The Year of Unceasing Fruitfulness

I had taken my seat in the cinema at Marina Bay waiting in anticipation for the start of the service. It was an interesting experience for me. Even though we would usually visit New Creation Church whenever we were in Singapore, this was the first time we were attending the service at a satellite location via live feed. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

The screen moved from rolling announcements to live feed as the worship leader took the stage. The first song started: the chorus of “Great is the Lord” – one of my favourite songs of all time.

It was part emotion, but mostly the presence of God. I sensed tears welling up. This was gearing up to be a great first church service for 2012.

After the worship ended and the chairperson read a couple of testimonies, Joseph Prince took to the pulpit. The whole congregation, linked through satellite at various sites in Singapore, waited in anticipation for him to release the vision for 2012.

Prince started with Jer 17:5-8:

This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives. “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”

In that context, Prince announced the vision for 2012: the year of unceasing fruitfulness.

Wow! That really really resonated with me.

There are two types of people: those who trust in man. They are like a bush in the parched land. They don’t experience prosperity when it happens upon them.

And then there are those who trust in God. Even when the heat comes, they won’t feel it. In the year of drought, they continue to be fruitful.

I’m making this my theme for the year too.

I’m not sure what the economic situation will hold. Life might throw some curve balls. But because my confidence is in the Lord, I will be like a tree planted by the waters. My leaves will be ever green.

In Rev 22:2, Scripture says:

On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

No natural tree bears twelve different types of fruit: only the tree of life which is a picture of the cross. Because I am in Christ through the cross, I can bear fruit. I can be fruitful in every area!

So this year, I thank God for unceasing and increasing fruitfulness. In finances. In my job. In my ministry. In my relationships and family. It’s going to be an exciting year ahead.

And I believe that in 2012, my life will be impactful because the leaves are for the healing of the nations.

You Crown the Year with Goodness

As we approach the end of 2011, I am reminded of Psalm 65:11 (NKJV):

 You crown the year with Your goodness,
And Your paths drip with abundance.

It has been an eventful year for me, but looking back, I am amazed at the goodness of God in my life, both in the valleys and mountaintops.

This year, after being in the same church for 21 years, my wife and I both felt the call to move on.  It was difficult because we have many close friends at the church and we were both actively involved in ministry.  I was almost like part of the furniture.  We had been working with a great team of people in the worship ministry but yet we felt that God was calling us out.

We went through about 5 months of uncertainty as we waited on God, spoke to the pastor and took counsel from our friends.  I had sensed that we would sort of be like Abraham, leaving the comfort of a place we know, and wandering into unknown territory.  It was a time of both fear and excitement.

At the time, a friend of ours was staying at our place and she had been praying for us.  She reminded us that all things work together for the good of those who love God (Romans 8:28).  We felt a bit more at peace that God does indeed work all things together for our good.  Sometimes, we believe in “faith detours” as if somehow the so-called wrong decisions we make can somehow stop us from experiencing God’s goodness in our lives.  So we tell people to be careful about the decisions they make; to discern the right path.

Now, don’t get me wrong: there are some things which do cause us to stray.  So, if we decided to leave our church and fill our Sunday mornings with other activities (like sleeping-in!) and we stopped going to church, that would be a bad decision.  But we weren’t going to do that.  We just simply wanted to go to a different church.  It wasn’t like we were turning ourselves over to live like heathens.  As long as we actively serve God in church, that’s a good thing!

So in that situation, I don’t think that there is a bad decision. We just have to trust God that He will work everything out, not only for our good, but also for our best.

In July 2011, we went to the 25th Hillsong Conference and were so blessed by the atmosphere of faith and awesome teaching.  At the conference, Israel Houghton introduced the song “Jesus at the Centre of It All” which really became an anthem for this season of my life (as I’m sure it was for many other people who were at the conference).  If that was the only thing I learned from the conference, it was worth it.

John Maxwell taught on leadership, but also emphasised the need for discipline in honing our anointing.  He taught his “rule of 5” and I was convicted to find the 5 things I needed to do everyday to fulfill my potential in God.

(I am still a “work in progress” and I am still working on centring my life on Jesus and being disciplined in my walk!  I thought I’d mention that in case anyone thought I had “arrived”.)

