, i found myself initially thrown off by the seeming lack of freedom in worship there– the set readings and prayers, etc. but then i realized how these people around me were in intimate communion with God during worship and there is something to be learned from that style of worship. i’m not exactly sure what that is. ok… i’m going to stop typing for a bit…

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Worship Manifesto

Around the country in Asian churches, on any given Friday night there are dozens of “praise nights”, revivals, and retreats, but although “a life of worship” may often be the rallying call, worship itself is often an afterthought, a gimmick, an attention-getter for the young generation. Musical worship is the “opening act”, or in some cases, a talent showcase, or at worst, a church bragging rights contest. But if I might be so bold…worship is something sacred, where the deepest part of me cries out to the Deep. So while I don’t consider myself a worship leader who has the right to offer these suggestions, I do consider myself a worshipper.

  1. Stop singing Chris Tomlin / David Crowder / Matt Redman / Hillsong songs (or whatever songs you always sing) for a few weeks. What would you sing that is not part of the contemporary Christian worship industry? “Sing a new song…”
  2. Write your own worship songs with talented people in your midst. Write from your heart and your story. What has God done in your life, neighborhood, community? Sing that for Sunday worship. Can you imagine an Asian American church that actually offered worship that was particularly written from our hearts? Wouldn’t we sing about growing up latchkey kids who now have keys to the Kingdom? Or how our pursuit of success and security is a chasing after the wind, not the breath of life.
  3. Unplug — quit trying for that electric sound. These aren’t performances, these are collective prayers. Imagine a sanctuary that is filled with pure, unamplified, unadulterated praise.
  4. Don’t practice the music, practice the heart. Too many praise teams work on timing, transitions, chorus buildups, and harmonies, but the real work of worship happens before an instrument is ever picked up. Asians love to get organized and ordered, but let’s be honest, you can’t schedule a true revival and you can’t pinpoint a move of the Spirit either, so if you think practice is going to take you there, you’re almost all wrong.
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