The Day I Joined Our Worship Team

As I was going through some old posts, I came across what I wrote below which I am re-posting today. It was just over six years ago when I first joined Faith Community Church’s worship team. Today, our church celebrated its inaugural service in our new 1400-seater facility.  The photo is of today’s team resting in the backstage area just before the start of the service. It has been an incredible six year journey so far, and I’m incredibly grateful to work with such a dedicated and talented team of worshippers, singers, musicians and techies. After the relief of moving into our new home, and reflecting on the day that was, the fact that we have such a facility is a great gift from God – a truly remarkable grace. And when I think about the magnitude of that grace, it’s a challenge for us as a team to respond accordingly; to give back to God all that He truly deserves. This will inform how we do ministry in the next chapter ahead – to be a truly innovative, ground-breaking, passionate, world-class worship team that brings glory to God, and to connect the lost in the act of encounter. I’m excited about what God will do in the next phase of Faith Community Worship.

Photo credit: Dennis Tng

I was really thrilled yesterday to get an email yesterday as follows:

Congratulations! You have been successful in the FCC worship audition. Welcome to the team!

It was a good thing my wife ordered me some in-ear earphones from Catch of the Day!

My joining the Faith Community Church worship team is significant to me for at least three reasons.

First, I believe that the church family is not only intended to be a source of support, encouragement and spiritual growth, but it should also play an important role in releasing you into your spiritual destiny.

Second, being part of a church ministry helps you get plugged into the life of the church and to tap into the heartbeat of the church. Since we’ve joined FCC, we’ve tried to get involved in as many different activities within the church as possible. But it’s ad hoc and different to actually being part of something ongoing where you can see see sustained growth, face challenges and share triumphs with a group of people with the same heart amd goal within a ministry.

Third, the skills and anointing of a worship leader can only be properly honed in the context of a local church. This is where worship is at its most raw and honest. There is no hype of a conference, or bright lights or inflated faith. Just real people going through the challenges of life and seeking to encounter God through joys, disappointments, triumphs and defeats.

By that same token, I’ll be rostered soon on backing vocals. I actually don’t believe I should be leading worship in the short term because to successfully lead worship in a local church, you have to get to know your congregation before you can pastor them into God’s presence. You need to know what makes them tick, what season they are going through and their corporate sentiments.

I’m looking forward to knowing FCC a lot better. For now, I’m really grateful to be part of a worship team again. Time to dust off those vocal chords!

Week 5 Chronicles: Choir Sunday

Choir Sunday Photo 1

Over the past few months, as part of our worship team’s vision to hone and strengthen our craft, our vocalists have been going through group coaching with Mel Crothers, a worship leader, singer and performing artist in our city.

To cap it all off, our vocals director, Sunray Zheng, decided to put on a special worship set on 30 September 2018: led by a choir of over 25 of our singers.

It just so happened that that Sunday was also the first Sunday of Faith Community Church’s moving into our new facility. It was an apt way to start our first service, because in my view, nothing is more representative of worshipping congregation than having a choir lead worship. It speaks of the power of multifarious voices united to create a sound that no one person can muster on their own – differing gifts combined into a greater whole that is more than the sum of its parts. A picture of the church, really.

Choir Sunday Photo 2

Sunray contextualised the moment with an apt setlist, beginning with “Trading My Sorrows” to remind us that we were leaving our past behind and moving forward into our new season; culminating in the powerful declaration of “What a Beautiful Name It Is” (in gospel version with Siska Sands on lead) and ending with “When I Think About the Lord” (featuring Ritchell Lim). It was a reminder that the God who was faithful in the past will continue to be faithful into the future.

I’m looking forward to a season of new influence and new territory for FCC.

Here’s the recording:

Photo credits: Faith Community Church

Week 5 Chronicles: Classics Sunday

Week 5 Chronicles is an occasional series on experiments in worship format whenever there is a fifth Sunday in a month.

Psalm 145:4 says:

One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts.

