Lessons I Have Learned From Converge

Last night, the various Converge facilitators and leaders met for a debrief. It was a great time reflecting on the highlights, things we could change and do better, but above all reflecting on God’s faithfulness in taking the church in the city one step towards fulfilling Jesus’ prayer for unity.

In that same reflective mode, I want to share in this post some of the things I personally learnt through my involvement in Converge.

1. God’s grace is sufficient

God’s grace redeemed us, and God’s grace continues to empower us! As I shared in my previous post, the grace of God strengthens us in our weakness and allows us to take our limitations in our stride.

Just a couple of days before the Day of Worship, I had taken the day off work to do a bit of last minute planning, only to wake up with the beginnings of a cough and sore throat! I mentally did the math and realised the worst of it was going to surface on Saturday itself – i.e. the Day of Worship! And then I did some more maths and figured out that I would have to sing for nearly five hours on the day! I didn’t like where this equation was heading.

As all good mature Christians do, I started freaking out. And then I started doing some positive confession. And then I tried to expel as much phlegm as I possibly could (perhaps that last point was a bit of overshare!). Despite all my efforts, I woke up early on Saturday morning with a bad cough and a clogged up throat.

What was quite amazing however was that whenever I sang, my voice held up. I didn’t cough and sputter throughout both sessions and during the entire 5 hours of singing. As soon as I stopped however, I started to cough again.

The fact that my voice held up could only have been by the grace of God. His grace truly was sufficient!

2. Great worship doesn’t depend on the best musicians; it requires competent musicians who can play well together and are united in purpose.

As we were sharing our thoughts post-Converge, Gabriel Tan (one of the worship leaders during the morning session) made an interesting comment. He was actually the only professional musician in our group. This is what he said:

We’re ALL not music superstars. Just adequate musicians who like The Beatles, somehow managed to work REALLY REALLY well together. I’ve played in worship bands full of killer church musicians (MDs, worship pastors) before, and trust me, those times were good but no where near where we were at yesterday. The want to just offer whatever little we have to God, coupled with zero egos, makes for a very powerful thing.

Amen to that! Which leads me to my next point.

3. God blesses our unity with His flow of life.

Psalm 133 says that when believers dwell together in unity, that is where God ordains eternal life!

One of the most amazing phenomenon that happened during the “Hear the Nations Worship” night was the number of people who came in off the streets to observe, and even, participate in our worship.

This was something I only found out about later. To be frank, I was on stage most of the night and feeling quite tired. We struggled with some of the musical elements so I felt a touch discouraged. But Wendy and Bobby who were standing at the door greeted streams of people who came in off the streets, drawn to the sound of united worship. Some even asked whether we do this every Saturday night!

In the mid-1990’s, Sally Morgenthaler introduced the idea of “worship evangelism”. Her thesis was that seekers were spiritually hungry. But the church was just rolling out worship that was tantamount to slick, consumer-focussed productions. She says essentially that when the church returns to authentic worship anchored in truth, then the seekers will come.

I had never had a real chance to test that theory, and I assumed that 20 years later, that thesis had simply “moved on” as a relic of worship theology. During Converge, I saw some substance to the thesis. Worship evangelism is alive and well! Seekers are still hungry for the presence of God, and it is for the church to be a royal priesthood, ministering and mediating God’s presence to a lost world.

4. You can never overprepare

Working with two different bands during Converge, I observed two staggeringly different phenomena. At the risk of oversimplifying, in one band, we rehearsed everything to a tee. We worked out the intros and outros, variations in the drum beats, “power pauses” etc. In the other band, everyone was happy to go with the flow.

I said to Clement our drummer that I was more used to just getting the feel of a song right, rather than trying to plan every single part of the song. Clem responded by saying that it was better to overprepare, so that at least if you needed to do something like an outro, you could – rather than to not prepare it and not be able to do it. That made a lot of common sense.

Put another way: if it’s not in your bag, you can’t pull it out and use it. By not preparing, we are restricting ourselves.

On Pentecost Sunday, I was invited to lead a 5 minute worship slot during the Global Day of Prayer. I was handed a runsheet that spanned over 10 pages. It was astoundingly brilliant, so much so that I have kept it as a souvenir to remind myself of the power of planning. The entire two and a half hours was planned down to the minute, with different stage managers ushering different prayer leaders onto the stage at just the right time and the video and projection all lining up perfectly.

I was really inspired to be a more thorough organiser!

5. You don’t get out of your depth, you just gain more height

All throughout the planning stages of Converge, I felt horribly out of my depth. I had never been involved in anything like this before, I was not even leading worship in my church, and yet I was asked to bring together worship ministries to deliver an entire day of worship.

(I still feel horribly out of my depth to this day!)

One of the things Wendy Yapp said to me was that I was never out of my depth, rather I had learnt to jump higher. There is such wisdom in that thought!