After coming back from Hillsong, we felt that God was firming up our decision to leave our church so we met up with our pastor.  Whilst it was a sad moment, to realise that we would no longer be part of this local house, we were encouraged by the fact that as we finished the meeting, our pastor prayed Romans 8:28 over us, the same verse our friend had encouraged us with a few months earlier.

So in the end we just had to take the step of faith.

Since then, we have been visiting different churches and seeing how awesome God is in our city.  In all the different expressions (from 2 hour services to 1.25 hour services; deep teachings to inspiring messages; so-so music to technically excellent music; big-congregation-impersonal to small-church-warmth), we had no doubt that the Spirit of God was moving in all these expressions, using them to minister both to the members of the church and the unchurched as well.

We also had the privilege of serving in the Commonwealth Prayer Initiative and meeting up with different worship leaders in the city.  I sense that our leaving our church opened the door for us to participate in this important milestone in the history of the church in Perth.  It did leave us feeling a bit awkward though because when you attend these meetings, people always ask you “what church do you fellowship at?”

At one meeting, my wife said “we are part of the church in Perth!”  That really resonated with me because even though at that point in time, we didn’t belong to any congregation, we were definitely part of the church in Perth.  We served the city-wide church and we participated in its destiny.

I also sensed that God was beginning to start something in our city amongst the worship leaders and I believe that will evolve in the next few months as we begin to take steps of faith.

I am glad to say that in the midst of the seeming disruption and dislocation, we have experienced the goodness of God working in our lives.   God did really crown our year with goodness.  His paths on which we were led dripped with abundance.

Thank You God for your faithfulness, provision, protection, healing, wholeness and prosperity. We are thankful for our friends and family who prayed with us, encouraged us, served alongside us, cried with us, rejoiced with us and journeyed with us as we walked in His destiny for our lives.

We believe, as Joel Osteen often says, that 2011 was great, but 2012 will be our best year yet.

Happy new year Worship Revolutionaries.

 

Love and Hate

Have you heard the phrase “love the sinner but hate the sin” being bandied around in church?

I’ve finally (after all these years as a Christian) heard an explanation of this phrase which finally makes some sense during a Joseph Prince message.

Think about someone with cancer. You love someone to the same degree you hate their cancer because the cancer is destroying them.

In the same way, you love someone to the degree that you hate their sin because of sin’s destructive nature in their lives.

A Heart for Revival

I am writing this post from Singapore, where I am currently on holidays.

Singapore holds a special place in my heart. It was the place where I experienced two spiritual milestones that shaped in me a heart for revival.

I went on my first short term mission trip to Singapore in 1996. You might say: “Singapore is hardly a place to go for a missions trip.” But I can’t quite picture myself yet carrying a shovel with me to the toilet so I was very happy to volunteer for an urban mission. After all, there are still many unreached peoples in many large cities around the world. (My next mission trip was to Hong Kong, my third to Sapporo, so I still haven’t gone “third world” yet).

A church in Singapore, Yishun Methodist Mission (YMM), was prototyping a city-taking strategy based on principles taught by the likes of Ed Silvoso. At the time, the spiritual warfare movement pioneered by C Peter Wagner, Cindy Jacobs and others was beginning to gain a great deal of traction in wider charismatic circles, and the pastor of YMM was about to put some of those principles into action. About 16 of us from Perth joined the members of YMM in implementing the strategy, which was primarily based around the thought of “showing the community God’s love in a practical way, with no strings attached”.

We blessed the local community surrounding YMM with free Christmas gift-wrapping services; free washes and vacuuming for local taxis; cleaning a coffee shop (which on reflection is probably quite close to a third world experience!) and running a free community carnival.

Even though I had gone on this trip to help out with whatever was needed, I got connected to an anointed worship leader from the church and one afternoon, as everyone was letterdropping some leaflets advertising the free carnival, the worship leader asked me to stay back and prepare to lead a session of worship and intercession. I was quite nervous about doing the whole thing (I had just started leading worship in our church’s main service) but we just began worshipping together and picking some songs. Little did I know that this would birth a new ministry of intercessory (or apostolic) worship in me.