I have been leading worship for over 20 years. In that time, I have seen the landscape of church worship shift significantly.

I was blessed that, in my early years,  I studied under an established older worship leader who used a lot of songs from the 1970s and 1980s as well as some of the more contemporary songs of his era. It meant that I was collecting a song vocabulary that extended well into the generation before mine.

There are many reasons why I love the old songs. I believe it’s not just because I grew up with them and that they have somehow been locked into a sacred chamber of my memory. It’s because the songs were written with a strong congregational focus; with simple, predictable melodies and hooks and uncomplicated, repetitive lyrics.

But times have moved on. We can’t keep doing the old stuff. We don’t want to live in an old, worn-out culture. We want to be on the cutting edge of what God is doing today. We can definitely learn from, and honour, the old, but we must live in the new. Old wineskins cannot contain the new wine.

So that’s why last Sunday, we did a “classics” set – a set of enduring songs from the last 20 to 30 years of the praise and worship movement; songs that most of us who have been in the church for a long time would have grown up with; songs that have shaped the worship landscape and paved the way for what God is doing today.

It was also a way for us educate the younger generation to help them understand where they came from and the sacrifices the older generation have made so that we can worship the way we do today.

What constitutes a “classic” of course is difficult to define.

In the end, we left it to our worship pastor to craft the song list. Even though Ps Dave Wong is only 26 years old, he practically grew up in Faith Community Church and so was completely immersed in the songs of the church over the last 20 years. If anyone had authority to speak to the “classics”, it was him.

The song list was:

  • Jesus You are So Good (F) – Jamie Harvill
  • God is Good All The Time (F) – Paul Overstreet and Don Moen
  • For All You’ve Done (F) – Reuben Morgan
  • When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (F-G) – Isaac Watts
  • I Give You My Heart (G) – Reuben Morgan
  • Majesty (G) – Jack Hayford
  • He is Exalted (G) – Twila Paris

There were many, many songs that missed the cut, perhaps paving the way for another Classics Sunday next year.

Here is a recording of the session: 

We were blessed with an amazing team, which included a guest appearance from our old friend Luke Tan on electric guitar.

The team was:

Worship leaders/Vocals: Dave Wong, Susan Cai, Sunray Zheng, Lydia Ling, me
Music Director/Bass: Addie Choon
Drums: Caleb Leong
Electric Guitars: Luke Tan, Joash Ang
Acoustic Guitar: Dave Wong
Keyboards: Samuel Ng, Su-Ern Lee
Cello: Tiffany Foo
Sound: Samuel Oh and Liimei Lim

There was quite an intense moment during “I Give You My Heart” as we recalled how, over the years, many of us would have rushed to the altar to that song. Much of the church was on their knees. And we experienced a beautiful time of consecration.

After the worship time, Dr Dan Mo gave a stirring message on “Catalysts of Revival”. When he gave the altar call, half the church stood up and flooded the altar. In my five years at Faith Community Church, I have not seen anything quite like it. Many cried hot tears as we committed ourselves to be world changers and history makers.

It was a significant Sunday.

We have reached back into history to give us an impetus for the future. May revival fire fall once again!

(Photo credit: Shane Wee)

Week 5 Chronicles: Gospel Sunday

In our church, we try an experimental worship format once every quarter, during a month when there are 5 Sundays, to push the envelope  of how we do worship; to add freshness; and to teach the church that worship should be embraced in all its expressions.

I love Gospel music. I love it because it is simple. In a worship landscape when lyric, metaphor and melody are becoming more complex, it is good to return to repetition and predictability. But beyond this, Gospel music is music that moves its listeners. It reverberates through the soul. It is heart-felt. It is impossible to sing Gospel and not put in all your emotions. You can’t listen to Gospel and not move to its groove.

Last Sunday, we invited Stephanie Truscott to lead Gospel worship at Faith Community Church.

It was the first time we had dedicated the worship service to the Gospel genre, and it was probably the first time that many of us on the band had actually played an entire set in the Gospel style.