I have pondered this a lot more since Converge finished. I suppose what Wendy was saying was that our depth is what anchors us in the first place. Without depth of character, we would easily fall. But depth allows us to reach higher than we have reached before. And sure, we might feel a bit of vertigo, but ultimately, we are secure in God’s purposes.

6. From celebratory unity to functional unity to visible unity

One last thought: Converge is an essential move of God in this city because it operates at the level of functional unity.

For years now, the city of Perth has had an event called “Church Together” during which hundreds of different churches would gather on a particular day to worship together and hear a message. Beyond that however, very little relationship is formed (except perhaps between the people who work together “on stage”). This is a species of celebratory unity. Celebratory unity is important because it inspires us to dream big about the possibilities of unity. However, it is only a first step.

Converge occupies the important grassroots level of functional or relational unity. Most of us involved in Converge weren’t leaders in any churches, just ordinary Christians who felt called by God to be instruments of unity in this city. We worked at a relational level to span church, denominational and ministry boundaries.

I believe that one day, there will be a convergence of celebratory and functional unity to bring visible unity to the church in the city. Then the church will truly be an answer to Jesus’ high priestly prayer, that as we are one, the world will know that Jesus was sent of the Father. May that day come during our lifetime!

One of the Craziest Weekends Ever

I would have to describe it as one of the craziest weekends ever.

It began with an 8 am start for the Asian worship session of Converge 2012, kicking off an entire day of non-stop worship for the city of Perth with different teams coming in to lead worship at Wesley Church, right in the heart of the city.

It was a wake-up call for the city of Perth, probably because Clement played his drums ultra loud and Darren pumped up his amp. The acoustics of Wesley Church probably amplified everything by a factor of 4. But it’s a sound of praise that needed to be heard in the city.

Even though there was probably only about 40 or so people attending, there was a real sense of the presence of God as we worshipped. The band (consisting of worshippers and musicians from different churches) just flowed together beautifully, like we had played together for years instead of having only had a couple of rehearsals beforehand. It was an inexplicable synergy between the team members, all of whom are friends and worshippers I deeply admire.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but the music was also being pumped out through external speakers. We were filling the streets of the city of Perth with the praises of God!

After an extended time of free worship, we began to pray (as it was Pentecost) for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all the different churches represented by the people who were in attendance. Clem started prophesying on the drums, which I interpreted as the sound of breakthrough for our churches – that God would bring fresh anointing, strength, vision and growth.

We ended with the prophetic song “Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble”. I really sensed that spiritual mountains were shaken that morning. I sensed that the darkness over the city was trembling because the saints had joined in one song. The darkness was trembling because all the streams were flowing as one river: the Catholics, Charismatics, Uniting Church, Presbyterians and Anglicans. The brokenness of the church was being washed away.

After that session, quite a number of people came up to me to say that they thought something quite special happened that morning. As Pastor Yoy describes it, heaven and earth had converged.

Clem was especially blessed. It was his birthday and the Lord marked him with favour. You will see in the picture above that as we were praying, the cross at Wesley cast a shadow across his back. What a picture (thanks to Darren!).

After the session, we gathered outside the church to celebrate Clem’s birthday and Wendy Yapp had us wrap the week’s knitting (which was symbolic of the knitting together of prayer) around us and then around the building. The knitting went about half way around the church. Here’s a picture of the band “knit together”:

Here are some photos of some of us spreading the knitting around the church:

After that, the sound of war cries and congas filled the church as the African team led by Arlene Gregory began to worship. It was vibrant in colour, sound and spirit.

We came back in the evening for the last session of the Day of Worship called “Hear the Nations Worship”. During the session, we wove into our worship elements of Gospel-style (led by Stephanie Truscott), Messianic (led by Kathy Susnjar) and African worship (led by Arlene), declaring the words of Revelation 5 that every tongue, tribe and nation will be represented before the throne of God. We finished the evening singing How Great is Our God in English, Indonesian, Chinese, Tagalog and Zulu.

Here is a picture we took at the end of the evening:

We were told later that tens of people were coming into the church throughout the evening, drawn to the sound of praise!

After that night, I was exhausted.

But the weekend was not over yet. As I was attending the Friday night session of Converge, Patrick Chen of Zion Praise Harvest invited me to lead a worship slot during the Global Day of Prayer (on Pentecost Sunday), which his church was hosting. He was bringing together 35 to 40 different churches and ministries to participate. I was told to pick a song, get to the service half an hour earlier to do a sound check and… that was it. Mentally, I couldn’t picture it.

So I just chose the song “Come Holy Spirit”, a song I love and I thought captured the Pentecost theme.

When I got to the meeting this afternoon, I was given a runsheet that had planned the meeting (incorporating the 35 odd ministries) right down to the minute. Zion’s administration and planning skills are second to none.

But it was amazing how God orchestrated unity even though I came into the picture quite late in the piece. It just so happened that I was given the slot just before the Transformation session, the opening Scripture passage of which was Luke 4 (“the Spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon me”). The song I had chosen (quite in isolation of the planning) fit perfectly. I was amazed at how God brought unity even in the programming!

