What Does Unity of the Church Look Like?

I’ve had a pretty inspiring weekend.

As some of you may know, I’ve been thinking long and hard about unity, particular in relation to how worship ministers can contribute towards God’s move in uniting the church in the city. Part of this includes my crazy idea of having people from different churches form a band to lead a worship event in the Perth Cultural Centre.

Of course, I am at once both excited and freaked out by the idea.

But I think God has been speaking to me to take a serious step of faith through the encouragement of others around me.

On a small scale, the process of my discerning the will of God in this has been a blessing of unity. First Corinthians 2:16 says this:

‘For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.

Admittedly, I’ve always skipped over this passage because the use of the pronouns confuses me no end. But could this passage mean this: “who (individually) can discern the mind of Christ? It is only we (plural, together) who have the mind of Christ.”

So what started out as a thought (which may or may not be the will of God, tempered by my own sense of insecurity and inadequacy) is confirmed by the company of believers as the will of God.  And at a macro level (since 1 Corinthians was written to the entire church in Corinth, not just one congregation), perhaps it takes the whole church in the whole city to discern and execute the will of God for the city!

So, as I was praying about the idea of bringing worshippers together, a pastor came up to me yesterday and encouraged me.  He told me that I should pursue the dream because, in his words, “I don’t want to die wondering”.

And this morning, during a Missions Forum at Faith Community Church, a missionary friend of mine was asked what concluding thought he would give the congregation, and he said (words to the effect of) “just go and do what God has placed in your heart”.

So now, I’m feeling all the more that pursuing the dream of uniting worshippers in the city is part of God’s plan and desire. I’m more and more confident of this.

As I was talking to the pastor yesterday (who by the way has helped prototype unity in cities before), he asked me what I thought unity amongst worshippers might look like.  Here are some of the thoughts I shared with him:

  • Worship ministers being able to support and encourage one another through the challenges of leading worship ministries in our own congregations;
  • Worship ministers sharing ideas;
  • Worship ministers sharing resources and joint training (in fact, I learnt this weekend that next year, Metrochurch is about to launch its Worship Academy to train worship ministers in the city!);
  • Worship teams from large churches being sent into smaller churches to help the smaller churches lift the watermark of worship and to develop self-sufficient teams in the medium term;
  • Worshippers gathered together from different congregations together to passionately exalt the name of Jesus in public places.

My pastor friend had more ideas to, including worship leaders exchanging platforms (that made sense, seeing that pastors sometimes exchange pulpits, so why not the worship leaders?).  He told me how he had seen this happen and I wondered what it would look like for an Anglican to lead a worship service in a Charismatic church for example.

And my pastor friend told me of even more examples of what unity might look like, such as congregations helping each other to pay off debt; the church in the city planting congregations (led by students and teachers) in every school in the city; intercessors being mobilised to pray 24/7 (this is already happening in Perth!) and youth groups coming together.

In Prayer Evangelism, Ed Silvoso said:

God did not give all His gifts to one person or one congregation in the city but distributed them all over the Church. This way its members would be required to interact and be interdependent in order to be effective.

In other words, it takes the whole church in the whole city to reach the entire city!

My prayer is that you will also dream big for the city. In the ministry God has called you to, what would it look like if the congregations in your city united together for Christ’s cause? What would it look like when intercessors across congregations get together? Or worshippers? Or teachers? Or youth leaders? Or community workers? Feel free to share your thoughts here.

Reflections on Cindy Ratcliff’s Visit to Perth

It has been an amazing start to the weekend, first with Cindy Ratcliff’s ministry to the worship teams from different Perth churches on Thursday night, and then with the Just Worship event last night at Metrochurch, during which Cindy led worship.

My wife and I were really thrilled because at the end of the evening, we got to take a photo with Cindy and her husband Marcus. Our good friend and worship leader, Joanna, also got into the photo!

What really blew my mind was the fact that Cindy, her husband and their team didn’t have to come to Perth. But not only did they come, they did so at their own cost. Why? Simply for the purpose of, as Marcus Ratcliff puts it, “to leave a deposit”. I wasn’t exactly sure what they meant by the “deposit” and in what form exactly it took, but here are some thoughts and principles which I felt were deposited in me as I reflected on the last two evenings:

1.  A Call for Worship Ministers to Prayerfully Plan the Journey of Worship

As I mentioned in my previous post, when I first heard the We Speak to Nations album (Lakewood’s first live release), there was a real sense of capturing the atmosphere of worship rather than a showcasing of new songs.  

During last night’s worship, even though Cindy did do a few new songs, there was a planned focus, flow and progression in her worship set which, in my view, is missing in many churches today.  I could be wrong on this, but in my experience, a lot of worship leaders are still putting songs together which don’t necessarily mesh thematically or flow in tempo and feel.

