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!

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.

Songlist for Asian Worship

I’m really excited about Converge. After months of planning, we are nearly there and I’m getting to do what I love the most: working together with the band!

And I’m excited to be working together with a great team of friends from different churches all of whom are not only skilled musicians, but also have a big heart for God’s glory.

So I want to invite you to head down to Wesley Church on the corner of Hay and William Streets in Perth on Saturday 26 May 2012 to worship together with us from 8 am to 10 am.

We are expecting and praying for the manifest presence of God to encounter each worshipper that will birth destinies for the city and the nations!

Yoy Alberastine, Gabriel Tan, Derwin Bong and I will be leading worship. So exciting!

If you are coming down to join us, here is the anticipated songlist to help you prepare:

// Hosanna (Be Lifted Higher) (Sidney Mohede/Israel Houghton)
// You are Good (Israel Houghton)
// You are Good (Bethel: Brian Johnson and Jeremy Riddle
// Great in All the Earth (Starfield)
// Our God (Chris Tomlin)
// Come Holy Spirit (City Harvest)
// One Thirst (Jeremy Riddle)
// Revelation Song
// Here in Your Presence (New Life Worship)
// Great is the Lord (Steve McEwen)
// Overcome (New Life)
// With Everything (Hillsong)
// Jesus Be The Centre
// Rise (Hillsong)
// Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble

It’s going to be an awesome time!