Week 5 Chronicles: Acoustic Worship

Acoustic worship

Today, I want to start a new occasional series called “Week 5 Chronicles”. In my church, we organise worship teams in four bands. Band 1 plays on the first Sunday of the month, Band 2 plays on the second Sunday and so forth. Every three months, however, we have a fifth Sunday of the month for which no band is rostered. We’ve now been using Week 5 as an opportunity to experiment with different worship formats.

If you attend a contemporary church, chances are your worship will involve singing 2 fast songs and 2 slow songs, accompanied by a band situated on the stage, led by a worship leader. The size of the band will often depend on the size of your congregation, but the usual setup will include singers, guitar, keyboard, bass and drums.

The congregation would face the stage and stare at a screen on which the lyrics to the songs are projected.

There’s nothing wrong with this and it seems like it has been the preferred format for congregational worship since the advent of the praise and worship movement.

But you’ve got to ask the question: where in the Bible do we find such a description of the church’s worship? In fact, whilst the Bible informs and reveals principles of worship, the New Testament is almost deliberately silent on format. This, at least, suggests that there is an almost boundless freedom in the way the church today is able to express its worship, be it in the Charismatic “in-the-spirit-spontaneous” worship, indigenous chants or liturgical high church mode.

The Week 5 Chronicles series then is an attempt to bring you on our church’s journey in experimenting with different ways of doing congregational worship. We’re not compromising on principles, because the cross of Christ and God’s glory must always remain central to our worship. Hopefully, however, it will inspire you to see that worship can be done in different ways and encourage you to “mix up” your church’s worship expression.

Change is actually a good thing. I know of one church which deliberately changes the way it does its services, even when it’s working well. This teaches the congregation to be flexible and willing to embrace new things.

Last Sunday, we stripped it back a little and did an acoustic, chapel-style set. The stage was set up with a lit-up cross at the centre, and a small group of musicians (electric guitar, acoustic guitar, cajon, keyboard and singers) sitting in a semi circle around the cross. The set up had the cross between the musicians and the congregation so that cross was (in effect) in the centre of the gathering.

For a while, even as our music team has been growing in technical excellence over the last many months, I’ve wondered whether our church has really understood the real meaning of worship, of bringing their own sacrifices, that ultimately, it didn’t matter about the music. Paring back the music was an opportunity for the congregation to hear their own voices fill the atmosphere with praises to God. It was a reminder that, sometimes, we can mask our praises underneath the sound created by the few (the musos on stage) whereas God has always been after the heartfelt offerings of the many.

So here is our songlist from yesterday’s session:

// This I Believe (The Creed) (G)
// When I Survey The Wondrous Cross (G)
// Scripture Reading – Phil 2:5-11
// This is Our God (Chorus only) (E)
// Broken Vessels (Chorus only) (E)
// This is Our God (E) (Reprise)
// No Other Name (E)

And here’s the recording:

What other ways have you tried to do your Sunday worship services differently?

Why Some Christians are No Longer “Born Again”

For the longest time, the church has misused the term “born-again”. Evangelical Christians have long used that term to refer to the conversion experience, probably because it appears a couple of times in John 3 in close proximity to Jesus’ famous words in verse 16 (“For God so love the world…”). If John 3:16 is the ultimate summation and crown of the Gospel, then obviously being “born again” must refer to a person’s conversion to Christianity.

Such an understanding of being “born again” actually undermines and misapprehends the whole process of spiritual formation – it assumes that conversion is a “once-off” event rather than a process worked out over time.

Don’t get me wrong: some people do have sudden conversion experiences. The Saul-to-Paul-Damascus-Road thing comes to mind. But then what about the journey that Paul undertakes (including a period in obscurity) before he finally becomes a great spiritual powerhouse and influencer? That takes time!

I, for one, could not tell you when I became a Christian. It just kind of grew on me. I started going to church and over time, integrated into the Christian community and learnt more about God and started to put my trust in Him. Over two decades later, I still haven’t arrived. And so when people ask me when I became a Christian, I can point to a date written in my bible, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the real date I became a Christian. To be honest, there wasn’t a moment; it was more like a process.

I think that’s why the early church spoke of Christianity as “the Way”. You start going on the Way, and you continue on the Way. This is better than seeing conversion as a “line” of decision that you must cross. What if you start believing in Jesus but haven’t yet “confessed with your mouth”? Are you still saved? What is the formula?

So, I think the idea of being “born again” as a conversion experience is way too simplistic.

Last Sunday at Faith Community Church, Peter Tsukahira preached a mindblowing message about “Change” which gave me a completely new perspective on John 3.

He said that traditionally we look at Nicodemus as a confused old man who was too embarrassed to approach Jesus publicly, so he came to Jesus in the dead of the night so that no one could see him.

Actually, in the context of the passage, Nicodemus was shown to be a powerful man. Verse 1 says that he is a Pharisee and a “member of the Jewish council”. At the time, the Sanhedrin was delegated power by the Romans to rule over Jerusalem. The main ruling party was the Sadducees. The Pharisees could be considered the opposition, so in today’s parlance, Nicodemus was a powerful member of the opposition party.

And Nicodemus’ approach to Jesus wasn’t to satisfy some niggling religious curiosity. He addresses Jesus in verse 2, saying “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come fro God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” At this time Jesus was already popular with the crowds, so what Nicodemus was doing was actually buttering up Jesus so that he could broker a deal with Him. He was saying “we could work together and shift the balance of power”.

Instead, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again”.