Some years ago, I had the honour of singing with Stephanie in her ensemble, Stephanie Truscott and the Garments of Praise. (Stephanie had been a pioneer in the worship movement in Perth, having led worship at Church Together, March for Jesus and worship conferences, and also trained and inspired many worship leaders and singers in the city).

The group was made up of singers from different churches and backgrounds who loved to sing Gospel.

Over the two years I sang with Stephanie, we had the opportunity to sing at public events such as Telethon, Multicultural Week festivals, Gospel Festivals and church services. But we also had the opportunity to perform in more intimate settings such as hospitals, nursing homes and detention centres. I began to discover how Gospel music, specifically, was able to penetrate areas of society that the Church was otherwise unable to reach.

This fact was brought home to me when I went on a mission trip to Japan in 2007. Whilst there, I had discovered that there was a Gospel singing group that met weekly to sing together, even though many of those who belonged to the group were unchurched. Yet, they were quite unwittingly singing potent prayers such as “Holy Spirit, fall afresh on me.” And I wondered just when God would answer such a prayer.

So, a few months back, I proposed to my worship pastor that we should do a Gospel Sunday.

The challenge was that the simplicity of Gospel melody belied the level of skill required, both from the musicians and singers. Many of the chords used in Gospel songs, for example, had fallen into disuse in the modern worship era and therefore out of the repertoire of most contemporary church musicians. Doing Gospel worship was not just to expose our congregation to something different, but also to stretch the skills of our musicians.

We rehearsed four times with Stephanie to deliver a 30-minute set. I still remember our first rehearsal about a month ago when Sam, our lead keyboardist, curled up in the foetal position after trying to play the first song. To his credit, he went back home and worked it all out and before long, he was comfortably hitting all the black notes.

It also meant that our singers had to sing differently – with more power, tightness and blend.

In the end, as daunting as it was, I am glad to say that our team managed to pull it off, not before being significantly challenged (except for Dave who is just naturally talented and capable).

The result was a Sunday worship service brimming with energy. Our congregation sang with all their might, clapping and moving along with the praise songs, and singing with affection as we moved into the slower songs. And God showed up!

Many were touched, with one member of the congregation reporting that their mother was still in tears over lunch, having felt the strong sense of God’s presence during the service.

Here’s the setlist:

// I Go to the Rock (D)

// There’s Power in the Blood (D-E)

// Every Praise (D-E-F)

// Great is Thy Faithfulness (C)

// I Give Myself Away (C-D)

// How Great is Our God (G)

// How Great Thou Art (G)

// Victor’s Crown (C)

For those who missed it or who want to relive the moment, here is the recording from Sunday.

(Photo credits: Faith Community Church)

The Songwriting Journey: Crafting the Lyrics

In an earlier post, I described how our church began its songwriting trajectory with the view to eventually having our congregation use a pool of “homegrown” songs in our corporate worship.

To recap, we selected a winning song from all those that were written as part of our New Song Cafe in September last year.

That song was “Your Love” by Joe Wee Chuah, Rina Tean, Melvin Kway and Brittany Gan.

We then purposed to refine the song further and then to work out its musical arrangements.

Over the last many weeks, Dave and I have been working on the lyrics to:

  • ensure the song is theologically grounded;
  • refine the words further to tidy up some thematic threads and to give the song an overall unity;
  • round off some of the imagery.

Actually, we have been really slow in exchanging drafts, and to be honest, the original was already pretty polished.

Here is a mark-up of the changes:

Your love Lyrics

As you can see, the changes were minimal since the original lyricists did such a good job.

When I first read the lyrics, I thought they were pretty generic. Recently, however, I was sharing with the Perth Prayer team about “hope”, particularly because in the current economic conditions in our city, with people losing their jobs, the price of oil dipping (our economy is very much based on oil, gas and mining) and the fall in the sharemarket, there is a lot of pessimism out there.

But yet, I believe that this year is a “Year of Possessing Our Possessions”, of entering into the promised land.