When everyone came back from the afternoon of letter dropping, we started worshipping and people began to “get into it” but I thought nothing more of it than that. Then one of the pastors on our team pointed to one of the girls and said “I believe you have a word from God”. We found out later that actually she didn’t have a word, but I think the pastor picked her because she was bowed on the floor and probably looked incredibly spiritual at that moment. She said later that she just took a step of faith and started speaking. Suddenly, God poured out his compassion on her, and through tears, she released a word about God’s heart for the lost in the community.

As most of us would have experienced, crying is seldom a solitary pursuit; when one person starts, the floodgates open. So before long, many of us were catching this compassion and praying through our tears.

Our missions program had suddenly gained divine impetus.

Ater that experience, I started reading more about the concept of city-taking and I was being challenged about whether our cities could in fact be taken for Christ.

The second milestone was in 1998 when a delegation from our church went to the International Cell Church Conference hosted by Faith Community Baptist Church in Singapore.

We were incredibly blessed listening to Ed Silvoso as he shared how God transformed cities in Argentina after the church started implementing city taking principles starting with the legendary Plan Resistencia prototype.

Silvoso shared about new paradigm shifts that were elemental to city transformation, including that there is only one church in the city, consisting
of many congregations. I still consider this to be one of the keys to a city experiencing revival.

Then in the night rallies we had the privilege of listening to Argentinian revivalist Claudio Freidzon, who emphasized the need for a hunger for the Holy Spirit. At around that time, I was reading Tommy Tenney’s The God Chasers which started to spark a spiritual hunger
in me. It was amazing that, as a stadium full of people started crying out for God, the Holy Spirit moved and entire sections of people fell backwards under the power of the Spirit.

Today, I can’t say that I’m necessarily hungry for God. Sometimes it’s hard to be in a Western society where hunger for comfort comes first. I think that is something in which we all need to experience a personal breakthrough.

Recently I spoke to a pastor from Singapore who shared about how since those days, God has united his church in Singapore under the Love Singapore movement. Once when they had a church wide prayer-walk in the city, the numbers of Christians who came out of the woodwork were so startling that it got the government worried. That is the sort of revolutionary influence which the church should exert.

On Christmas day this year, we went to a combined Christmas service at New Creation Church. It was held at the Singapore Indoor Stadium and here is a picture of us queueing at 9 am to get in for a 10 am start. Hundreds had already joined the crowd.

It may be Singaporean “FOMO” (i.e. “fear of missing out”, or in the local vernacular, “kiasu”) but I believe that Singaporean Christians exhibit a passionate faith seldom found in the church in Perth (or most first world communities for that matter). Just seeing the numbers gathered in one place was mind-blowing but this was only one of three or four megachurches. Practically every suburb in Singapore has a life giving church making an influence in their community.

This year, my involvement with the Commonwealth Prayer Initiative in Perth (with almost two hundred churches participating thanks to the efforts of Wendy Yapp and her team) has awakened in me the possibility of seeing revival in Perth in my generation. God is already engineering one of the preconditions: the unity of the church in the city.

Introduction to the Apostolic

Recently, I came across a phrase which gave definition to the sort of worship which I feel God has anointed me for: “apostolic worship”. In a later post, I intend to unpack that term a bit more fully, but for now, I want to shed some light on the word “apostolic” because I think that phrase is often misunderstood by the church.

Bill Johnson actually introduces the concept in his book The Essential Guide to Healing (2011) at pp 117 onwards, so I’m just going to quote him:

The word apostle in the New Testament means “sent one”. Apostle was originally a secular term used by both the Greeks and the Romans to refer to the leader of a special envoy. That leader had the job of establishing the culture of the empire he represented into the daily lives of the citizens the empire conquered. Leaders had discovered that the citizens of conquered lands went back to their previous way of life rather quickly without a transforming influence. It was extremely frustrating to see no change result in a conquered nation, which nullified the purpose of the conquest. For this reason, they came up with a strategy to transform the culture of a conquered city so that when the empire’s leaders visited, it would feel the same as home…. The position of apostle was created in response to this need. Jesus adopted the term to reveal His intentions. His apostles lead a special envoy of people who have the job of establishing the culture of the empire of heaven into the daily lives of the citizens they serve.