We need to recover the sense of worship as journey.

2.  The True Mark of Leadership is Humility and Servanthood

Because I’ve been making all this fuss about Cindy Ratcliff in the last couple of days, some people were remarking that maybe I had put her on a pedestal.  Perhaps… But I think we have a lot to learn from her about leadership.

Cindy leads a worship team of 1000 people, some of whom are recording artists and world-class musicians, yet she comes across as level, easy-going, normal and above all, humble.  There was never any hint of her coming across with a sense of entitlement.

It reminds me of Philippians 2:5-11:

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever…

Behind every leader that God elevates is the spirit of servanthood.

3.  It Happens to the Best of Them

I often get annoyed when little technical things go wrong.  But last night, about 30 seconds into the first song, the projection of the words failed.

I have seen worship leaders react in a number of ways when things like that happen, but Cindy’s approach was completely seasoned by humility.  After the first song, she welcomed the crowd and very seamlessly made the point that the technicians were doing their best to get the words up, but she encouraged us that even if the words don’t come up, we should try our best to sing along and she will prompt us with the lyrics where appropriate – because after all, we were there to worship God together.

When things like this happen, they often reveal the attitude of our hearts.  Do we get frustrated and annoyed? Or can we let go and do our best in the situation before us?

4.  Excellence, Heart and Faithful Ministry

I’ve been pressing this point of late, but I believe that excellence in ministry is not an afterthought or a secondary requirement.  I see excellence and the heart of worship as two sides of the same coin.

And when the two combine, a powerful synergy is created.

I have worked with bands where because the music isn’t tight, everyone has had to work extra hard to carry each other (this is a difficult concept to articulate, but if you’ve been part of a band, you’ll know what I mean). I’ve also been in bands where the musicians are technically excellent, able to support and cover each other, and where musicians are humble enough to let others soar at opportune moments.  In those times, a worship leader doesn’t have to do much, but you begin to realise that everyone on stage is, in effect, leading worship together.  It’s the difference between my coming out of a worship set feeling exhausted, and coming out of it feeling light and invigorated.

The musicianship was of a such a calibre last night.  Even though there were only 3 musos and a bass track, the music just enveloped you and made it easy for you to engage with God.

5.  Worship Meets Justice

I love “Just Worship” events because as far as worship is concerned, it’s where the rubber hits the road. It’s about worship which pleases the Lord, not just singing him nice songs in an electrified atmosphere to make ourselves feel good, but where worship and justice intersect.

Micah 6:6-8 says this:

How can I stand up before God
and show proper respect to the high God?
Should I bring an armload of offerings
topped off with yearling calves?
Would God be impressed with thousands of rams,
with buckets and barrels of olive oil?…

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
take God seriously.

The Contemporary English Version says that God demands that “we see that justice is done”. Justice completes our act of worship. In worship, we bless God so that He blesses us, so that we, in turn, might be a blessing.  This is the cycle of worship.

So, I am glad to say that in an atmosphere of powerful worship and encounter last night, those who gathered raised $20,000, every single cent of which will go to Telethon to help children with medical needs in our community.

I am grateful to God for sending Cindy Ratcliff and her team to deposit something into my heart, and into our city, which I’m sure has left us all transformed.

 

Cindy Ratcliff’s Insights into Worship Ministry

I just got back from an amazing evening at Metrochurch’s OneNight with Cindy Ratcliff, the Senior Worship Leader of Lakewood Church. I had always been a big fan of Cindy’s ever since I heard the album We Speak to Nations. That album was for me a return from an artist-centric approach to worship music back to the grassroots of home-grown church worship (albeit on a scale that most of us wouldn’t usually experience). There is an unusual sense of God’s presence particular in the medley culminating in the song “Show Me Your Glory”.

After hearing Cindy in person, I am now even more of a fan. I was impressed by the strength of her leadership in a ministry with people like Israel Houghton, Steve and Da’dra Crawford (from the Christian group, Anointed) and world-class vocalists and musos. But even more impressive was her transparency, humility and sensitivity to the Spirit.

Cindy shared insights into worship ministry in the context of her own journey to Lakewood and building a worship team which numbers about 1000 members today (that’s right, their worship team is larger than most churches!). I thought I might just quickly record some of her thoughts here:

// As worship ministers, we need to guard the condition of our hearts. The purity of our hearts displays the glory of God.

// What you do in private sets the stage for what you do in public.

// Submit to your leaders and champion their vision. Your ability to submit sets an example of how people should follow you.

// Choose to think the best of the people in your team, even though it’s much easier to think the worst of them. Doing this helps diffuse conflict quickly.

// Be yourself – be confident in who God has made you to be.