The problem is one of perspective. In Numbers 13, of the 12 spies that were sent to scout out Canaan, 10 reported a land that devoured people; a land, whilst full of milk and honey, was inhabited by indomitable giants. Only two of the spies came back with a different report. Caleb and Joshua kept their eyes on God and saw that the land had already been given to Israel. Ultimately, of their generation, only Joshua and Caleb were able to enter into their promised possession.

So this year, I believe that God has already given you His promises for your life. But the circumstances around you might seem unyielding; that the promises seem improbable and distant. Keep your eyes on God, the One who is able to fulfill His promises. His promises are “yes” and He has called us to echo with “Amen!”.

When we revisited the lyrics to “Your Love” it became clear to me that the song was breathed out of a prophetic moment, capturing a sense of hope in God’s unfailing love despite the circumstances that we may face. It will capture the cry of many in our congregation. And it will also be prophetic in the sense that it will propel our ministry forward in the area of songwriting.

Tomorrow night, a team of musicians will get together to work on the arrangements. It’s going to be exciting.

In the meantime, here is the “raw” recording of the song by Joe Wee. He plays everything, so the recording is not really that “raw”. Enjoy!

 

Converge 2015

About this time fours years ago, I had the honour of participating in Converge, a whole week of worship and prayer which was planned by the Commonwealth Prayer Initiative to coincide with the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting taking place in our city.

At the time, I was in-between churches, and not heavily involved in a particular church ministry, so I had a bit more capacity to serve the wider body of Christ in the city. It had always been on my heart that the church should be more than any one congregation. Converge (and serving with Wendy Yapp) started me on this new trajectory.

So it is apt that I get the opportunity to be part of Converge this year, with a focus on praying for the persecuted church.

But even more exciting is that I will be accompanied by some of my amazing team from Faith Community Church (Pastor Dave Wong, Joe Wong, Lydia Ling, Sam Ng, Addie Choon, Joash Ang and Caleb Leong) as we walk this journey together of broadening our horizons.

Tim Keller was asked in an interview recently about why, as a Senior Pastor of a successful church, he spent so much time invested in unifying and equipping the church at large. He responded, “in the Body, church growth that does not benefit the rest of the Body is not biblical. In the human body, cells that only benefit themselves are called cancer.” Wow! How often we tend to just focus on our individual churches and ignore the rest of the body that is around us!

My team is excited to be anchoring a one-hour session from 3 to 4 pm this Saturday 7 November at Wesley Church, corner of Hay and William Streets in the city. Join us as we take the hour to fill our city with His praises and as we lift up His glorious name!

There will be stuff happening the whole day, starting at 9 am with different groups anchoring prayer each hour, culminating in a special two-hour Blow the Trumpet prayer event anchored by Perth Young Adults and United Prayer!

It’s going to be an awesome day!

The Beginning of Our Church’s Songwriting Journey

I have been part of Faith Community Church for about three and a half years now. Over its 20-or-so-year history, the church has grown from about 80 people to over a thousand in strength. Our worship team now has nearly 50 members. For a church of that size, I have always wondered why we weren’t singing songs that were written by our own congregation.

When I first joined the leadership of the worship ministry, I thought it would be cool if we could, one day, hold a “New Song Cafe”, an evening where members of the ministry could sit around in a cafe setting, whilst those of us with a songwriting gift would begin to explore and exhibit those gifts by performing their new songs in a non-threatening, safe environment. To my mind, that was one way we could get the ball rolling in writing home-grown songs for our congregation.

This was important for at least two reasons:

  • Our congregation consisted primarily of migrants who grew up in another church, often from a different Christian tradition, and almost invariably with their own song vocabulary and worship expression. Having songs birthed out of our own congregation would wipe away the preference divide and give an indigenous voice to our congregation. (One way we have tried to address this challenge was to institute a 30-song repertoire.)
  • We have awesome sermons in our church. Like really awesome, biblically-grounded and inspiring preaching. Home grown songs would capture the spirit of these messages and document the vision and journey of our congregation and calcify these in our personal and collective memory.