The Lord’s Prayer is an apostolic prayer. On earth as it is in heaven. Make this world like that one. That does not mean you have to be an apostle to pray it. It means that the purpose of the prayer is a clear expression of the apostolic mandate to transform the thinking and lifestyles of the nation so that they are the same as the governing nation – in this case, heaven. This becomes the mandate of the Church when it has a full expression of healthy leadership.

Understood this way, revolutionary worship, worship which transforms, is apostolic in nature. It is about bringing heaven to earth, bringing transformation to those who worship, but also unleashing the culture of heaven to our communities, cities and nations.

Christmas is for Worship

Merry Christmas to all the worship revolutionaries out there as today we celebrate the birth of the first worship revolutionary!

Through Jesus’ coming, the worship of Jehovah was changed forever in at least two ways: first the place of our worship; and second, the participants of worship.

John 1:14 says this:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NIV)

The word “dwelling” is actually “tabernacle”. God’s tabernacle came amongst us. It is no coincidence that John used this language. He was about to unfold a theology of worship that transcended what the Jews had until then understood. Worship would no longer be site specific.

David used to long to dwell in the courts of the Lord; now God evinces a desire to dwell in the domain of humankind.

Isaiah 14:7 says:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

God with us. Now the temple of God dwells with us but John takes it further.

In John 4, the Samaritan woman engages Jesus in theological debate as to where worship happens. Jesus answered that the entire basis of the woman’s question had been misplaced.
In the oft-quoted passage in John 4:23-24, Jesus responds:

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.

Jesus was saying worship was now accessible to those who are born of God and filled with the Spirit. Worship was about to be, and indeed has already become, globalised.

Further it was no longer going to continue to be the privilege of the Jews. Now the participants of worship would be (to prefigure the language of Paul) first the Jews, then the Gentiles.

The Samaritan woman experienced this firsthand. Not only did her response constitute her worship (sans temple) representing a change in location and methodology, but her race and background no longer excluded her.

Two groups of worshippers bowed before the newborn Jesus in a lowly manger. First the Jews – the shepherds who tended the flock. I learnt something interesting today at New Creation Church (I’ll share more on this later): it was very likely that the shepherds were responsible for tending the blemish-less animals for temple sacrifice. So these participants were entirely familiar with the traditions of temple worship.

And then a second group came. The Persian Magi who anticipated the birth of a King. They were neither Jews nor did they understand temple protocol. All these seekers knew was that a King was born:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1, 2 NIV)

First the Jews. Then, the Gentiles.

This revolution prefigured by the prophets was finally instituted by Emmanuel, God with us, born this day more than 2000 years ago. And so, Christmas is for worship.

Holy Worship Team, Batman

In a previous post, I talked about how an apprehension and understanding of the grace of God will transform the way we approach Him in worship.

In this context, I want to pose the question: who is qualified to serve on the worship team?

In the olden days, we used to impose a high requirement of “holiness” (I’ll explain later why I’ve put this in quotation marks). Generally, a person wanting to join the worship team had to show some proficiency in music, although ultimately, it was mostly about character, faithfulness and a proven “track record”. One of the things we used to do to test a new recruit’s suitability was to put them on a “lesser” duty (it should be apparent why I’ve used quotation marks here) such as operating the AV and see if they stick it out. This is even if the person was a complete tech-nube.

This created a couple of unexpected problems. Usually, the people on the worship team were seen as “a cut above” every one else, creating a culture of exclusivity, thereby breeding resentment amongst the rest of the congregation who were obviously second-rate in holiness stakes. The second problem was that some people on the worship team, whilst exhibiting loads of character, had very little musical or vocal skill. The lesser skilled people invariable dragged down the musical quality as the team played to the lowest common denominator.

Yet, there is a third problem. And that is that those who were on the worship team felt a keen pressure to keep up appearances of holiness, making it difficult for them to live transparently and authentically.

An understanding of transforming grace changes the way we look at who is qualified to serve.

My former pastor used to say this: “No one is good enough to serve”. What he means is that, of ourselves, we are not worthy but we are made worthy through Christ. I prefer to look at it from the opposite angle and say “everyone is qualified to serve by the grace of God!”