// The job of the leaders in the ministry is to provide a touchstone and sense of family for members of the team and to provide prayer support. They do not do counselling. For counselling, these are referred to trained counsellors in the church.

// Have accountability to people close to you (like your spouse – they are like your personal Holy Spirit!). They keep things from getting to your head.

// About worship musicians who play on the secular stage: they are not there to partake, but to impart. In other words, they are sent out as missionaries as positive influences in the secular arena.

Above all, from what I heard tonight, I think the secret to Cindy’s success in ministry is her reliance on the Holy Spirit. Worship ministry often throws up tricky questions like “how do you balance skill and heart?” or “do you allow non-Christians to play on your band?” Cindy’s response to these questions was about knowing what is right for your team in a particular season or situation. More than a prescription (on the one hand) or gut instinct (on the other), I am again reminded that effective leadership requires that we lean in and listen to what the Spirit is saying, just like how Jesus would only do what He saw the Father doing.

 

Church of Perth Highlights

As you know, we have spent 7 months “shopping” for a new church. It’s actually a long time to be “homeless”; in a way, we felt like Abraham, setting out from the familiar places into unknown territory.

Until 7 months ago, we had never really visited churches except for when we were overseas. Having now visited a number of churches in Perth, I am encouraged to see what God is doing amongst the congregations in this city. I have discovered that different churches have different strengths too and I wonder how much more each church would be blessed if they were able to learn from each other.

So here are some of the churches we visited during this transitional period and some of the characteristics we really loved:

  1. CCC Crawley (or C4). This church is positioned deep in the Western Suburbs in Dalkeith, where every fourth car parked around the church was a Porsche. When I visited this church, I found out that Phil Pringle was considered to be in the top 10 of Australian artists and to generate curiosity, they were going to make the front of the church into a Phil Pringle Art Gallery. What a clever way to outreach!
  2. First Light. We loved the warmth of fellowship, the intensity of the worship and the awesome grace-based preaching. In fact, of all the churches we visited, we lingered in First Light’s visitor’s lounge the longest.
  3. Victory Life. This is the church we would have settled in if we were 60 years old. The older generation here were so vibrant and full of life that they would put the young people to shame. And they have this crazy vision to build a massive prayer tower.
  4. SouthCity. I have some good mates here but again was drawn to this church by its warmth. The preaching was short and punchy, but impactful. After only a service lasting 1 hour and 15 minutes, we still came out feeling full.
  5. Sonlife. We enjoyed this church because of the great preaching and the passion of its people in worshipping God. The congregation easily drowns out the worship team. I also had the privilege of co-leading worship there one Sunday and it was so easy to lead which means someone has taught the congregation well how to worship.
  6. Faith Community Church. This is a church with a great vision for the community and the body of Christ as a whole. Of course, Pastor Benny Ho’s preaching is probably one of the best around (I’m not trying to suck up here, but that really is an honest assessment) and the worship is vibrant.
  7. Metrochurch. The service culture in this church is phenomenal. The Senior Pastor Geoff Woodward (also one of the best preachers around in my opinion), in the middle of his sermon, mentions that it would be nice to have a cup of coffee and before you know it, an offsider shows up at the side of the stage with… you guessed it … a cup of coffee. And even cooler is the fact that Geoff Woodward then spends 2 minutes on stage slowly savouring every drop of the coffee. Geoff’s jokes are great too including my favourite “dad joke” that goes like this: “I couldn’t believe it when my neighbour started knocking on my front door at 3 am in the morning! Good thing I was still up playing my bagpipes”.
  8. Riverview. This is Perth’s flagship seeker friendly church. The creative display is awe-inspiring. Whilst the worship was going on, a guy was painting what looked like a mountain scene at the side of the stage, only to turn it on its side to reveal the face of Jesus.
  9. Churchlands. This is a church which in my view resembles Bethel Church in spiritual orientation: supernaturally focussed with a hunger for God’s presence reflected during their worship time.
  10. JoyCity. I heard an amazingly fresh sermon from a young friend of mine, Nick Chan, entitled “The Church is Full of Hypocrites”. He got my attention! And he delivered. Brilliant worship as well from a worship leader I used to serve with and whom I deeply respect.
  11. Mighty Livingwaters. A church which has a strong prophetic gifting. We missed out on Pastor Rajan, but heard his mentor preach instead.
  12. Influencers. This church has a culture that thinks big and looks big. Even though (I think) they have about 100 people, they are set up with three plasma screens. They also have a thriving international student’s ministry.

So there are some highlights of some of the churches we visited. In a sense, it was a shame we couldn’t visit more, but our time of wandering had to come to an end.

Even though we are now committed to settle down in a church however we intend to take a week off every couple of months just to visit another church and to keep on the pulse of what God is doing in the city.