Exclusive interview with Fred Heumann, the head of MusicWorks International, a missionary, a worship leader, with a Master’s degree in Worship Studies.
— What is your job and ministry experience?
I have been a choir director, worship leader, music evangelist, missionary and part of the leadership of an international youth ministry (Youth for Christ). I am also an ordained minister. In recent years, I have worked alongside music publishers and churches in helping develop modern worship and creating new worship resources for the Church. I have spoken at and led worship conferences in the US, the UK and Latin America. Back in 1992, I had the opportunity to come to Ukraine to create worship albums in Ukrainian for those who were just coming to Christ--and then it took 20 years for me to come back to Ukraine! Today, I teach at UETS twice a year, and work alongside the staff and leadership.
— What educational institution did you graduate from?
— My Master's degree is from the Robert E. Webber Institute of Worship Studies in the USA. We study worship, not music! Actually, we study four main areas of worship – theology of Christian worship, history of Christian worship, and contextualization and worship (spiritual formation), particularly in post-modern culture. The fourth sphere is cross-cultural worship and, therefore, different cultural expressions of worship. What does the Bible say about worship? What can and what can’t be adapted to a certain culture? The point is that worship in Ghana differs from worship in China, Argentina or Ukraine. The foundation remains the same, though forms and expression can be different. What we look at while studying worship is history and general Biblical principles to be applied. I am currently working on my doctoral degree there now.
— How did you get to know about UETS?
— As I mentioned, in 1992 we recorded 2 worship albums in Ukrainian right after independence. I often wondered what had happened with that project. It was only in 2012 that I got the answer I had been searching for. I came to Ukraine in December 2012 to teach at a conference organized by the Lausanne Movement. I met Oles Dmytrenko at the event (hosted by UETS), who surprised me and told me that those cassettes had helped him a lot in his ministry as a worship leader and had been very influential in the nation!
In teaching UETS students that week, I fell in love with their hearts and realized the strategic importance of Ukraine in this part of the world. The fact that UETS works with many denominations and focus on contemporary music is very appealing. I like every style, but modern music is what I have focused on. Anatoliy Hlukhovskyi, the former president of the seminary, saw the sparkle in my eyes and said, “It seems to me you’ll be back.” How right he was!
— What can you, being an outsider, say about the present-day worship in Ukraine, its strong and weak points, and development prospects?
— I’ve noticed that Ukraine has adopted mostly American and other western (Australian, British) worship music styles. On the one hand, it’s really nice that you use our music! However, on the other hand, you should be creating your own music culture, your own style. I don’t want Ukraine to repeat mistakes made by worshipers in the West.
— What is wrong with Western worship?
— The first problem is that in the West, worship has become commercialized and image-oriented. It seems to be strange but Christians like being celebrities, and creating them! However, most of the worship leaders from America, Australia and the UK I know don’t want to be on the pedestal they are placed on. The second problem is that worship rotates around only music. The point is that music does not equal worship. It is only one of the ways to express our worship. Music is sure to be an important ingredient, but at the same time there is definitely much more than the right guitar or lighting, etc. I’d like to see students in any country have the foundation of right history and theology, rather than just music style in order to reach many people.
— What is your opinion of UETS Music Department?
— It is not often I meet professors so committed to God and their students as the UETS faculty. To my mind, God’s kingdom should be shown in relationships like this. They are talented musicians with pastoral hearts. They develop academic programs by developing their own proficiency. Americans are not easy to get along with, but they love me despite all my obvious drawbacks. They do an amazing job making utmost use of the available resources!
— What do you think of students of UETS Music Department and its academic program?
— I have watched the students over the past two years of studies delve into theology and worship and start thinking differently. They are open and very committed to God and His Kingdom. As far as the academic program, it is rather saturated and balanced in terms of combining music and theology. It is so good for UETS to focus on both music skills and worship theology, because applying deep theological and musical knowledge in churches will have an amazing effect, and has the potential for great renewal.
— What is theology of worship?
— Worship is often thought of as three to five songs sung at the start of a church service. In our post-modern reality, it seems anything may be considered to be worship. However, real worship is what God says worship is! That is why it is so important to define worship from God’s perspective. This is what theology of worship deals with. Otherwise, we are going to become hostages of own taste and skills. The best example is typical present-day worship: musicians are on stage, volume is up, lights on – everything is focused on them. But it is not about them! At the same time, refocusing attention from performance helps us instead respond to God’s revelation of himself. When we come to the understanding that worship is about God, rather than about us, the way in which we lead people and plan worship undergoes drastic changes. This is the main idea we have to grasp.
— What is your vision of Ukrainian worship in the future?
— Oppression is familiar to many Ukrainians…foreigners through history have often seen it as a place to go through. That is why Ukrainians need their national identity. I’d like to see the rise of true Ukrainian worship. The songs I brought here in 1992 might have set a pattern which was not truly Ukrainian. We wanted just to demonstrate an example of modern worship. However, God is calling you to share what you have. That is something unique you can present to the rest of the world, and I am not talking about winning Eurovision, as fun as that was to see! Ukrainians can minister in vast territories from Minsk to Vladivostok and in Central Asia due to the advantage of speaking Russian. God has turned the evil intended by men into good. No country in the world has such opportunities and tools for effective ministry. I am very excited about being a part of such a massive work.