If we look at it this way, standards of holiness should no longer be a measure of whether a person is good enough to be on the worship team. Rather, musical skill and ability become the main qualifying criteria.

You might ask: “doesn’t that create its own exclusivity problem?” And the answer is “yes”, but no different a problem to any other ministry. An usher in the welcome ministry should have a personality that draws people in and have a winning smile. That’s the usher’s gift. A preacher should be good at preaching. A teacher should be good at teaching. And a worship musician should be good at musicking.

Rather than elevate worship ministry above other more “menial” ministries (and in fact, in my view, no ministry is “menial”, it’s just that we have to change our perceptions a bit), we should elevate all ministry to its rightful place of worth. In that sense, I think that we should want worthy and holy people serving in all our ministries at church.

That leads me to the question of what it means to be “holy”.

Some people argue that the worship ministry, following the Old Testament model, requires a particular level of holiness. They point to the fact that the presence of God is so holy that the High Priest who has even a trace of sin will be struck dead in the Holy of Holies. They point to the story of Uzzah, who was struck down when he touched the Ark in 1 Sam 16 and the fact that David was only able to bring back the Ark when it was lifted on the shoulders of the Levites.

The way I see it, the new covenant of grace changes the system. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says that where there is a change of the law, a change in covenant, there is also a change in the priesthood.

First Peter 2:9 tells us that all of us are now “a royal priesthood, a holy nation”. This means that all of us are now holy. All of us are priests and ministers before God.

This brings me to the question of what it means to be holy. Holy as I understand it means “set apart” (“hagios” in the Greek). It is a particular posture and status, not a set of behaviours and actions.

That means we are all holy, no matter what we’ve done.

Think about it this way: if holiness consists of actions, then we had better make sure that all who serve on the worship team are 100% pure and without sin. We all know this is impossible. If this is in fact the requirement, no one would achieve it. This means that God will not inhabit the praises of His people; the unholiness will hinder the flow of the Spirit; worse still, those who purport to touch the Ark (the presence of God) will risk a sudden and untimely demise!

Holiness as a status is a different concept. We have done nothing of ourselves to attain that state. Rather, Jesus the Lamb without blemish took our place and his righteousness was imputed to us. So irrespective of anything we do, we are holy not by our own works but because of what Jesus has done.

What about the verse that says “Be ye holy, as I am holy”? Well, I think that is saying that as God is set apart, and as we are set apart, let us live up to the standard of being set apart. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are already holy. We just need to act it out.

There’s a verse in Exodus when God struck down the Egyptians with a plague (I can’t remember which one). But the Bible says that the Israelites were spared and it says that God distinguished between his people and the unholy. Did Israel do anything to receive that protection or was it simply by virtue of their being God’s chosen people?

In the same way then, I want to suggest that all those who serve on the worship ministry are already holy. This is so even if they are still struggling with some very overt sins. (My only qualification to this is the verse where Paul warns us not to stumble others; so for that reason, I might not let everyone join the team. Even then, there are those who sing badly and they are very stumbling indeed!)

Going to even greater extremes, the modern worship movement has several stories of now prominent worship leaders who began serving in worship ministry even before they had formally crossed the line to become Christians (that concept of when a person crosses the line is of itself worthy of exploration. I believe however that these people, by becoming part of the worship ministry, were already on the “way”). Lincoln Brewster and Henry Seeley come to mind.

I have heard Henry Seeley share on a number of occasions how he used to sit in the back of youth group utterly disinterested until Russell Evans got him to start playing the keyboard.

In one church I visited in Japan, they used to get the unchurched in to perform the music as a means of outreach!

I couldn’t say that in any of those cases, God’s presence was diminished because of the make-up of the worship team!

So then, what qualifications should we set? I think the only distinction remains one of musical ability. Let’s face it. The worship team is not more special than the rest of the congregation. Everyone should be worshipping anyway. The only difference is that they can play music, sing well or dance beautifully. When that becomes the defining qualification, then the quality, the excellence of the musicianship will begin to improve dramatically. Excellence will be the hallmark of the music team, coupled with the powerful sense of God’s sovereign presence responding to the praises of a group of holy people gathered to worship.