So, even though I had shared the idea of a songwriting cafe in our team meetings and to specific individuals, it seemed like there was simply no impetus for it. For a while, it seemed like a pipe dream and an impenetrable barrier.

And then, a fault line began to appear. Just before his appointment as worship pastor in July 2015, Dave Wong wrote a song which was featured in a Sony youtube advertisement about long-distance relationships. Dave and his girlfriend Cheryl performed the song and it now has over 550,000 views. I wrote about this in an earlier post.

At that time, I again said quite publicly to our team that our ministry was on the cusp of something significant because our worship-pastor-to-be had broken through the gates so that we too could follow.

Not long after, Dave taught songwriting during a team night and got us all into groups to write songs together, with a view to our performing them to the rest of the ministry.

The day finally came last Tuesday, 27 October 2015.

I mark the date specifically, because I believe that, years from now, we will look back at this moment as a watershed. A moment when that glass ceiling which seemed to hold us back from writing our own songs was broken through. The moment when the Spirit of God began that creative trickle that would ultimately became a deluge of new songs birthed from our congregation, which may perhaps overflow to bless and resource other churches in our region as well.

Here’s what we did.

To attach especial significance to the moment, we decided not to just have the songs performed in our usual team night setting. Instead, we booked out a local hipster cafe, Sprolo, owned by a couple of music directors of a large church down the road. In fact, the idea that their cafe space would be used for worship was something they already saw very early on when they started the cafe.

We made sure that there was plenty of good food.

We then invited four “guest” judges: our Senior Pastor Benny Ho, our youth pastor Jon Quay, our university pastor Amos Ngoi, and our former worship director Lisa Palm.

And then, we told our team that the judges, along with Dave, would listen to each new song that was presented and at the end of the night, decide on one song that would be the “winner”. The winning song would then be worked on by our music directors and worship leaders, including building in arrangements and instrumentation, and then taught to our team during a jam session. After that, the song would be introduced to our congregation and sung during a Sunday service.

The excitement level, when added to the the idea of running the night at a cafe, reached unprecedented heights. People started to invite their friends to come and see, and before we knew it, the whole cafe was packed. And the energy in the room was electrifying.

On the night itself, as teams came up to perform their songs, applause followed, not just as trite encouragement, but as a resonating statement of belief that we could do this. A couple of individuals even performed their own solo compositions.

And at the end of the night, when the winning song was announced, the applause continued for what seemed like an eternity, signifying that we had arrived at a “yes” moment. A convergence. What was prophesied had become reality. And a new journey had begun for our church.

Here are a few photos of the night:

We had some awesome food. Thanks to Ephraim and his team for helping us put up a heap of delicious finger food!

newsongcafe1

 

Here is Dave telling us about how the night was going to be run:
Newsongcafe2

A packed room. We’ve never had so many people at our team night before!
Newsongcafe3

Matt, Mark, Diana and Nat performing their song.

Newsongcafe4

Lydia and Ritchell performing Lydia’s song, “Beautiful God”:
newsongcafe5

An all girl’s team (Amanda, Su-Ern, Jane and Genevieve) performing their song:
newsongcafe6

An appropriate way to finish the evening with our former Worship Director Lisa Palm exhorting the team through the song “Potter’s Hand”:
Newsongcafe7

I’ll continue to update our readers on our song-writing journey over the next few months.

The goal is that we would run the New Song Cafe every six months or so and open up it to others within our congregation and other ministries to share their songs. Other people in the congregation would be able to come and enjoy a relaxing evening of coffee and live music. Even our unchurched friends would be able to attend.

And once we’ve got enough of our songs out there, we would then record a live worship album.

We’ve started on an exciting trajectory. I can’t wait to see what God is going to do through us!

I want to quickly thank our amazing and hardworking leadership team for putting the evening together: Dave, Ansen, Addie, Caleb, Ephraim and Sunray. And also to Darren and Gabes of Sprolo and Nations Church for standing with us in the journey.