This statement takes Nicodemus by surprise. What Jesus was in effect saying to Nicodemus was that if the kingdom of God was to be realised, it would take a different mindset. Nicodemus wanted to see the kingdom of God as a political force and institution – perhaps together the Pharisees and Jesus could overthrow the Sadducees and who knows, even the Romans – but Jesus was saying that Nicodemus needed to adopt a new paradigm because everything was going to change: the temple, the priesthood, the nation. But it wouldn’t be a political phenomenon – it would begin in the hearts of people.

So, according to Peter Tsukahira, to be born again means to “start over”. To be “born again” is an entry point to a life of unpredictable change; to be carried by the wind of the Spirit which blows wherever it pleases.

God is always doing something new, and we need to jump into the flow of those new things.

Tsukahira makes this observation about the 24 elders constantly and repeatedly bowing before the Lamb in Revelations 5. They surround the throne, gazing at God. And every moment for eternity, as they look at God, they see something new and even more magnificent, and it causes them to again throw themselves down in adoration. Therefore, to be in the presence of God is to experience continuous change.

That day, Nicodemus, having encountered the presence of Jesus, started on a new journey. It culminated In John 19, where we see Nicodemus at Jesus’ tomb. He had brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes to anoint Jesus’ body. In the end, Nicodemus worshipped!

And this is why I say that a lot of Christians are no longer born again. They might have been once. But they have gotten comfortable with their Christian walk. They are content with more of the same and more of the old. Churches love the comfort of tried and true familiarity, rather than the faith adventure of risk-taking and forging new ground. The wind of the Spirit is blowing, God is doing new things, and yet, we are not prepared to take new steps of faith to keep in step with Him.

As we encounter God’s presence over and over, may we always see something new and more magnificent than before and be prepared to start over as He leads.

From the Archives: Why the Church Needs to Embrace Change

Last Sunday, Peter Tsukahira preached an awesome message on Change, which really resonated with me. I will post my thoughts on that shortly. In the meantime, here is a post I wrote some time ago about the need for change.

People often ask me: wouldn’t world missions and evangelism be so much easier if Jesus would just show up in person like He did two thousand years ago? He would walk around, do miracles, perform signs and wonders and preach the Word. And wouldn’t His effectiveness be multiplied given that He can now access technology that He didn’t have all those years ago, like the internet and podcasts and Twitter?

I actually think the answer is “no”. If someone showed up in the flesh proclaiming themselves to be God incarnate, your cynicism would likely dismiss them outright. You would say “God wouldn’t look like that”. You would have a certain expectation of His appearance or His status.

It’s just like the Lakeland Outpouring. When I first saw footage of it, I thought: “God can’t be in this. Look at the preacher. He looks like a bikie. And is he punching some old guy in the gut when he should be praying for the guy’s healing?” And we think, “maybe it’s just all hype. Everyone is caught up in the hysteria of it all, but it’s not a real revival.”

In fact, didn’t Jesus face a similar type of opposition when He appeared on earth? The religious establishment had for a long time believed that (in their interpretation of Scripture) Jesus would come as a political figure to free the Jewish nation from Roman rule. They did not expect that a King could be born in a manger, let alone grow up as a carpenter. And then to die on the cross? No way! Jesus could not possibly have been the prophesied Messiah.

And yet (for those us who are born again), we realise that in hindsight, the religious establishment had got it all wrong.

I am reading my signed copy of Frank Viola’s Revise Us Again, a brilliant little thesis on why we need to revise the “Christian script” from which we live.

Here is a pivotal point that Viola makes: “The Lord Jesus Christ will end up coming to us in a way that makes it easy for us to reject Him.”

And Viola says:

We all wish to cling to the Lord that we know now. We all wish to hold on to the Christ that has been revealed to ustoday. But mark my words: He will come to us in a way that we do not expect – through people who we’re prone to ignore and inclined to write off.

Perhaps they don’t talk our religious language. Perhaps they aren’t theologically sophisticated. Perhaps they don’t use our vocabulary. Perhaps they don’t share our jargon or parrot our religious idioms.

And so we cling fast to the Lord that we recognise – receiving only those who talk our language, use our jargon, and employ our catchphrases – and all along we end up turning the Lord Jesus Christ away….

What then does our Lord do when we fail to receive Him when He comes to us in an unexpected way? He moves on. And the revelation we have of Hm ceases to grow.

We see through a glass dimly. No one has a monopoly on revelation. And revelation is just that: it is fleeing, momentary and time-bound. Once it is recorded, set in script and written about, by definition, it soon ceases to be a revelation. In due course, that revelation fades, just like the glory began to fade from Moses’ face.

Paul exhorts us in 2 Corinthians 3:13 that we should not be like Moses, “who put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away”.

So we need to learn to embrace others and the revelation of Christ given to those who are outside our circle. It takes the whole body of Christ (the entire church) to fully represent Christ on this earth. We cannot continue to ignore other parts of the body because they are different. We need them precisely because they are different and fulfill the functions which our part of the body cannot fulfill. True unity embraces our diversity.

And we need to keep in step with the Spirit, not camping around the wonderful theologies and methods of yesteryear, although they were good, but to pursue fresh revelation, fresh insights. That is all part of growing as a church, realising that what we have seen so far is only a part revelation, and that there is more to come. If we fail to embrace change, we will cease to grow; we will stagnate.

Jesus was a revolutionary and we need to capture that revolutionary spirit to advance His kingdom here on earth. We need to embrace change; lest Jesus comes in a way we don’t expect and He passes us by.