In Honour of the Worship Revolution Band 2010/11

I can’t believe we are now in the second last week of 2011. It’s been an amazing year full of God’s faithfulness and favour. In another post, I will reflect more broadly about this year, which was filled with some amazing transitions (though not yet complete) and faith-building experiences.

But today, I want to honour and appreciate a bunch of people with whom I have had the privilege to serve alongside for most of 2010 and for half of 2011.

The Worship Revolution Band started in around May 2010 as part of a restructuring of the worship team in our church. We finally went from a rostering system to being allocated specific bands.

We took the opportunity to cast a bold vision and set some crazy goals for ourselves, with our main outlook being to reform and energise the worship of our church. We reached some milestones, fell way short on others, but after about a year of being together, I can look back and say that we were well on our way to achieving our primary objective.

We defined our culture as being spiritual (who isn’t?… well, I suppose the carnal ones amongst us might not be, but I could only see our team members being full of Jesus and therefore spiritual), unified, fresh, authentic and fun. We didn’t want to miss out on fun, because serving God should be fun and fulfilling.

Together, we wanted to spur one another on, bring cohesion to the band, improve together and celebrate our progress.

After many months of learning to function together, we started to add fuel to the function of worship to unleash the fire of worship. We wanted to balance excellence against the prophetic and the spontaneous. We learnt together (some of our guys went to group singing lessons with Stephanie Truscott) and inspired each other.

Here are the people who made the Worship Revolution Band one of my most fulfilling ministries in recent memory:

  • Co-Worship Leader: Derwin Bong. A young, passionate and sensitive worship leader. I hope he leads worship again soon. City of Perth, look out.
  • Music Director: Addie Choon. We worked really well together because Derwin and I could cast the vision and direction and Addie would make it happen musically. A really talented guy who plays bass and keyboard with a very keen understanding of worship ministry.
  • Vocal Director: Kelwin Wong. One of the few people I know who can harmonise with himself in three parts. Known for recording harmonies so the singers could learn their parts before rehearsals. One day, he will star in a musical!
  • Singers: Ling Chua (my awesome wife and a worship leader in her own right), Kelwin, Tri Tran (one of the hardest working people in our team!), Minh Lam (our resident culture-vulture. One day, he will help the church cross the culture divide), Melissa Loong (faithful minister and super creative) and Liz Tran (one amazing female vocalist!).
  • Keyboards: in the early days, Jeremy Wong (who retired to become a missionary-in-training; one of the most radical, sold-out-for-Jesus types I know) and Matthias Yap (an upcoming keyboardist we were privileged to serve with).
  • Bass: Addie
  • Guitar: Ivan Manalip, a faithful guy who wins the most-improved award.
  • Drums: Samson Tan, a great personal inspiration to me, revivalist and all-round nice-guy and Bernard Lim, who always thinks outside the box and challenges me creatively. Really enjoyed working with Bernie.
  • PA: Wei Koay, a faithful servant who is always willing to sacrifice huge chunks of his time to serve the Kingdom.
  • Honourary AV (we didn’t have AV people on our band, but we claim these guys): Jess Tran and Adrian Chee, our great friends and who always celebrated with us.
  • Honourary Dancers: Joan Manalip (one of the most creative and inspiring worship dancers) and Sharon Chia (another great friend on the journey who we’ve claimed as a “daughter” even though she isn’t that young anymore!).

So, as we end 2011, I want to extend my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to my awesome co-labourers, friends and inspirers. You have made my own journey a fruitful and fulfilling one. I hope to serve with you guys again one day!

With much love,
Lester

Numbers Count

In my last post, I talked about Elevation Church’s Code. In this post, I delve deeper into the thought “it’s all about the numbers”.

How important are “the numbers” in terms of the health of a church?

Often numerical growth is juxtaposed against spiritual depth as if they are diametrical opposites. In 2008, those who railed against “seeker friendly” churches rejoiced in Bill Hybels’ admission of the model’s failure. Critics quickly pounced on this statement made by Hybels:

We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.

I don’t know much about what goes on in Willow Creek, but they were really one of the first megachurches in America.

Megachurches have the capacity to massively shake and transform the community of which they are a part moreso than small churches. It’s simply because they have a lot more resources and visibility.

