Worshipping in the Dark

We got to church this morning at about 6.30 am to begin setting up as we weren’t able to rehearse in the auditorium yesterday. About 20 minutes into the set-up, it went completely dark except for a couple of dim emergency lights. The power had cut out.

Maybe this was a temporary thing. Someone must have tripped the circuit and all we had to do was flick a switch.

Forty-five minutes later, we began to wonder whether we should all grab breakfast in the hope that when we came back, the electricity would somehow come back on.

We then sat around running through the songlist, trying to make the best use of time whilst waiting.

At about 8.30 am, we were preparing for the worst. I sent a quick text to my wife: “No power at the church”. She responded: “hahahahaa i’ll assume you mean no electricity”. Yes, that was what I meant. Despite there being no electricity, of course there was power!

We had to change tack and simplify the songlist as there were no words to be projected – so the songs had to be familiar to everyone. There was no amplification, so certain instruments became useless. And because there was no amplification, all the musos had to sing as well.

Instead of a band on stage leading the worship, everyone on the team stood in a line at the front of the stage: about 10 voices on the platform with two acoustic guitars – completely unplugged in the literal sense.

When the service started at 9.30 am, our worship leader, Dave Wong said something to this effect: the apostle Peter preached to a crowd of 3000 without any sound system. We only had 800 or 900 in an enclosed space.

What followed was half an hour of passionate singing, most of it coming from the congregation. I think it was the loudest we’ve ever heard the congregation sing. Something always triggers the congregation’s ownership of their own role in worship when the band can’t do it for them.

It reminds me a lot about what happened in Soul Survivor that led to Matt Redman’s penning of the song “Heart of Worship”. Mike Pilavachi, the senior pastor of Soul Survivor, said:

We seemed to have lost the spark.  We seemed to be going through the motions but I noticed that although we were singing the songs, our hearts were far away from Him…. Then it clicked; we had become connoisseurs of worship instead of participants of it.  In our hearts we were giving the worship marks out of ten:  ‘Not that song again’, ‘I can’t hear the bass’, ‘I like the way she sings’ …  We made the band the performers of worship and ourselves the audience.  We had forgotten that we are ALL performers of worship and that God is the audience.”

From that revelation, Soul Survivor got rid of the band and went through a season of re-learning what it meant for the congregation to bring their own worship to God. It was only when the lesson was learnt that they brought back the music, adding fuel to the flame, so the speak. The song “Heart of Worship” was born through that experience. Ever since, the words of that song have sought to lead us back to the place where the music fades and all the trappings of worship are stripped away.

There’s something about simplicity that brings us back to the heart of worship. So much of our worship today had never been seen or experienced by the early church. They had none of the technology, nor the vast hymnody. Yet people connected with God in life-changing ways.

Sometimes I wonder whether all the good of modern worship has become the enemy of the best. When we don’t educate the church properly on how to worship, we can easily let the music, the technology, the band and the worship leader become our crutches. We may not admit that they are doing the worship for us, but we certainly let them bear most of the burden.

Days like today remind us that the core of our worship cannot (and must not) ever be delegated to others to do. As much as worship is corporate, it is also a deeply personal transaction with God.

A lot of people remarked after the service that the worship was great today; that they really sensed the presence of God; that they were amazed how loud the congregation could sign; and that it was great that the whole congregation participated. We said things like “we should do this more often”.

But the sad thing is this: next week, when the electricity comes back on, we’ll be back to doing worship the same way we did before. Until the next time we are plunged into the darkness again…

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