The best is yet to come!

How Worship Leaders Should Respond to Compliments

In Faith Community Church, Pastor Benny has initiated our mentoring phase as part of our 2-year DNA campaign. Quite amazingly, there is a strong mentoring buzz now in our church with heaps of people getting connected into mentoring relationships.

Yesterday, I had the honour of launching our worship leadership mentoring group with worship leaders from Kinetic, Vibe, Young Working Adults and the Adult Zones in our church, the idea being that we would meet regularly and talk about all things related to worship leading.

It was actually really refreshing, despite a busy weekend, to be able to sit down in an informal setting with like-minded people just to talk about something we were all passionate about!

As we began our first session together, one of the key messages I wanted to get across was the importance of maintaining a heart of worship – that beyond talent, skills and outcomes, we have a responsibility of keeping the right posture of heart in a ministry that is often fraught with danger and hubris.

Tim Hughes once warned:

As worship leaders, are we getting too preoccupied with the sounds and songs we are creating? Is there a danger that we look first and foremost at gifting and talents, and forget the key thing: the heart?

John Wimber said:

The difficulty will not be so much in the writing of new and great music; the test will be in the godliness of those who deliver it.

One of the issues we talked about was how worship leaders should respond to compliments. Quite often, after you have finished leading worship, a well-meaning congregant might come up to you and say: “I loved your worship leading today”. Or “I just want you to know how nice your voice sounded”.

I don’t think we should over-spiritualise it. Imagine if you’ve just grilled a perfectly succulent steak. You are told ‘wow, you cooked that just right. You are really good at cooking steak’ and you respond with ‘no, I did nothing at all. I just stood at the barbie and the Lord moved through my arms and my tongs and compelled me to turn the hunk of meat just at the right time’. In any other context, if someone complimented you, your natural response would be to say “thank you”. So why not respond in the same way? After all, you did spend all that time putting in the effort to make your voice sound better, or to make sure the set flowed well, or to make sure your team played in unity.

One way of holding the tension is to accept the compliment for what you have control over, i.e. improvements in your vocal quality, the cohesion and drive of your team, the depth of preparation etc. In other words, by all means, accept the compliment for the fruit of your effort. But whether people encountered God and the resultant effect of His presence, well, that only happens by His Spirit, because true worship is by the Spirit. That aspect, we can’t take any credit for. God alone gets all the credit for the fruit of worship!

Bill Johnson actually provides an interesting spin on this. He says (in Experience the Impossible at p 179):

Humility is Kingdom; pride is at the root of everything evil. But the pursuit of greatness is not necessarily evil. In fact, it seems that those who spent time with Jesus had latent desires awakened in them regarding their own significance. As a result Jesus never rebuked His disciples for their desire for greatness. He simply redefined it by pointing to a child.

First Peter 5:6 says “therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.” Here we see the tension between humility and a desire for greatness. Johnson says that whilst being under the hand of God might seem like a frightening picture, God’s hand is actually one of a loving Father – a hand of covering and protection. And that’s exactly what we need as worship leaders (or any leader in the church for that matter!) – covering and protection as we pursue a place of greater influence in God.

We usually have no problem with accepting the need to be humble. Johnson says:

What is difficult for us to handle is God’s response to our humility: ‘that He may exalt you’. What do we do with that? Many of us squirm or say things to undermine the honour given to us. Yet if we do not know how to receive honour correctly, we will have no crown to throw at His feet.

A culture of honour is an important element in the community life of every church. We need to understand how to receive honour to allow such a culture to be propagated. It requires us to be quietly confident about the skills, planning and hard work that we have put into our service, and yet humbly dependent on God for the things that only He can do. And then, like Paul, be able to count all our accolades – the significance in our greatness and influence – rubbish for the sake of knowing Christ more. Then we will truly be able to hold that tension; to walk the paradoxical line of humbled exaltation.

Beyond Production?

Beyond production

I’ve been reflecting recently.