But does that mean members of megachurches necessarily have less spiritual depth?

I think you can have both depth and numbers! No organisation should celebrate smallness. It should be the intent and goal of every organisation to keep growing; and often (although not always) that growth will result in an increase in numbers. If a church is doing something right, both Christians and the unchurched will be attracted to it.

I would suggest that numerical growth is a natural consequence of increasing depth. My wife likes to use the illustration of a tree (obviously). She says, you can’t have a tree with massive roots below ground being tiny above ground. In fact, the opposite is true (and indeed logical). The larger a tree gets above ground, the bigger its roots will also be. Growth in both directions happen contemporaneously.

Acts 2:42-47 says this:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Here, the spiritually deep activities of the early disciples led to a noticeable increase in numbers. In the Message version, it says that as the disciples “followed a daily discipline of worship … people generally liked what they saw”. The early church was both “Spirit-friendly” and “seeker-friendly”.

That should be the goal of every church.

How does this apply to worship leading?

Most who study church growth will point to two things which immediately attract visitors to a church: the sermon and the worship. After all, these are the two things visitors experience the most before they get to experience the other aspects of the church community. I realised that, when I’ve been visiting churches, those are the two things I evaluate first (even though in some sense I know that a church is so much more than just what they do on a Sunday).

As a worship leader then, I have to make sure that the worship has all the elements of excellence that make the music naturally attractive and accessible, but I must also ensure that I create an atmosphere that is conducive to the move of the Spirit. Again, one is not at the expense of the other.

I have been in services that are so “spiritual” that only the most spiritual can engage. Even though I’m a worship leader, I have to admit there are times when I simply don’t have the motivation to lead myself in worship when I’m offstage. I can get lazy. (I shouldn’t really confess that, should I? But I’m just being honest here). That’s where the onstage worship leader has an important role to play. Those who come ready to worship don’t need any more help! It’s the rest of the congregation that needs to be led; so it is important that the worship leader doesn’t just run with the forerunners, but the worship leader should lag slightly behind and bring as many people with them as possible. A worship leader who leads those who don’t need to be led should get a redundancy package!

At a practical level, I try to plan my worship sets as best I can. I try to visualise the entire set from start to finish, and I try to communicate that vision to the rest of the team so that they know exactly where I am going. I try to anticipate the points at which spontaneous elements may invade, or be generated. That way, the only surprises are the surprises of the Holy Spirit rather than the unpleasant surprises of dissonance when chords and parts clash.

First Corinthians 14 is a manual on orderly worship. And yet, Paul insists that in the midst of ordered prophecy, a seeker or inquirer who happens upon the worship will be convicted of sin as the secrets of their hearts are laid bear. And they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming “God is really among you!” (vv 24,25).

I think the key to it is this: bring forward your hearing from God a couple of weeks in advance so you have plenty of time to communicate with the rest of the team (and even other stakeholders in the service) so that you can then, by consensus, confirm that you have heard right. That’s better than thinking that God only speaks to you whist you are on stage! If you and God are on speaking terms, why should he seek to surprise you so late in the piece when he could have told you his secrets much earlier? Of course, once we have heard and planned, we should always be open to the Spirit’s prompting as the set unfolds.

So back to numbers. I think a healthy church must grow in numbers as we grow in our methodologies, experiences, knowledge and faith (depth). It is possible and logical to do both just as it is possible (and necessary) to be both seeker and Spirit friendly.

The Code

I have come across many vision and mission statements, but nothing like Elevation Church’s Code. Check this out:

The philosophical approach of Elevation Church is fresh and confronting.

I love the clause that says “We Need Your Seat”. It speaks of the fact that the church is singularly pursuing a mission and that those who can’t flow with it shouldn’t remain to hinder its work. I think sometimes churches and organisations end up sacrificing their purpose by catering to everyone’s preferences. At the end of the day, those who make the most noise are often the most difficult to satisfy.

And I love that Elevation Church is “all about the numbers”. I think we often dismiss numbers as a measure of effectiveness. Sometimes, growing numbers are an indicia that a church is doing something right!

This explains how Elevation Church started out with some 80 people and hit over 10,000 in 5 years!

To read more about Steve Furtick and Elevation Church, go here