So it’s been an amazing, action-packed weekend.

When I went to Global Day of Prayer, I was asked “what ministry do you represent?” It seemed that everyone had come representing a church, intercessory ministry, marketplace ministry or some other organisation. I didn’t really know what to say. I couldn’t say I was representing my church because I wasn’t even part of the church worship team.

In the end, I just left it as “Lester Ong”.

As we were preparing for Converge, I had said to the different worship teams that we shouldn’t see ourselves as working towards the end of Converge; rather, we should see Converge as a time for the birthing of new destinies. And I think that’s probably where God is leading me. This Converge weekend has been the beginning of something. There is not yet any designation for it. It doesn’t have a cool ministry name, logo or constitution. It is the beginning of worshippers gathering together to lift up the name of Jesus in the city of Perth and for no other name. I can’t wait to see what that will look like.

If Only All Rehearsals Were Like Today’s

I have just come back from an amazing rehearsal with the Converge Asian Worship band at the Hen House rehearsal studios.

It was an interesting evening. As I was collecting the six pizzas for the band, Darren had gotten to the studio early and sent me a picture of the studio. Apparently, one of the walls was painted with a fairly confronting mural of a topless female angel. I wasn’t really sure how the team would feel about it, so I was stressing out a bit.

To my relief, we all laughed it off and thought it was a pretty funny situation, almost slighty ironic. But for the protection of the wider church, I don’t think I’ll post a picture of the room. Here is a “safer” picture of Darren, Yvonne and Ling on the “clean” side of the room.

And here’s another shot taken at the end of the rehearsal of the whole team, courtesy of Darren Woon (from Lto R: Darren Woon, me, Jun Wee, Gabriel Tan, Addie Choon, Derwin Bong, Yoy Alberastine, Yvonne Mohan, Ling Chua, Clement Ch’ng), and also taken from the “clean” side of the room.

I did come with plenty of faith however, to the extent that I thought that maybe, just maybe, as we were worshipping, the mural might supernaturally melt and all the other bands in the surrounding studios would come and see. They would be amazed and say “what God is this who dissolves unholy murals?” and we would then lead them to Christ.

Okay, so that didn’t eventuate, but every now and then, as we were deep in worship, I would just peek out of the corner of my eyes just to see whether perhaps some of the paint might start to come off.

Anyway, after we had eaten some pizza and introduced ourselves to each other, I told the band that it was great to work with anointed worship musicians whom I have admired and for whom I have the highest esteem. In fact, when I looked at the band, I realised that I had worked with most of the musos and singers before and I had longed to work with them again – so today was the opportunity!

I then wondered what it would be like if Converge wasn’t what we were working towards? What if, like Pentecost, it was the birth of something? What if it was the beginning of more times of worship together across churches, at a grassroots level? What if it sparked a movement of passionate worshippers and psalmists joining together across the city?

With that thought, we started running through the 15 songs on our songlist.

One of the songs which Derwin had chosen was “One Thirst” by Jeremy Riddle (good choice, Derwin!). When I first heard that song earlier last week, something had clicked and I somehow knew that that song would capture the heart of what we were trying to do.

Most of the band were pretty unfamiliar with that song, however. As we listened to it on my iPhone, Pastor Yoy said that we should approach it more pensively and prayerfully, almost in an “IHOP” style. What he said rightly set the tone for that song.

As Derwin began to lead that song, the music started to take on a life of its own and the various worship leaders began to sing over the top of the song. We must have gone for about half an hour of the most amazing worship I’ve experienced for a long time. It was like we were soaking up the presence of God and God’s weighty glory somehow descended. Alas though, no melting mural. Instead, we just experienced wave after wave of God’s presence as intercession and prophetic singing flowed.

In times like these, you are just too scared to do anything because you don’t want to be the one responsible for ruining the move of God. That was how real the presence of God felt. I understand more why the “fear of God” is associated with His presence.

And Yoy began to pray that there would be a convergence of psalmists, priests and prophets in this city.

And I prayed that as the church stood in visible unity, there would be a breakthrough atmosphere in our city that would affect our society and transform its values. That all our churches would experience the intensity of God’s presence that we experienced just then.

I don’t think we really wanted to stop.

And I wondered if it would be like this on the actual day itself. I wondered whether our worship would keep flowing like a mighty torrent that can’t be stopped. Whether God would break free from our programs. Whether the whole day would just be seamless. Whether the other bands that came on the day would simply fold into this one. Whether worship would just start and never end. Whether Pentecost would really come like it did at Azusa Street and change the face of the church and the city all at once.

If only all rehearsals were like this one. If only all worship services were like this one! I can feel the mountains tremble, the singers roar. I can sense the time of jubilee coming, when all the streams flow as one river, when the brokenness and fragmentation of the church are washed away, and young and old will turn to Jesus. Tonight didn’t feel like just another rehearsal. It was a prayerful prying open of the windows of heaven over our city.