It’s been over a year now since Dave Wong and I took over the leadership of the worship ministry at Faith Community Church and it’s been an amazing journey so far. We’ve enjoyed building relationships, casting vision and seeing the ministry become more cohesive.

For me, one of the greatest achievements over the year has been the fact that our teams have improved musically. There has been a stronger focus on technical aspects and in improving our craft. Even in our working together with the multimedia ministry, our church services have become more tightly programmed and visually more polished.

But getting to this stage on our journey has not been without its challenges. We’ve had to pay the price of practising harder. Many have been stretched. Many have been stressed. We are still grappling with that darn metronome clicking away in our in-ears.

In the midst of this, we need to ask the following questions:

  • Have we become so good at production that we have forgotten how to produce worshippers?
  • Have we become skilled at creating experiences without facilitating encounter?
  • Are we just bringing about inspiration without seeing transformation?

These are sobering enquiries. And important ones at that.

Tim Hughes has this to say in July’s volume of Worship Leader Magazine (at 42):

Now I’m all for more creativity and excellence in the church. I long to see local churches becoming hotbeds of creativity, exploding with life and colour with great art breaking through to influence culture and society in profound and significant ways….

But in all of this, as a leader of worship, the question I keep asking myself is this, “Am I attempting to create an experience in worship or facilitate encounter?” There’s a big difference. I’ve attended numerous events where the production and creativity was exceptional. I got swept up in the emotion of it, but on reflection, it didn’t seem to make much of Christ, and it didn’t lead me to an encounter with Jesus. The truth is, an experience is fun, but an encounter will change you.”

I agree with Hughes’ point – we need to seek encounter, not experience. But the question is: what is encounter and what does it look like?

In 1 Kings 19, after triumphing over the prophets of Baal at Mt Carmel, Elijah fled Ahab and found refuge in a cave. There, God told him to stand on the mountain where he would encounter the Divine Presence. For Elijah, the presence of the Lord was not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire. It came in a gentle whisper.

In Genesis 3, a washed-up and worn-out Moses found encounter in the fire – a bush that was alight, but yet not consumed.

And in Acts 2, the encounter for the disciples was in a mighty-rushing wind.

Often, we think that encounter happens only when we strip away all the musical instruments and we peel everything back to the core of simplicity. For others, it might be in the midst of unrehearsed open worship, with ecstatic, spontaneous Spirit-inspired utterances and prophetic unctions. And for others still, it might be in the lights and sounds of electronica.

To be honest, I don’t really know the answer. But I believe God can and will encounter us no matter what the setting. He desires to do so more than we know. As worship ministers, we can only choose to minister faithfully. If we believe that worship is bigger than just the music we make (and it is), we must also say that creating excellent music (and backgrounds and stage props) is itself our worship.

We might say it this way: worship musicians shouldn’t come on Sunday to get their devotional fix. Instead, their worship on the Sunday is getting the music right so that we help others in the congregation to bring the best devotion they can. Put another way, our pursuit of God in worship should require us to bring our best in technical excellence for His glory.

The issue therefore is one of intent and direction.

Certainly, there are greater trappings that will try to derail our direction the bigger the production. But it doesn’t have to. As I’ve often said: why not both? In fact, if you think about the questions I posed earlier, the first part of the equation is our responsibility; the second part is God’s. We become both better at production, but God is the One who produces the worshippers. We can create the experience, but only God can bring the encounter. We can inspire, but only the Spirit of God transforms.

Recently, I led worship in our Sunday morning church service where there was a strong sense of the presence of God. It was a worship set that was high on production. Click below to listen to the recording.

Two days later, Luke and I led a quiet worship set for our Worship Ministry members. Just Luke on acoustics and me singing. It was so low on production that I printed out big lyric sheets and stuck them to the wall with BluTac. And in the midst of that time, we ministered in words of encouragement and prayed for each other.

Both times were precious with worship and encounter. And I believe that in both finest whispers and earthquake, God was there!

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.