In our church, we try an experimental worship format once every quarter, during a month when there are 5 Sundays. The reason for this is that we used to roster four bands on worship, i.e. a different band each week and took the opportunity to try something different when there was a fifth Sunday. We’ve stopped rostering by band, but we still try to push the envelope of how we do worship during these months; to add freshness and to teach the church that worship is more than a band-driven 30 minutes of singing.
Over the last few months, Dave and I have been doing mentoring with worship leaders and worship leaders-in-training in our church. These guys come from the youth ministry, campus ministry, young working adults and adult zones of the church, representing nearly every demographic in the church.
Every time we gather to worship in my living room for mentoring, we usually start the session with a time of worship, followed by some constructive critique for the worship leader – the idea being that we are in safe space and can give useful feedback to help each other improve.
What I had noticed was that every time we worshipped together, there was such a sweet sense of God’s presence. All we had was an acoustic guitar and voices joined together (often with harmonies) and a real sense of freedom – not having to really worry about leading any congregation, but just enjoying God’s presence together.
And then I thought: wouldn’t be awesome if we could transport the times of worship we had in my living room so that the church could experience it too? So the idea came: a Sunday worship set which would be led with all 13 worship leaders in our group accompanied by piano. Simple, pared-back, free-flowing but above all, intimate.
So last Sunday, we had our worship leader’s mentoring group lead worship, with Delany on the piano. It was a beautifully refreshing time, with lots of great feedback from the church.
The set began with Pastor Dave explaining the vision behind the concept, and then we just flowed from song to song with space for plenty of free worship before ending on a couple of declaratory hymns. We experienced, as Matt Redman once called it, “the friendship and the fear” – intimacy and awe.
Here are a few thoughts from last Sunday (as well in the planning leading up to the session):
1. Whenever you try something different, it stretches your faith.
When I announced to our group that we were going to do this, I was told it would be difficult. How do we mix 13 voices together so they sound good? And wouldn’t having so many leaders on the team be like herding cats?
In John 6, the crowd had followed Jesus up the mountainside to hear His teaching. Sensing that the crowd was getting hungry, He said to His disciples, “where should we buy bread to feed them?” Philip responded with logic, “even 8 month’s wages won’t get us all a bite!” But I love what Andrew does. He brings a boy to Jesus and says, “Here is a boy with five loaves and two fish, but how far will they go?”
Andrew hadn’t figured it all out, nor did he have complete faith. But he took a forward step. He says in effect, “I’m not really sure, but maybe Jesus, just maybe, you can work with this?” And Jesus does – because He is the bread of life.
Sometimes we don’t have to know how it will all end and what the result will be. God just needs us to do something, anything, to respond to His call.
2. Sometimes vision is best achieved with good counsel from friends.
I’m not technical. Far from it. I just sense something and go with it; and I can’t honestly hear technical problems. Someone on the team asked me, “what happens if we make a mistake?” and I responded, “well, the only people who will really know and complain about it are already on stage!”
But I remained open to suggestions. I wanted to go with completely no structure, but some of us started suggesting that we should include some structure so that the rest of us knew, for example, how many times we would do a song and so we would know where to build.
Ultimately, the vision got modified and I’m glad we included some structure but still made room for spontaneity.
Be prepared to modify your vision. Sometimes, you don’t see the full picture. Be humble enough to accept suggestions from the people you trust.
3. The best team is a team of leaders
I always say that all the members of our worship ministry are worship leaders. I don’t think it’s truly sunk in for everyone yet, but that is where we aspire towards.
If everyone saw themselves as leaders, they would take initiative, be courageous and innovative, and not hold back. But we would also be sensitive enough to submit and support.
We experienced some semblance of this last Sunday.
And I loved that the congregation didn’t have any one leader to look to for guidance; just a stage full of leaders until it seemed, there were really no leaders at all, but just the Holy Spirit.
Here is the recording of last Sunday’s worship, artfully mixed by our awesome sound engineer, Senny.
And here is the set list, which by the way, came about literally as the group worshipped together in the living room the Sunday before:
// Sinking Deep (G)
// Set a Fire (with additional verse by Tae Kim) (G)
// I See Grace (G)
// Forever (G)
// Crown Him (Majesty) (A)
// How Great Thou Art (A)